Summartónar in the Faroe Islands

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(Poster designed by Chris Wesley)

The Faroe Islands were my first port of call on my sabbatical and they will also be the first place that I return to to perform (I visited Shetland on holiday last summer). I can’t believe that that was nearly two years ago.

Concerto Grotto

I am particularly excited to be playing in the cave “Klæmintsgjógv” in Hestur with my Faroese friend and RSNO colleague, Dávur Juul Magnussen. I have wanted to do this ever since I first heard Dávur’s fabulous CD, Cesurae. Buy it – you’ll be blown away by it!

Music from the Faroes…

I’m also really proud to take my Nordic Viola group, this time composed of Janet Larssen (Flute), Joost Bosdijk (Bassoon) and David Martin and me (Violas).

Summartónar exists primarily to promote the rich and varied music of the Faroes and Faroese composers will be at the heart of our programme. We start with my arrangement of William Heinesen’s “Variations on a Faroese Hymn Tune”.

20e159_a0f122b6a9ba4ae487460b54c71ed21e~mv2Back in September 2016 I spent a lot of time working with Kristian Blak on his solo viola piece “Tístram” and I’m excited to be performing this in Tórshavn and Rituvík. Kári Bæk’s “Vár Trio” has been with us since our very first concert and we’ve added his “Fragment” to our programme as well.

 

 

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…and Greenland

When I was in Greenland, I askedArnannguaq Gerstrøm to write a piece about winter inspired by, and to complement, Bæk’s “Vár Trio”. “Ukioq” shares the first piece’s energy and joie de vivre and it’ll be interesting to perform the two pieces side-by-side in these two concerts, especially as Summartónar this year is also shining the spotlight on the music of other countries that straddle the 62-63 latitude. Listen out for Arnannguaq’s wonderfully effective ice sounds!

Music from the Northern Isles

We’re also bringing some music from our home country of Scotland, or more specifically, from the Faroes’ neighbours, the Northern Isles of Scotland. David and I will play Judith Weir’s Orkney-inspired “Sleep Sound ida Mornin'” from “Atlantic Drift”. We’ll send the audience away dancing with some Scottish tunes inspired by the Faroes and Greenland, written by the fishermen who plied their trade in the North Atlantic.

I’m so looking forward to seeing my Faroese friends again and to sharing music from their homeland and ours. I also can’t wait to see a bit more of the islands  and to take home some more inspirations for our future work. If you’re travelling in the Faroes, please do come and listen to us. We’d love to meet you and share musical tales of our travels!

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Kinbuck Concert 25th March

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Once again it seems the weather gods are setting the scene for the next Nordic Viola concert, which will take place in the Kinbuck Centre on Sunday 25th March at 4pm. As I write, it is still snowing in Dunblane and I’m all set to take a little more Nordic inspiration cross-country skiing in the woods.

Kinbuck holds a special place in my heart as it’s where Helen, David, Dave and I performed the first ever Nordic Viola concert, just before I set off for Iceland in 2016. I have experienced so much since then and met so many wonderful people as well as seeing many wonderful sights, and so I thought that I’d make this concert a very personal journey through North Atlantic music.

We will be performing 3 pieces that I wrote myself whilst travelling:

“Tvisöngur” for solo viola, which was inspired by a set of acoustic caves above Seyðisfjörður in East Iceland.

“Sikusimanerani” for flute, 2 violas, bassoon and recorded sound from Greenland. This piece represents the time of ice. It incorporates real sound and conveys the brittleness and space of the icy landscapes around Nuuk.

“Mjørkaflókar” for flute, 2 violins and 2 violas. The title means “Foggy Banks” and is a reflection from Shetland (it was written in conjunction with pupils at Anderson High School in Shetland) of the Faroe Islands (the theme comes from a Faroese folk song).

We’ll also perform pieces by some of the wonderful composers I met whilst travelling:

There is a commission from Greenlandic composer Arnannguaq Gerstrøm, “Ukioq”, which is a playful description of Greenland in winter and music from Margaret Robertson, one of Shetland’s best fiddlers.

No concert with Faroese music would be complete without something from Kristian Blak and I’ll be playing  “…tað heila gongur av lagi”. This uses the same tune as “Mjørkaflókar” and means “everything has gone awry”. Some strange things happen in this humorous piece!

There’s inspiration from the music of old from the Northern Isles and Iceland and we’ll finish with a good old knees up from the Shetland whalers of the nineteenth century and their Greenlandic hosts.

Tickets

It’s been a real joy to us that children have enjoyed our concerts so much, so, as it’s an afternoon concert, we’ve decided to offer U16s free entry. Tickets will be available on the door, or you can reserve them through messaging me on Facebook or via the contact form on the blog.

We look forward to playing for you.

 

RSNO Chamber Series

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Helen Brew, Katherine Wren, Lillie Harris, Arnannguaq Gerstrøm, David Martin, David Hubbard

Well, we certainly got the weather for Nordic Viola’s Glasgow concert! It was snowing hard – so hard that unfortunately several people couldn’t make it, which was a real shame. Still, it was atmospheric.

Sunday’s concert was special in so many ways. It was my chance to say thank you to the RSNO for allowing me a sabbatical in the first place. I really wanted to be able to share the music I discovered during my travels, as well as my experiences, with the RSNO audience.

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It was great to bring together the musicians I’ve worked with the most and who have supported me throughout my journey with the two composers who I commissioned works from: Lillie Harris and Arnannguaq Gerstrøm. It was a real privilege to perform their music for them.

Perthshire in Winter!

After my many great experiences in Greenland and Shetland with Arnannguaq and Lillie, I enjoyed sharing my own beautiful surroundings in Perthshire and I have to say, generally speaking, the weather came up trumps. It’s good to be reminded that your own home is a beautiful place, too!

Future Concerts

Sunday’s concert was an important stage in Nordic Viola’s journey, but there’s much more to come. We have a concert in Kinbuck in Perthshire on 25th March, which I’ll post about soon.

In the summer we travel to the Faroe islands to perform music by Faroese composers and music inspired by the Faroe Islands in the Sumartónar Festival.

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Beyond that, I’d like to work with Gemma McGregor in Orkney, take “Ukioq”, Arnannguaq’s piece, back to Greenland, work with Charles Ross in Iceland again and perform Adrian Vernon Fish’s Sermitsiaq in full. I also need to find a clarinettist to join us for Angela Slater’s “Flickering Airs”. There’s so much more exciting work to do, so please stay in touch!!

RSNO Chamber Series 21st January 14:30

A few people have been asking about what we’ll be playing in Glasgow next Sunday, so here’s a sneaky preview. As well as the music, there will be readings to set the scene and give a flavour of life and culture in the Far North.

The names of the composers may be unfamiliar to you – they were to me 18 months ago, too! They are, however, well-known in Nordic musical circles. We have played to audiences of all ages, so bring your children, too. There’s a huge variety of styles – something for everybody! Still not sure, well here’s what our Dunblane audience had to say in October:

“What a journey it was, both literary and musically. You conveyed your wonder and fascination with the Nordic lands in such an absorbing way. I think the whole audience was hooked!”

“Loved it – well done! I especially loved Lillie’s piece.” “Lovely concert. Fab playing and some really interesting music. We really enjoyed it and it was good to have such a good turnout.” “Well done for a cracking concert.”

We begin in the Faroes with a traditional hymn tune and listen as the islands move through spring and into summer with Kári Baek’s Vár Trio and Kristian Blak’s remarkable piece for seabirds and viola, Drrrunnn.

Winter hits Shetland in Lillie Harris’ depiction of a raging storm, AND, followed by a moonlit night imagined by Adrian Vernon Fish in Uyeasound Nocturne. Summer returns to the Northern Isles in contemporary Shetland fiddler Margaret Robertson’s tunes Wilderness and Shaela and we finish the first half with Peter Maxwell Davies’ ever-popular Farewell to Stromness.

After the interval we travel to the Far North with a set of Icelandic folk songs arranged by Þorkell Sigurbjörnsson. The two sides of the dark months are depicted in my own Winter Melancholy and in the wonderful, dancelike Prelude from Poul Ruder’s Autumn Collection.

Our concert ends in Greenland with Arnannguaq Gerstrøm’s playful description of winter, Ukioq, which brings back many wonderful memories for me of being out in the snow in Greenland in February as the days rapidly lengthened. This is followed by an improvised reflection on a traditional Inuit tune. The journey comes full circle with a set of traditional tunes about Greenland from Shetland, highlighting the common seafaring heritage of the islands of the North.

 

Sounding the North Conference

Sounding the North

Is there a sound of the North? This was the question we spent the weekend exploring at the Sound Festival in Aberdeen back in October.

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Talks from composers Bent Sørensen and Gunnar Karel Másson explored the essence of Nordic music. The sense of melancholy and longing, of freedom and space. Music inspired by big, open landscapes and life on the periphery. Set against these huge canvases is an obsession with detail: the use of microtones, small gestures, short, evolving motifs.

Yet many composers resist being stereotyped as “Nordic Composers” – understandably so – those of us from further south in the world are perhaps too quick to pigeonhole them and to assume that everything they write is drawn from their experience of living in a northern clime. This is, of course, far from the case. Like composers from any other part of the world, they are drawing from many and varied influences, writing music for its own sake. Equally, writing music inspired by a Nordic landscape does not necessarily mean the depiction of some idealistic view of the Far North. There are many “gritty” issues to explore: mankind’s relationship with his environment and the politics of the region amongst others.

Gunnar Andreas Kristinsson, too, spoke about the connection between Icelandic music gunnar-andreas-professional-portraitand nature and the landscape, as well as the contrast between light and darkness. Norse and Germanic literature also exerts its influence over composers. However, he also pointed out that the lack of a long music history has led to a wide variety of styles in contemporary Icelandic music.

 

 

 

Gemma-McGregor-portrait-SMC-squareGemma McGregor’s talk gave me much food for thought, as I’m yet to delve fully into the music of Orkney. I’m particularly fascinated to lean more of what we know of the music of the Vikings. I’ve heard the bells of St. Magnus Cathedral in Kirkwall many a time and assumed the bells sounded “out of tune” because they were so old. Gemma explained how they’re tuned in equidistant intervals of G quarter-sharp – B flat – C quarter-sharp. These notes pretty much fit in with the pentatonic scale used to sing the sagas: G, B flat, C, D, F. Gemma also pointed out the shared heritage of the North Atlantic due to the shipping routes – something I’ve been very aware of in my own research.

Concerts

During the Festival we were treated to some fascinating concerts by the Quatuor Bozzini and Edinburgh Quartet. It was a pleasure to meet young composer Sarah Lianne Lewis, whose music I’d encountered through the RSNO and also to hear Gunnar Andreas Kristinsson’s beautiful new piece “Moonbow”. I’m also looking forward to learning Gunnar’s piece for Viola and Organ, “Der Unvollendete”.  Scottish-based composers Alasdair Nicholson and Geoff Palmer’s pieces were also stimulating and inspiring.

If you’re interested in reading my own contribution to “Sounding the North”, you can find it on a Dropbox link here:

https://www.dropbox.com/s/su8z3z2jbjdypdi/sounding%20the%20north-2.doc?dl=0

Sounding the North Conference and Dunblane Concert Wrap-up

 

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From 26th – 29th October I will be giving a presentation on Nordic Viola at Sounding the North conference as part of the Sound Festival, Scotland’s Festival of New Music in Aberdeen.

The conference will explore the following questions:

“What is it that makes northern music sound northern? Is it an association of ideas or experiences? Are the clues to a piece of music’s northernness left there intentionally by the composer? Or do some of the inherent qualities of northern places – the seasonality, the remoteness, the long days and nights, the untouched beauty – become a part of the minds of the people who live  there? Perhaps northern music sounds different just because its creators breathe the air of a different part of the planet.”

The seasons of the north

In my presentation I will explore the idea of the viola embodying the sound of the north. I will look at how the seasons are depicted in music by Nordic composers, focusing on Kári Bæk’s “Vár Trio” flute, viola and bassoon, Poul Ruder’s “Autumn Collection” for solo viola and the two pieces I commissioned: “AND” by Lillie Harris for solo viola and “Ukioq” by Arnannguaq Gerstrøm for flute, viola and bassoon.

Natural Sound

I’ll also look at incorporating recordings of natural sound as well as how these sounds can be imitated instrumentally through pieces by Kristian Blak, Arnannguaq Gerstrøm and myself.

Improvisation

Last, but by no means least, I’ll look at the role of improvisation in my project with reference to performing with Charles Ross in Iceland and, closer to home, with Dávur Juul Magnussen and David Martin as well as improvising solo in the Tvisöngur sound sculpture in Seyðisfjörður. Improvisation is also a tool I’ve used successfully in schools’ workshops – so successfully that I notated and have performed the piece I worked on with students at Anderson High School in Lerwick.

Composers and Performers

There will be lots of exciting composers and performers to mix with at the festival including Bent SørensenGemma McGregor, Alasdair Nicolson, Geoff Palmer, Gunnar Andreas Kristinsson, Gunnar Karel Másson, Arild Anderson, Bozzini Quartet, Edinburgh Quartet and Zoe Martlew.

Dunblane Cathedral Concert

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Personally I absolutely feel that the seasonality, the remoteness, the long days and nights, the untouched beauty do become a part of the minds of the people who live there. My 6 months in the North Atlantic area are something I treasure and long to revisit and hopefully I get that message across in concert.

There were some special moments in the Dunblane concert for me, many of them centred around the younger audience members.DSC_2023 Our special guest from the Faroes, RSNO principal trombone, buried himself deep in the nave of the cathedral and when he started playing, the face of one of my young friends lit up – she loved the idea that the music had moved into the body of the cathedral and come to meet her. Another mother told me how her daughter had come home and written down all the things the music made her think of.

 

 

Pictures © Martin Stewart Photograhy

DSC_1995 I think Dave Hubbard created a fair few fans of the contra-bassoon, too!

Other members of the audience met me in the interval, full of their own stories of the North Atlantic. We had a full house and it was lovely to share my musical experiences of Iceland, the Faroes and Greenland.

Old Composers, New Composers and the Northern Isles of Scotland!

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Over the last couple of months, I’ve been discovering some new music, travelling to Orkney and Shetland, meeting some new composers and receiving my commission from Arnannguaq Gerstrøm in Greenland.

So far, the Nordic Viola concerts have been based on a narrative of my journey around the North Atlantic during my sabbatical. Looking beyond the concerts that I have planned on 1st October for the Dunblane Cathedral Arts Guild and on 21st January in the RSNO Chamber Series, I would like to put together a programme of more substantial works.

Sermitsiaq by Adrian Vernon Fish

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In Doune we gave the first performance of the last movement of Adrian Vernon Fish’s Sermitsiaq Trio for violin, viola and cello. We’ve had time to play through the entire piece now. I just wish I could take my entire trio over to Nuuk so they can see Sermitsiaq for themselves as this piece perfectly captures all its moods, from imposing to playful. One day!

Jón Leifs and Sibelius

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I’ve also been exploring works by more established (dead!) composers. BBC Radio 3’s Northern Lights series in December 2015 introduced me to the Icelandic composer Jón Leif’s music. I love his huge orchestral scores “Geysir” and “Hekla” depicting the volcanic landscapes of his home country, but he also wrote 3 string quartets and my plan is to earn the first of these.

Sibelius has been a constant inspiration to me. We performed the “Kullervo Symphony” with the RSNO in the 2015 Edinburgh Festival and it is so evocative of the north that I just wanted to jump on a plane and go straight back to Greenland which I’d just visited for the first time. I’ve just got hold of the “Voces Intimae” quartet which I think would make a nice programme with Adrian’s piece. I haven’t been to Finland yet and I guess if Sibelius is going to find its way into my programme then I’d better put it on my list!

St. Magnus Festival, Orkney and some new composers!

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In June, I travelled to Orkney for a weekend at the St. Magnus Festival. I had considered visiting Orkney on my sabbatical but, as I already knew Orkney well, decided to spend more time in Shetland instead. So, in one sense, it was unfinished business but it was also an opportunity to catch up with Lillie Harris and also to meet her colleagues on the composers’ course there. One of these was Angela Elizabeth Slater, whose quartet “In da Eye o’ da Hurricane” fits in perfectly with my project. It is inspired by Christian Tait’s poem “Fae da journal o a crofter’s wife” from Shetland and is a string quartet with the viola set against the other instruments. She also wrote “Flickering Airs in Coloured Skies” for the St. Magnus Festival, perfectly illustrating the weather and landscapes of Orkney with its light and quixotic textures.

Ukioq by Arnannguaq Gerstrøm

Just before I take a rest for the summer, I received my eagerly awaited commission from Arnannguaq Gerstrøm. I’ve been so excited waiting to see how she responded to my brief to write a companion piece to Faroese composer Kári Bæk’s “Vár Trio” for viola, flute and bassoon. I asked Arnannguaq to write something based on either summer or winter and, actually, I’m secretly pleased she chose winter. I’ve travelled to Greenland in both seasons, but winter made the biggest impression on me and that’s when we met. “Ukioq”, which means “Winter”, captures so much of what I remember from my time in Nuuk – the crispness, the capriciousness and the joy of winter. The cold and the wind are there also, of course. We’ll perform “Ukioq” for the first time in Dunblane and then again in the RSNO centre, Glasgow, when I’m hoping that both Arnannguaq and Lillie will be able to come and hear their pieces performed.

Now for a well-earned break and time to meet some old friends in Shetland!

Doune Concert

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The Doune concert on 10th May was the first Nordic Viola concert since my sabbatical officially finished in March. Since the first concert in Kinbuck in August last year, the programme has obviously become much more personal. The countries I visited (Shetland, Faroes, Iceland and Greenland) hold very vivid and immediate memories for me. I have my own stories to tell alongside the many beautiful pieces of music and writing already out there.

I remember when I first set out on the project, I worried about finding enough repertoire; now I have so much to choose from in so many styles (traditional, classical, contemporary) that selecting a concert programme means leaving out music that I’m dying to perform to people! Each piece tells it’s own story of the weather, the wildlife, solitude or a simply a good old knees up on a dark winter’s evening!

One of the features of music-making in the Far North is using the means at your disposal and much of the repertoire is very flexible. I’ve performed with a flute/2 viola/bassoon quartet, solo, with Charles Ross and his huge variety of string instruments (viola, 12 string guitar and Siberian fiddle) and in a viola/cello/piano trio. Doune saw yet another combination: a 2 viola string quartet with Anne Bünemann (violin), David Martin and myself (violas) and Peter Hunt (cello). Lots of people commented on how warm the sound was with 2 violas and how it highlighted the violin sound more than a standard quartet.

Working with composers has been an amazing part of the experience. Kristian Blak taught me so much about Faroese music and he was a big influence on my improvised trio, Mjørkaflókar, which is based on a Faroese melody. He also introduced me to the music of William Heinesen with which I opened the Doune concert. In Iceland, Charles Ross,  taught me a lot about improvisation. We share a love of timbre and instrumental colour and he gave me plenty of new ideas to play around with.  In Shetland I worked with Lillie Harris. Her solo piece, AND, which I performed in Doune continues to develop each time I play it. There is so much potent material in it and you’d be hard pressed to find a more vivid evocation of a Shetland storm! Adrian Vernon Fish shares my love of both Shetland and Greenland and we performed Uyeasound Nocturne (Shetland) and part of his Trio, Sermitsiaq, named after the mountain that guards Greenland’s capital, Nuuk.

The more I travelled, the more fascinated I became with the links between these sea-faring, Viking inhabited islands. The Doune programme reflected that, too:  the Faroes seen through the mists of Shetland, my Icelandic piece Tvisöngur, which started out as an improvisation in Iceland and was composed on Mykines in the Faroes,  traditional Shetland tunes about Greenland dating back to the old whaling trips last century and Polkas brought by the Danes to Greenland.

As in Kinbuck, we filled the hall and took the audience on a journey round the North Atlantic. Be warned, this concert will induce wanderlust: as I speak, two friends are on their way to Iceland…

There’s still much more to come. On 1st October I join up with my original group of Helen Brew (flute), David and I on violas and Dave Hubbard on bassoon for a concert in Dunblane Cathedral. All being well, we’ll have a Greenlandic premiere to perform from the last composer I met on my travels, Arnannguaq Gerstrøm.