I’m very excited to tell you that next month we will start work on Nordic Viola’s first album, Elsewhere, Elsewhen.
Our title is drawn from Lillie Harris’ evocative piece, Elsewhen, which imagines life in Orkney through the long lens of time, coupled with the idea of Elsewhere – looking to the Far North and the cultural and geographical connections around the North Atlantic.
Lillie’s music will naturally be featured, alongside another Orcadian piece from our popular Sagas and Seascapes programme, Gemma McGregor’s commission for Nordic Viola, Carry His Relics, based on the history of St. Magnus, to whom Kirkwall’s great cathedral is dedicated.
Nordic Viola has developed a strong reputation for commissioning women composers, particularly those at the start of their careers, and we’re proud to make the first recordings of Linda Buckley’s Aud , Anna Appleby’s Hrakningar and Arnannguaq Gerstrøm’s Ukioq.
Each of these pieces grew out of conversations with the composers about shared interests. Linda and I were both fascinated by the stories from the Icelandic Sagas of strong female leaders, many of whom made incredible, long distance sea journeys across the wild North Atlantic.
Anna’s “Hrakningar” also came from the idea of migration and journeying- this time my own very personal experience. One of my strongest memories from my time in Iceland was of camping next to Lagarfljot in Iceland listening to the geese gathering to migrate at exactly the same time as I was due to fly south myself. Anna encountered the haunting sound of the geese calling on her own visit to Reykjavik and I knew she was the right person to set this to music. In her piece, Anna takes the migration of geese as a metaphor for those making perilous journeys to new lands and the piece begins and ends with a haunting track incorporating the sound of geese, which always makes me think of looking up and seeing the mysterious green swirls of the northern lights.
Arnannguaq Gerstrøm’s Ukioq was commissioned after I met Arnannguaq at home in Greenland. I spent many hours with Arnannguaq learning about Greenlandic culture and the many diverse cultural elements that make up modern Greenlandic life. I asked Arnannguaq to write a piece to complement Kári Bæk’s Vár (Spring) Trio for the same forces of flute, bassoon and viola. I left Arnannguaq to pick her season, but I’m glad she chose winter. The season often seen as one to be endured further south is, whilst undeniably hard too, with long hours of darkness, a time to celebrate in Greenland. Hunting on the sea ice becomes possible. There is the exhilaration of dog-sledding across the vast open space of the frozen sea and, of course, the stunning displays of the aurora borealis – another very strong memory for me.
Kari Bæk’s Vár Trio will also be on the album. We rehearsed this piece with Kári whilst we were in the Faroes in 2018, performing it in concert at the Nordic House (Norđurlandshusiđ) in Tórshavn. There will, in fact, be a track recorded in that very concert: Mjørkaflókar is a piece written by me and pupils from Anderson High School in Shetland. We took a Faroese children’s song as our starting point to reflect on the cultural links between Shetland and the Faroes. It was an honour to ask two young violinists from the Tórshavn Music School to play it with us there.
The last piece on the album also has a very personal story attached to it. Whilst I was staying in Unst in November 2016, one of the islanders gave me a copy of a piece by Adrian Vernon Fish, Uyeasound Nocturne. I knew of Adrian – in fact he was on my list of people to call at that time, as I knew he had a very strong connection to Greenland. Uyeasound Nocturne was originally written for viola and piano, but other colours rang out in my head and I arranged it for flute, 2 violas and contrabassoon. I’m very grateful to Adrian for allowing me to record it in this version. It’s a beautiful, melancholy piece and my fellow musicians, Helen, Dave and David, insisted that it should be a part of this album.
We’ll be heading into the recording studio in May and I can’t wait to update you on our progress. Make sure you sign up for updates on the subscribe button here so you don’t miss our release date, planned for next winter, appropriately enough for these northern tales.
Finally, I’d like to extend my thanks to Creative Scotland and the Vaughan Williams Foundation for supporting this venture, Sound Scotland for co-commissioning Anna Appleby’s Hrakningar, PRS Foundation’s Women Make Music for funding Aud by Linda Buckley, the St. Magnus Festival Composers’ Course for giving Lillie Harris the time and support to compose “Elsewhen” and last, but absolutely not least, all of our wonderful supporters for their crowdfunding and concert attendances that have contributed to our funding. We’re looking forward to sharing our recording journey with all of you.