This week is a landmark week for Nordic Viola in several respects. First and foremost, it’s the first time we’ve headed north since UHI’s Shoormal Conference in September 2019. (Little did we know then what was coming.) It seems an age ago and yet, in the scheme of things, 2 years isn’t so long.
So what are we up to? We have a team of composers (Linda Buckley, Lillie Harris and Orkney-based Gemma McGregor) and a video producer (Craig Sinclair) going to Orkney to film content for our online concert for Orkney International Science Festival, which will be premiered on 3rd September. It’s quite an operation in the covid age, but a process that musicians and producers alike are having to get used to in this strange new world. Pre-travel testing, health questionnaires, rigorous planning to allow for safe travel, accommodation and distancing whilst working.
Hopefully all will go to plan, we can enjoy the amazing history and scenery that Orkney has to offer and produce some exciting and engaging content.
Another landmark moment is working with a visual artist, Orla Stevens. Orla will interpret the landscapes and seascapes around us as well as interpreting the emotional responses of the composers as they explore the places that inspired their music.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the 2nd July marks Nordic Viola’s return to live performance and I am so happy that this should happen in the Northern Isles. Gemma McGregor and I will perform a programme of music for flute and viola entitled “Birds and Landscapes of the North.” We will play some of our own music as well as music by Ailie Robertson and Electra Perivolaris, two of the most exciting young composers on the Scottish scene. The Faroes and Denmark will be represented with pieces by Kári Bæk and Kristain Rasmussen, who is currently studying in Aberdeen. There’ll also be traditional music from Shetland and Orkney and a brand new tune composed for the occasion by Orkney fiddler, Fiona Driver.
Following our first online international workshop earlier this month, I am delighted to announce the winners of our recent “Seastories” Competition.
Our overall winner is Anni Helena Lamhauge from the Faroe Islands. Anni’s Korona-Trot for accordion reflects on her boredom with Corona as she looked out over the sea, watching the changing light. Her music reflects this, shifting from a dark C minor to the warmer, brighter key of A flat major.
In runner up spot is Ronja Gaard Hansen, also of the Faroes, with her tune for violin and piano, Fjøra, which means seashore.
Anni Helena’s piece will feature in our online “Sagas and Seascapes” concert for Orkney International Science Festival from 3rd September, but we will also be introducing Ronja’s tune to you in a short video in the lead-up to the festival.
Our Shetland winner was Victoria Byrne McCombie with Cumliewick Shore. Victoria thought of the tide and the way it comes in and out. She chose to have a note through the tune that the melody keeps coming back to, like the melodic movement of the tide. Victoria’s piece will be performed in Shetland on 25th September at the Boat Hall in Shetland Museum, when we take “Sagas and Seascapes out live!
We also received a recording of a Greenlandic Hymn from our friends in Maniitsoq which, with permission, we will hope to share with you later too.
Many thanks to Gemma McGregor for leading the workshop and to Dávur Juul Magnussen for interpreting and for helping with the music!
The end of May saw Nordic Viola playing together under the same roof for the first time since March 2020! And what a way to start, bringing our new commission, “Aud” by Linda Buckley, to life for the first time as we recorded “Sagas and Seascapes” for Orkney International Science Festival 2021. It’s always an amazing feeling to realise a new work and I love that collaborative process of working with a composer as we work together to unite the concepts of what they imagined as they created the music and how we interpret those dots as performers.
Covid made that experience slightly unusual as we went straight into the recording studio with “Aud” and still haven’t heard the complete score. I’m on absolute tenterhooks whilst Linda and our amazing recording team, Hedd Morfett-Jones and Simon Lowden work their magic and unite musicians with the electronic soundtrack.
Already the music has such a strong sense of journeying, depicting as it does Aud the Deep-Minded‘s journey from Ireland via Caithness, Orkney, and the Faroes before settling in Iceland. There is so much energy in the shifting textures and a sense of the music “flickering” through the distinct timbres of the three string instruments and the clarinet. It’s easy to think of string instruments as one body, but Linda’s writing really highlights how the colour of each pitch can vary across the three instruments.
There’s also a strong sense of yearning in the music – perhaps for that very human desire to be on the move and to explore that so many of us have missed during lockdown.
Søgnin um Kópakonuna í 10 Myndum (Faroese: the Legend of the Seal Woman in 10 Pictures) is inspired by a set of 10 drawings by Faroese artist Edward Fuglø, which were originally drawn for the 2007 stamp issue titled Kópakonan (the Seal Woman).
Edward Fuglø’s drawings illustrate the Faroese legend of a female selkie, a mythological Ecapable of transforming from seal to human by shedding its skin, who is forced to live as a human when a young man from the village of Mikladalur steals her sealskin.
Søgnin um Kópakonuna í 10 Myndum was commissioned by Aura Duo and was composed with the support of Koda Kultur. The piece was due to be premiered in the Faroes in 2020/1 but has had to be postponed due to Covid. We’ll be introducing Eli and the Aura Duo to you in August.
Elsewhen by Lillie Harris
In our biggest ensemble to date, we recorded Lillie Harris‘ “Elsewhen” an incredibly eery, almost primitive at times (think stomping, Rite-of-Spring-style chords) depiction of Orkney’s prehistoric monuments and how they have come to us through time. “Elsewhen” is written for flute, clarinet and string quartet and, as well as its eery textures and footstamping rhythms, it features yearning melodies in the wind instruments and violins.
Lillie is an old friend of Nordic Viola, writing my first commission, “AND” for solo viola. She has an uncanny way of capturing the essence of a place, sometimes prior to even visiting it. “Elsewhen” was originally composed for the St. Magnus Composers’ Course in 2017.
As well as our audio team, we had Craig Sinclair working on video and Matthew Smith on lighting and, as you can see above, they created a stunning stage for us to work on. We consider ourselves very lucky to have been able to record in the RSNO’s purpose-built New Auditorium.
Filming in Orkney
Craig is now in the driving seat as the composers, Linda Buckley, Lillie Harris and Gemma McGregor head to Orkney to capture footage of the landscapes, monuments and tales that inspired their music. Craig and I first worked together on “Histories and Herstories” during lockdown last year. Despite being reliant on stock footage, I loved how he matched the rhythm of the music with film and I’m eager to see how much more can be done when he is set free to film on location.
In another first for us, the emotions of the composers as they explore these historic sites and experience the nature and seascapes of Orkney will be captured and interpreted by landscape artist Orla Stevens. Orla, too is fascinated by seastories and landscapes and often captures the energy of the sea in paintings with a considerable textural element to them. She is also a keen musician and is interested in exploring the parallels between rhythm in music and art. I’m very excited and intrigued to see how she interprets these musical worlds.
We’re at the halfway point in our Seastories Competition. We’ve received some very imaginative entries from Shetland, the Faroes and Greenland. Last Saturday Gemma McGregor led our first international zoom workshop alongside myself and Faroese trombonist and, on this occasion, interpreter, Dávur Juul Magnussen.
We explored ways of creating music about the sea and the techniques we could use to expand our musical ideas. We also took time to share our experiences of the sea in our home countries and explored common stories, such as legends across the North Atlantic about seals, and also explored Norse words that have survived in dialect in the Northern Isles. At a time when travel is nigh on impossible, I hope we were able to help the young people imagine a world beyond their own shores and to connect with others whose cultures overlap with ours.
We’ll announce our competition winners next week.
Live in Orkney
I’ll leave you with a wee teaser – whilst I’m in Orkney, I’ll be performing in a programme entitled “Birds and Landscapes of the North” with composer Gemma McGregor on flute. We’re in Stromness Town Hall on Friday 2nd July at 7:30pm and you can buy tickets here. Tickets are strictly limited due to Covid, so you need to book in advance.
More on the programme next time.
As you can see, there’s a lot happening with Nordic Viola at the moment. If you want to stay up-to-date, you can subscribe here:
Finally, I’d like to thank our funders: Creative Scotland, PRSF Women Make Music for supporting Linda Buckley, The Royal Philharmonic Society Enterprise Fund for allowing me to learn more about video alongside Craig Sinclair and the William Syson Foundation for supporting our education work.