Anna Appleby – Hrakningar

Autumn has always a special time for me. The summer heat gives way to a softness with autumn mists and the first of the frosts. The nights lengthen and I enjoy that feeling of hygge, curled up with a book. The sound I associate more than any other with autumn here in Scotland is the geese arriving. In fact, I saw my first skein of geese of the year yesterday.

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All these sensory experiences are more poignant since my sabbatical and none more so than the sound of migrating geese. I was staying in Fellabaer located  across the Lagarfljót lake near Egilsstaðir in East Iceland, right where the geese were collecting to migrate south. Every morning I was woken in my tent by their noisy disputes. I found myself wondering who’d arrive back in Scotland first – them or me. Back home in early October, I remember stopping whilst I was on my bike to watch them land in a field near Flanders Moss, Stirlingshire. In my mind it was the Egilsstaðir geese following me home.

On the second anniversary of this wonderful experience we’ve just started rehearsing our latest commission, Anna Appleby‘s “Hrakningar”, which is a joint commission with Sound Festival  in Aberdeen, Scotland.

Like Lillie Harris, from whom I commissioned “AND” for solo viola, I first met Anna on the RSNO’s “Composers’ Hub.” The new piece grew out of a half joke: Anna was in Reykjavik and posted a clip of geese honking away on Lake Tjörnin. Somebody challenged her to write a piece including them – to which I responded with something along the lines of “go on then – I’ll pay you”.

“Hrakningar” is composed for flute/viola/bassoon with an electronic soundtrack and Anna describes it like this:

Hrakningar is an Icelandic word used to describe being buffeted by a storm or wind, blown somewhere against your will, and is also used to refer to dangerous events that happen to a person.

Hrakningar juxtaposes the freedom of migrating birds with the prejudice that refugees face when seeking a better life. The piece incorporates calls from the species of geese that travel between Iceland and Scotland as part of their yearly cycle, including Pink-Footed Geese, Brant (or Brent) Geese and Greylag Geese. They arrive in Scotland in Autumn and leave for Iceland in Spring each year. Geese face harsh conditions when travelling but their journeys are accepted and often celebrated while humans are expected to conform to imposed boundaries and borders.

I don’t want to give the game away too much before the premiere but I am absolutely blown away by the way Anna integrates the geese in the introductory soundtrack with some really delicate timbres from the instruments, picking up on the harmonics in the birdsong. I can’t really do it justice in words, so why don’t you come and hear it for yourself if you’re anywhere near Aberdeen on 26th October? We’re in St Machar’s Cathedral at 1:10 and you can get further info and buy your tickets here. 

In a concert exploring seasonality in the Far North, we’ll also be performing our other commissions, “AND” by Lillie Harris, which depicts a Shetland storm and “Ukioq” by Arnannguaq Gerstrøm, describing a Greenlandic Winter.

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SUMMARTONAR CONCERTS, FISH SUPPERS AND A TOUR OF THE ISLANDS

After visiting the Faroe Islands alone in 2016, it was a great pleasure to perform with my Nordic Viola Ensemble in 2 concerts as part of Sumartónar on 5th July. This time we were Janet Larsson (flute and piccolo), David Martin and I (violas) and Joost Bosdijk (bassoon).

A BRIEF HISTORY OF SUMMARTÓNAR

Beginning in 1984, Faroese composers started organizing concerts of their own music together with works by international composers. After establishing the Association of Faroese Composers (Felagið Føroysk Tónaskøld) in 1987, these concerts became more regular, especially with the annual Spring Concert and a series of concerts over the summer in collaboration with the Listasavn Føroya (the Faroese Art Gallery). In 1991 a concert with works by several Faroese composers was presented at the St Magnus Festival in Orkney. After participating in a festival in a community comparable with the Faroe Islands, the Faroese composers decided to establish a similar festival the following year in the Faroes. Since these early years, the musical scene in the Faroes has gone from strength to strength and the festival reflects the diversity and creativity of today’s musicians who bring Faroese music to the world and international music to the Faroes.

FAROESE MUSIC AND MUSIC INSPIRED BY THE FAROES

Our programme contained works by Faroese composers Kári Bæk and Kristian Blak as well as pieces inspired by Faroese music by me and Arnannguaq Gerstrøm. We also played a piece based on tunes from Orkney by Judith Weir and a set of Shetland tunes inspired by fishing and whaling trips to Greenland and the Faroes in days gone by. (For more details, see blog below).

I met Kristian back in 2016 and spent a lot of time talking to him about his solo viola piece “Tístram”. It was a real pleasure this time to meet Kári Bæk and rehearse “Vár Trio” and “Fragment” with his input.

When I visited Shetland in November 2016, I composed a piece in conjunction with Margaret Robertson’s fiddle students at Anderson High School. We took as our basis a fragment of a Faroese tune and imagined it seen through the mists over the sea between Shetland and the Faroes. Many a time on my travels people have mentioned how frustrating it is that these archipelagos, with their shared heritage, have no direct transport link. This slightly wistful piece is my response to this.

We were joined on this occasion by two students from Tórshavn music school, Nancy Nónskarð Dam and Bergur Davidsen. We met and rehearsed together for the first time two days before the concert and they fitted in wonderfully with us – a real credit to their teacher, Jona Jacobsen. You can hear their performance here. One day I hope to perform this piece with students from both sets of islands.

THE NORDIC HOUSE

It was an absolute pleasure to perform in the beautiful “Klingran” space in the Nordic House. There are views over Tórshavn through the big glass windows and the performing space is separated from the foyer and café by a glass panel. I love the fact that the space is lit by natural light and that there is no big barrier between the concert and people casually walking into the building. All these things increase the accessibility of music. The acoustics are brilliant, too. It’s an intimate, warm sound that lets every detail shine through. As in my previous concert in the Havnar Kirkja in 2016, the wind was determined to play its part, joining in with the wind effects at the beginning of Arnannguaq Gerstrøm’s “Ukioq”!

We enjoyed playing to an almost full house including Kári, Kristian and many of our friends from the music school. I don’t know whether the Faroese chain dance is to thank for this, but there was some particularly energetic foot stamping in the encore!

RITUVIK

2013_far_sundini_brFortified by a good old fish supper (well, we are from Scotland!) we drove up through the island of Streymoy and over the only bridge over the Atlantic to Esturoy. (This is a Faroese claim – the residents of Kylesku and Skye may wish to dispute that one!) We then drove down through Esturoy to the small village of Rituvík, population 256. (One of the features of Summartónar is that it’s not confined to the capital city, but rather visits many small communities around the islands – something that is also central to the ethos of Nordic Viola.) The journey took one and a quarter hours. Once the new Esturoy tunnel (complete with a subsea roundabout!) is built, this journey of 40 miles will be reduced to 17 miles.

Rituvík church was also beautiful to play in. It was a small, intimate space with a small, intimate yet appreciative audience!

A very long and busy day but much enjoyed by all the musicians. My thanks to Janet, Joost and David and to Dًávur for being our roadie for the day!

A big thank you to the Nordic House and Fróði Vestergaard, not only for looking after us on the concert day but also for providing beautiful accommodation in the conference suite for David and I.

Most of all, thanks to Kristian Blak for organising Summartónar each year. With concerts from May to August, it is a massive undertaking. We hope we’ll be back to play soon!

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.

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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!

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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Bent Sørensen

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!