Concerto Grotto

Two years ago I visited the Faroe Islands for the first time. Just like last time, I hit the ground running. No sooner had I landed than I was in Tórshavn Music School (before I’d even seen my digs!) carrying on where I left off: working with Jóna Jacobsen and her students. (You’ll find out more about that in my next post.) On an evening stroll through town, we bumped into Kristian Blak and popped in for a quick chat. It really felt like I’d never been away.

I woke up the next morning buzzing with excitement. Ever since I’d heard Dávur Juul Magnussen’s CD Cesurae, I’ve been desperate to do a Concerto Grotto.  Usually these concerts take place in Klæmintsgjógv in the island of Hestur, but due to sea conditions we were off to the east side of Nólsoy. Notwithstanding that, we had bright blue skies and a calm sea as we set off on the schooner Nordlusið, feeling dwarfed by the massive bulk of Cunard’s Queen Victoria. For all her luxury, I’d never have swapped her for the journey we were on.

As we rounded the north coast of Nólsoy, my eyes were peeled for our cave. Dressed in life jackets, Dávur, Emily and I carefully transferred viola, trombone, amp and battery into a small dinghy – a delicate operation!

Dávur received a quick driving lesson and we were off! Shivers ran down my spine as I started playing. It was magical watching the audience float towards us in their dinghies as I played Tvisöngur, the piece I wrote in Iceland and the Faroes 2 years ago, inspired by Seyðisfjörður’s eponymous sound sculpture. I’d been dreaming of doing this for ages. Dávur joined me as I played “Soay”, a beautiful tune from Scotland’s St. Kilda islands and we moved into some free improvisation. The concert finished with Dávur’s rendition of the Faroese national anthem.

It takes a little bit of time to get accustomed to using the cave as a musical partner. There are the natural sounds of waves and water splashing on the boats as well as the echo, but the moving soundboard of the sea’s surface also adds to the music. Gradually I found what sounds were most effective. Glissandi are particularly good, eerily evoking whale song, perhaps. It was fun playing with merging the timbres of trombone and viola. On the face of it they’re unlikely partners, but both instruments have a wide range of colour and a big overlap in pitch range and it’s interesting to explore how their sounds complement and contrast with each other.

The cave was visually beautiful, too. The water was aquamarine and I kept finding myself focusing on a thin band of red rock just on the waterline, formed from volcanic ash I learned later. The eroded roof had flashes of vivid green moss or algae contrasting with the black basalt.

Concerts over we scrabbled back into the big boat – people and instruments all present and correct. Phew! Birgir the skipper then treated us to a circumnavigation of the island. We watched the birds busily feeding their young on the cliffs and saw several seals sunbathing on a tightly-packed rock.

As we rounded the southern end of the island I saw the lighthouse I’d hiked to with Paige Klugherz on my last visit and the famous eye of the needle through the island. And then we had the sails up, Dávur showing his sailing credentials and helping to hoist them.

DSCN5082A bit of banter on the ships horn with the Queen Victoria, off on her way to her next port and suddenly we were back in the harbour. I’m not going to rest now until I’ve done it all on the bigger stage of Klæmintsgjógv. I’ve played in the Albert Hall, London and the Musikverein in Vienna, but never on a platform so beautiful as that sea cave!

If you’re in the Faroes in the next month or so, there are more Concerti Grotti (if that’s the plural) so do give it a go – it’s special. http://www.nordlysid.com/trips If you’re not lucky enough to experience it for yourself, then have a look at the video Emily Nenniger kindly made for us. https://www.facebook.com/royalscottishnationalorchestra/videos/10157008796601323/

 

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