Sagas and Seascapes Live in Concert

Boat Hall, Shetland Museum, Lerwick, 25th Sept

When lockdown started in March 2020, Nordic Viola was just 2 weeks away from travelling to Shetland to perform their “Histories and Herstories” programme. With the support of UHI Institute for Northern Studies and Orkney International Science Festival and Creative Scotland, we managed to successfully take the performance online.

Nonetheless, we’ve been itching to bring our music to Shetland and  so, hot on the heels of our film documentary/concert for Orkney International Science Festival online last week, we are excited to be finally heading to the islands with our popular “Sagas and Seascapes” programme. We’ll perform two pieces from our online programme: “Aud” by Linda Buckley and “Wogen” by Kári Bæk of the Faroe Islands.

“Aud”, supported by the  PRS Foundation Women Make Music programme, will be receiving its live premiere. Written by Linda Buckley during lockdown, “Aud”, in telling the tale of the 9th Century heroine of the Sagas,  also reflects on the emotions evoked by travel; the uncertainties, the sense of adventure the feeling, perhaps, of leaving something behind.

New pieces for us in this programme are Orcadian Gemma McGregor’s “Our Lady of Sorrows and Danger”, based on a poem by Ron Ferguson and Finnish composer Aulis Sallinen’s “Sea of Peace.”

Traditional voices from established and new musicians from Shetland depict Shetland’s seascapes and its people. Margaret Robertson’s tender air to mothers everywhere opens the programme. Young people are central to our work and we’re delighted to welcome accordionist Victoria Byrne-McCombie, who was one of the competition winners in our international Seastories Competition with her winning tunes. Victoria will be introduced by10-year-old Isla Jamieson’s poem “You are beautiful, Shetland” which I came across online last year.

Much older, traditional stories told in Icelandic folk melodies end our programme.

If you would like to have a wee taster of our programme, I’ve put together a short playlist on Soundcloud for you.


During the week I’m also looking forward to an online workshop with pupils from Anderson High School on a Seastories theme. Last time I worked with the school, we developed one of Nordic Viola’s most popular pieces, “Mjørkaflókar”, so I’m excited to see what we can produce this time!

Sagas and Seascapes (Orkney) available to view online

Our documentary/concert film “Sagas and Seascapes”, featuring interviews with the composers, stunning film footage and artwork produced specifically for the film, as well as two world premieres was streamed by Orkney International Science Festival last Friday.

It’s now available to view at your leisure on YouTube.

Additionally, if you enjoyed Orla Stevens’ amazing artwork for “Carry is Relics” (Gemma McGregor), “Elsewhen” (Lillie Harris) and “Aud” (Linda Buckley), you can now buy cards (prints coming soon!) of the images from

Programme Notes Sagas and Seascapes

Carry His Relics – Gemma McGregor

‘Carry His Relics’ describes the journey mentioned at the end of the Orkneyinga Saga when the followers of St Magnus carried his remains from Christkirk, Birsay along the coast to the capital town of Kirkjuvagr.

St Magnus is the patron saint of Orkney. He was murdered on 16th April, 1117. Twenty years after Magnus’ death, a farmer called Gunni, from the Orkney island of Westray, reported that Magnus had appeared to him in a dream and instructed him to tell Bishop William that he wanted his relics moved. Gunni reported his dream and permission was granted.

Part of Carry His Relics by ©Orla Stevens

After the procession along the coast of Orkney, Magnus’ remains were interred at St Olaf’s Kirk, although they were later moved to St Magnus Cathedral. Many miracles had been reported by those who had prayed to St Magnus for help.

The joyful processional melodies make reference to both Magnus’ Viking culture and his Christian beliefs by using traditional Orcadian and Norwegian style music and by quoting from 12th century plainchants that may have been sung by the followers of Magnus. The fifty-five mile long route taken by the pilgrims subsequently became a devotional walk but fell out of use centuries ago. The St Magnus Way was cleared and reopened in 2017 to mark the 900th anniversary of the martyrdom of St Magnus. Gemma McGregor

Elsewhen – Lillie Harris

©Kevin Leighton

Ancient sites are intriguing: they offer us amazement at the sheer age of artefacts, many mysteries of why things were that way, and the sense of a delicate thread connecting us now, to those people then. Our interactions with these relics helps us build an image of our past, but there is only so much we can learn from what remains – the rest is lost to time.

In this piece I have sought to capture the strangeness, wonder, and melancholy of objects and sites that exist out of time: they retain traces and memories of the past, but have outlived those for whom they were built, and have been left behind.

Written for the St Magnus Composers Course 2017 Lillie Harris

Søgnin um Kópakonuna í 10 Myndum – Eli Tausen á Lava

©Daniel Arge

Søgnin um Kópakonuna í 10 Myndum (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 creature capable 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. – Eli Tausen á Lava

Søgnin um Kópakonuna í 10 Myndum is receiving its UK premiere by kind permission of the composer and the Aura Duo, who commissioned the piece to perform at Sumartónar in the Faroe Islands.

Wogen – Kári Bæk

Transcribed for viola by Katherine Wren

Wogen captures the shifting moods of the sea. The piece has a sense of voyaging, a sense that gains momentum as the piece progresses. It ends with a hymn-like passage 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. – Katherine Wren

Aud by Linda Buckley

©Olesya Zdorovetska

It has been a strange yet uplifting experience to create a work so immersed in adventure and travel, while those parts of our lives for now, remain on hold – almost suspended in time…

This marks another chapter in a long and deeply felt connection to those expansive landscapes of Iceland and the Scottish Isles, perhaps rooted in my own first breaths of home, born in the Old Head of Kinsale in the south of Ireland, a headland jutting out into the Atlantic Ocean.

Section of Aud by ©Orla Stevens

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.

I wish to thank Katherine Wren for bringing this project to life, and for shining a light on these important historical figures from the Icelandic sagas – giving new voice to their stories.

Commissioned with support from the PRS Foundation Women Make Music Fund.

Korona Trot – Anni Helena Lamhauga

Anni Helena Lamhauge lives in the Faroe Islands and was the winner of our recent “Seastories” Competition. 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.

The Dromer – Traditional arr. Danish String Quartet

The Dromer appears in a collection of tunes in Denmark made by the Bast Brothers from 1763-1782. It is a so-called “English Dance”, In the last half of the 18th Century, dances from the British Isles were very much in fashion in Denmark. The peculiar titrle of this tune is probably a misspelling of “The Drummer”, which is a fairly well knwn Scottish reel that is identical to the melody notated by the Bast Brothers. “The drummer” started to appear in British tune collections around 1700 and it later morphed into the quite famous Scottish song, “The Piper o’Dundee” that was used to “stir up the chiefs and their clans” during the Jacobite Rising. – Danish String Quartet

The Dromer is performed by kind permission of the Danish String Quartet.

Part of Elsewhen by ©Orla Stevens