Old Composers, New Composers and the Northern Isles of Scotland!



Over the last couple of months, I’ve been discovering some new music, travelling to Orkney and Shetland, meeting some new composers and receiving my commission from Arnannguaq Gerstrøm in Greenland.

So far, the Nordic Viola concerts have been based on a narrative of my journey around the North Atlantic during my sabbatical. Looking beyond the concerts that I have planned on 1st October for the Dunblane Cathedral Arts Guild and on 21st January in the RSNO Chamber Series, I would like to put together a programme of more substantial works.

Sermitsiaq by Adrian Vernon Fish


In Doune we gave the first performance of the last movement of Adrian Vernon Fish’s Sermitsiaq Trio for violin, viola and cello. We’ve had time to play through the entire piece now. I just wish I could take my entire trio over to Nuuk so they can see Sermitsiaq for themselves as this piece perfectly captures all its moods, from imposing to playful. One day!

Jón Leifs and Sibelius


I’ve also been exploring works by more established (dead!) composers. BBC Radio 3’s Northern Lights series in December 2015 introduced me to the Icelandic composer Jón Leif’s music. I love his huge orchestral scores “Geysir” and “Hekla” depicting the volcanic landscapes of his home country, but he also wrote 3 string quartets and my plan is to earn the first of these.

Sibelius has been a constant inspiration to me. We performed the “Kullervo Symphony” with the RSNO in the 2015 Edinburgh Festival and it is so evocative of the north that I just wanted to jump on a plane and go straight back to Greenland which I’d just visited for the first time. I’ve just got hold of the “Voces Intimae” quartet which I think would make a nice programme with Adrian’s piece. I haven’t been to Finland yet and I guess if Sibelius is going to find its way into my programme then I’d better put it on my list!

St. Magnus Festival, Orkney and some new composers!


In June, I travelled to Orkney for a weekend at the St. Magnus Festival. I had considered visiting Orkney on my sabbatical but, as I already knew Orkney well, decided to spend more time in Shetland instead. So, in one sense, it was unfinished business but it was also an opportunity to catch up with Lillie Harris and also to meet her colleagues on the composers’ course there. One of these was Angela Elizabeth Slater, whose quartet “In da Eye o’ da Hurricane” fits in perfectly with my project. It is inspired by Christian Tait’s poem “Fae da journal o a crofter’s wife” from Shetland and is a string quartet with the viola set against the other instruments. She also wrote “Flickering Airs in Coloured Skies” for the St. Magnus Festival, perfectly illustrating the weather and landscapes of Orkney with its light and quixotic textures.

Ukioq by Arnannguaq Gerstrøm

Just before I take a rest for the summer, I received my eagerly awaited commission from Arnannguaq Gerstrøm. I’ve been so excited waiting to see how she responded to my brief to write a companion piece to Faroese composer Kári Bæk’s “Vár Trio” for viola, flute and bassoon. I asked Arnannguaq to write something based on either summer or winter and, actually, I’m secretly pleased she chose winter. I’ve travelled to Greenland in both seasons, but winter made the biggest impression on me and that’s when we met. “Ukioq”, which means “Winter”, captures so much of what I remember from my time in Nuuk – the crispness, the capriciousness and the joy of winter. The cold and the wind are there also, of course. We’ll perform “Ukioq” for the first time in Dunblane and then again in the RSNO centre, Glasgow, when I’m hoping that both Arnannguaq and Lillie will be able to come and hear their pieces performed.

Now for a well-earned break and time to meet some old friends in Shetland!