Back in June we announced the winners of our Seastories Competition, which was open to young people in the Northern Isles, Faroe Islands, Iceland and Greenland.
As we approach our online concert for Orkney International Science Festival this Friday, it’s time to introduce you to the fabulous tunes that our winners and runners up wrote on the theme of the sea.
Cumliewick Shore by Victoria Byrne-McCombie
First up is accordionist Victoria Byrne-McCombie. As we will be performing “Sagas and Seascapes” live in Shetland Museum Boat Hall on the 25th September, we decided to award a special prize to the best tune from Shetland, with the winner playing with us live in concert. You can buy tickets for the concert on Eventbrite here.
Victoria’s piece, Cumliewick Shore, depicts a beach near Sandwick on Shetland Mainland. Victoria said, “When I was thinking about the theme of the sea I was trying to think of a way that I could interpret the theme into a tune and I thought of the melodic tide and how it moves in, the way it comes in and out, so I knew here that I wanted to have a note through the tune that keeps coming back to and that was like the melodic movement of the tide. For the second part I took the same note of E as the structure but went higher and started changing the rhythm as the sea is much stronger than people think and the tide can change and weather (especially in Shetland!) at any time.”
Victoria also sent us “Just another double-peg day”, a double-peg day being the term the Northern Isles use for a windy day, which she will also play at our concert.
Korona Trot by Anni Helena Lamhauge
Coincidentally, our overall winner is also an accordionist. Anni Helena Lamhauge lives in the Faroe Islands and her winning piece, “Korona Trot” was written as she looked out over the sea from her home as she quarantined. The title is a play on words as “trot” in Faroese means to be tired of something. You’ll be able to watch Anni Helena playing her tune in our online concert, “Sagas and Seascapes”, on Friday 3rd September from 21:00BST.
Anni Helena also sent us a second tune, Tra Le Linee, which is a characterful minor key waltz.
Fjøra by Ronja Gaard Hansen
Finally, our runner up and youngest finalist is Ronja Gaard Hansen, also from the Faroe Islands. Ronja’s waltz for fiddle and piano, “Fjøra” (seashore), reminds her of happy days spent down by the sea on the long summer days.
If you live in the East of Scotland and are aged 12-16, I will be running another “Seastories” workshop with artist Orla Stevens in conjunction with Hospitalfield and Aproxima Arts in Arbroath next Sunday, 5th September. More information and details of how to sign up here.
Workshops will start at 10am meeting at Arbroath West links Park, Queens Drive.
Sea Stories – Youth Music Composition Workshop
Are you fascinated by the sea: its sights and sounds and the stories it yields? Have you ever wished you could tell those Sea stories through music and art?
Musician Katherine Wren of Nordic Viola and landscape artist Orla Stevens join together in this day of workshops to recreate and interpret our experience of the sea. During the morning we will walk down to the sea at Arbroath to watch and listen to the sea. We will collect sounds and make sketches as well as looking for objects on the beach (natural and human-produced) that we can use to draw and to create sound.
In the afternoon we will split into 2 groups working in turn with Katherine and Orla at Hospitalfield. Katherine will explore ways of sounding the sea on our instruments as well as with homemade instruments, found objects and recorded sound. We will learn about the elements that make up music and about how these help us to structure sound.
Orla will lead the drawing element of the workshop, exploring intuitive and expressive approaches to sounds and seascapes, using both found objects from the shore line and traditional art materials to create artworks and graphic scores.
At the end of the afternoon we will come together to explore how we can use graphic scores (a visual alternative to reading musical notation) to explore how shape, colour and composition can inspire sounds, and vice versa, finishing with an informal group performance.
Age Range: 12-16
Experience: No prior experience required, but if you play an instrument, please bring it along. Art materials will be provided.
Clothing: we will be spending time outside and on the beach, so bring sturdy footwear, warm clothing and waterproofs as well as snacks and drinks. Please wear old clothes as they may get covered in paint!
Face coverings will be required during the afternoon while we are working indoors.
Katherine Wren is the founder of Nordic Viola and a member of the RSNO. Her work explores the environment and cultures of northern coastal communities. She has twice been shortlisted for the Scottish New Music Awards “Making it Happen” category.
Orla Stevens is a Scottish artist, whose work explores rural landscapes of the north and north west. Paintings are increasingly driven by both visual and audio field research, looking to explore a multi-sensory experience of place, translated through colour and form.
Linda Buckley’s “Aud”, supported by the PRS Foundation Women Make Music Fund, traces the journey of the eponymous heroine as told in the Icelandic Sagas from Caithness and Orkney to North-West Iceland, whilst Eli Tausen á Lava’s “Søgnin um Kópakonuna í 10 Myndum” (The Legend of the Sealwoman in 10 Pictures) draws on legends common across the North Atlantic region of a female selkie capable of transforming into a human being.
The programme celebrates Nordic Viola’s continuing partnership with Orkney International Science Festival and includes Orkney resident Gemma McGregor’s “Carry His Relics”, inspired by the St, Magnus Way, and Lillie Harris’ “Elsewhen”, composed for the St Magnus Festival Composers’ Course in 2017, which muses on the ancient monuments of Orkney and their meaning for us today.
The retelling of old stories in contemporary settings is an apt metaphor for the way in which Nordic Viola has sought to find new ways to present music online without being bound by the four walls of a traditional concert hall. Founder Katherine Wren said that “following last year’s successful programme for OISF, which included interviews with the composers as well as footage of the landscapes that inspired the music, we have sought to further develop the creative, visual element of the concert by bringing landscape artist Orla Stevens onto the project to work alongside video producer Craig Sinclair.”
Orla and Craig travelled to Orkney with three of the composers as they explored the locations that inspired the music and reflected on their experience of being in the landscape and imagining the past worlds of the Norsemen and the prehistoric peoples of Orkney. Orla’s paintings will be incorporated into the video performance.
Since 2016, Nordic Viola has maintained particularly strong connections with the Faroe Islands. The ensemble is grateful to the Spanish/Danish Aura Duo for generously allowing them to premiere “Søgnin um Kópakonuna í 10 Myndum” for flute and clarinet which was commissioned for the Faroese Sumartónar Music Festival in 2020 and has twice been postponed due to Covid. Faroese composer and pianist Eli Tausen á Lava has quickly developed a unique and recognizable artistic voice, and in 2019 he won Best New Artist at the Faroese Music Awards of 2019, marking the first time a classical composer had received the award. The programme also includes “Wogen” (Waves) by Faroese composer Kári Bæk for solo viola.
The Faroese connection is continued with the inclusion of “Korona-Trot” by Anni Helena Lamhauge, the winner of Nordic Viola’s recent “Seastories Competition” which was supported by the William Syson Foundation.
Katherine, a viola player with the Royal Scottish National Orchestra, founded Nordic Viola in 2016. They have twice been shortlisted in the New Music Scotland Awards “Making it Happen” category for promoting contemporary music and its relationship to traditional music from the North Atlantic region and for working with musicians from Scotland, the Faroes, Iceland and Greenland.
Katherine said: “This has been Nordic Viola’s most ambitious project to date, and it has been a fascinating process for me to explore in depth how the musicians and artist have interpreted these ancient stories in a modern, pan-Nordic context, taking the landscape of Orkney and beyond as inspiration.”
Orkney composer, Gemma McGregor said: “It was a magical experience to visit the historic Orkney sites for filming with Katherine Wren, Linda Buckley, Orla Stevens and Lillie Harris. We compared our music and the historic tales that had inspired it. It was good to imagine the journeys of the pilgrims from Birsay and the awe-inspiring journey that they made, carrying St Magnus’ relics to Kirkwall.”
Composer Linda Buckley said: “The story of Aud the Deep-Minded has been immensely inspiring to me, this strong Viking woman who showed great courage throughout her life, through her travels from Norway to Scotland and north to Iceland. My own musical interests seep into this work, from the droning of the hardanger fiddle in Norwegian folk music, to the restless energy of Scottish and Irish dance tunes, to field recordings of wind and ice made in rural Iceland.”
Composer Lillie Harris said: “I wrote ‘Elsewhen’ before I’d visited Orkney in person, based on documentary footage and online research. Once I was there, I was amazed in a whole new way by what it felt like to be in these places. There’s a continuum of human culture leaving its marks on the landscape, and clear signs of people having been inspired by the landscape itself, which is very special.
Getting the opportunity to visit again with Katherine and the other creators as part of Nordic Viola’s Sagas and Seascapes project was magical, and brought a whole new level of appreciation of all the stories shared between us and particularly from Gemma McGregor. We had all been drawn to Orkney, its history and its people – like many before us, and many yet to come.”
Artist Orla Stevens said, “Being part of the Sagas and Seascapes project has been a really inspiring opportunity and has offered the space to further explore the influence of history, music and sound within my painting practice. For this series of work, I sought to reference the composers thoughts, ideas and inspiration, whilst including my own interpretation of Orkney and the pieces of music as I feel and hear them.”
Nordic Viola’s video is produced by Craig Sinclair in conjunction with OISF and is supported by Creative Scotland and Event Scotland for the Year of Coasts and Waters 2021. Linda Buckley is supported by PRS Foundation’s Women Make Music. Further details about the concert can be found at https://oisf.org/fest-event/sagas-and-seascapes/ The concert is part of a full programme of events from 2-8 September from Orkney International Science Festival which includes workshops, performances, talks and walks around Orkney. The full programme can be found at www.oisf.org.
The premiere of our Sagas and Seascapes online programme is nearly upon us. It will take place from 3rd September at 21:00. The live link will appear here.
Nordic Viola has enjoyed a strong connection with the Faroe Islands since I was first so warmly welcomed to the islands back in September 2016 and so it gives me great pleasure that our Sagas and Seascapes programme has a strong Faroese element to it. Kári Bæk’s Vár Trio was in our very first programme and his music has featured frequently since. A new composer for us, though one I was introduced to by Kristian Blak and Sunleif Rasmussen a couple of years ago, is rising star on the Faroese and Nordic scene, Eli Tausen á Lava. Finally, the winner of our recent Seastories Competition is also Faroese. Anni Helena Lamhauge will be playing her tune Korona Trot on accordion as part of our online concert for Orkney International Science Festival on 3rd September at 21:00 BST.
It is a great and unexpected honour for us to be able to give the world and UK premiere of Eli Tausen á Lava’s Søgnin um Kópakonuna (The Tale of the Sealwoman) for flute and clarinet, composed in 2019. The piece was commissioned by the Spanish/Danish Aura Duo and should have been performed at Sumartónar 2021 but was sadly postponed due to Covid restrictions. The duo very generously granted us permission to perform the premiere in the UK and we look forward to being able to share their performance dates with you when they are finally able to take the piece to the Faroes and Denmark.
The legend of the sealwoman is one that is common throughout the North Atlantic region with variants of it coming from the Hebrides, Northern Isles, the Faroes and Iceland. It is exactly these shared stories stemming from a shared environment and culture that were the inspiration and source of fascination for me when planning Sagas and Seascapes. The core of the story hinges around men who capture the selkie’s skin and take the selkie woman as a wife. The selkie, no longer in posession of her skin is trapped in human form with her captor.
In Shetland the stories take a more sinister turn, the selkies luring men into the sea at midsummer, their lovelorn admirers never returning to dry land. Anyone who has heard the mournful, eery sound of the selkies may not find this so far-fetched.
In Iceland, tales of elves are common and in some variants of the selkie legend, such as that told by Jón Guðmunsson the Learned in the 17th Century the seal-folk are in fact sea-dwelling elves or marmennlar (mermen and mermaids).
Eli Tausen á Lava
Since he first stepped onto the classical music landscape in 2015, Faroese composer and pianist Eli Tausen á Lava has quickly developed a unique and recognizable artistic voice. He has a deep appreciation for stillness and simplicity in both music and life — something he expressed most recently with his 2020 debut album Impressions, a 40-minute refuge from a hectic world.
Eli won Best New Artist at the Faroese Music Awards of 2019, marking the first time a classical composer received the award. One year earlier, he had attracted his fellow Faroe Islanders’ attention when he was selected, despite his young age, to represent the Faroe Islands at the international World New Music Days festival in Beijing.
Eli has worked with a variety of musicians and ensembles from around Europe. He has an intuitive and open-minded approach to making music and believes there is no right or wrong way to create art. “I try to get out of my own way when composing,” he says. “My feeling is that writing music is more like discovering an already-existing structure or organism, rather than creating one out of thin air.”
Eli introduces his music
I’ll leave it to Eli to tell you more about his piece and you can also hear a few short extracts played by Janet Larsson (flute) and Robert Digney (clarinet).
Kári is an old friend of ours and it gave us great pleasure to work alongside him in Tórshavn in 2018 when we performed his Vár Trio and Fragment with flute, viola and bassoon at Sumartónar 2018. Gemma McGregor also played his solo flute piece, Snjólysi, in Orkney last month.
Kári has played an important role in Faroese musical life as musician, choral conductor as well as composer. He began composing relatively late and has composed both choral and instrumental ensemble works, some of which have been recorded by the Faroese ensemble Aldubáran and by a wind quintet located in Reykjavik (Iceland). Bæk’s choir works range from sacred to secular music written for both amateurs and professionals. In 2006 a CD containing some of Bæk’s works for choir was released.
In this programme I’ll be playing my own transcription of “Wogen”, originally for cello, that I produced in consultation with Kári. I love how this piece captures the shifting moods of the sea. For me, the piece has a real sense of voyaging, a sense that the piece gains momentum as it progresses. It ends with a hymn-like passage which I discovered, on listening to Kristian Blak’s CD Shaldergeo (a collection of music based on Shetland and Faroese traditional music) comes from a stanza of Sinklar’s Visa set to a tune from the island of Nólsoy, in which the Scottish mercenary is warned by a mermaid not to engage in battle with the Norwegians. And so we find ourselves full circle with the selkie folk.
Alex and I have composed new pieces around the poetry from Lesley’s recent collection, ‘Disappearance’. This performance explores the theme of the voyage of the 19th-century whalers to the polar seas, and the cultural aftermath of the whaling industry.
Our music includes sounds recorded on location in Greenland and Iceland melded with our improvisations and including live electronics. The programme is framed by traditional tunes from the North Atlantic Whalers who travelled from Shetland.
A special screening of CETACEA will follow the live performance.The trio’s music and words meet with marine biologist Michael Scheer’s recordings of pilot whales and Alexander and Nicole Gratovsky’s underwater footage to create the piece CETACEA. This film proved to be one of the most popular events in GIOFest last November. You can listen to the music below: