Concerto Grotto

Two years ago I visited the Faroe Islands for the first time. Just like last time, I hit the ground running. No sooner had I landed than I was in Tórshavn Music School (before I’d even seen my digs!) carrying on where I left off: working with Jóna Jacobsen and her students. (You’ll find out more about that in my next post.) On an evening stroll through town, we bumped into Kristian Blak and popped in for a quick chat. It really felt like I’d never been away.

I woke up the next morning buzzing with excitement. Ever since I’d heard Dávur Juul Magnussen’s CD Cesurae, I’ve been desperate to do a Concerto Grotto.  Usually these concerts take place in Klæmintsgjógv in the island of Hestur, but due to sea conditions we were off to the east side of Nólsoy. Notwithstanding that, we had bright blue skies and a calm sea as we set off on the schooner Nordlusið, feeling dwarfed by the massive bulk of Cunard’s Queen Victoria. For all her luxury, I’d never have swapped her for the journey we were on.

As we rounded the north coast of Nólsoy, my eyes were peeled for our cave. Dressed in life jackets, Dávur, Emily and I carefully transferred viola, trombone, amp and battery into a small dinghy – a delicate operation!

Dávur received a quick driving lesson and we were off! Shivers ran down my spine as I started playing. It was magical watching the audience float towards us in their dinghies as I played Tvisöngur, the piece I wrote in Iceland and the Faroes 2 years ago, inspired by Seyðisfjörður’s eponymous sound sculpture. I’d been dreaming of doing this for ages. Dávur joined me as I played “Soay”, a beautiful tune from Scotland’s St. Kilda islands and we moved into some free improvisation. The concert finished with Dávur’s rendition of the Faroese national anthem.

It takes a little bit of time to get accustomed to using the cave as a musical partner. There are the natural sounds of waves and water splashing on the boats as well as the echo, but the moving soundboard of the sea’s surface also adds to the music. Gradually I found what sounds were most effective. Glissandi are particularly good, eerily evoking whale song, perhaps. It was fun playing with merging the timbres of trombone and viola. On the face of it they’re unlikely partners, but both instruments have a wide range of colour and a big overlap in pitch range and it’s interesting to explore how their sounds complement and contrast with each other.

The cave was visually beautiful, too. The water was aquamarine and I kept finding myself focusing on a thin band of red rock just on the waterline, formed from volcanic ash I learned later. The eroded roof had flashes of vivid green moss or algae contrasting with the black basalt.

Concerts over we scrabbled back into the big boat – people and instruments all present and correct. Phew! Birgir the skipper then treated us to a circumnavigation of the island. We watched the birds busily feeding their young on the cliffs and saw several seals sunbathing on a tightly-packed rock.

As we rounded the southern end of the island I saw the lighthouse I’d hiked to with Paige Klugherz on my last visit and the famous eye of the needle through the island. And then we had the sails up, Dávur showing his sailing credentials and helping to hoist them.

DSCN5082A bit of banter on the ships horn with the Queen Victoria, off on her way to her next port and suddenly we were back in the harbour. I’m not going to rest now until I’ve done it all on the bigger stage of Klæmintsgjógv. I’ve played in the Albert Hall, London and the Musikverein in Vienna, but never on a platform so beautiful as that sea cave!

If you’re in the Faroes in the next month or so, there are more Concerti Grotti (if that’s the plural) so do give it a go – it’s special. http://www.nordlysid.com/trips If you’re not lucky enough to experience it for yourself, then have a look at the video Emily Nenniger kindly made for us. https://www.facebook.com/royalscottishnationalorchestra/videos/10157008796601323/

 

Advertisements

Summartónar in the Faroe Islands

nordicviola-faroe

(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.

 

 

DSCN4728

 

 

…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

nordicviola2-kinbuck2

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

DUFDZJwXkAAyG7P
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.

DUFDY_gWkAMkUvG

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.

Future TravelsDSCN4330

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!!

Nordic Viola in RSNO Chamber Series, Glasgow

DSC_1947

When it comes to music, the North speaks its own language. Led by Katherine Wren, 4 players from the Royal Scottish National Orchestra take an extraordinary journey: contemporary tales of the Faroes, Shetland, Iceland and the Arctic sit side by side with music from the father of Faroese classical music (Heinesen) and new reflections by Katherine Wren and Composers’ Hub alumni Lillie Harris. Folk roots, personal testimonies, melodies shaped by the elements and new sounds from vast landscapes: it all adds up to something that’s simultaneously timeless, modern and utterly compelling.
Sun 21 Jan 2018, 2.30PM
New Auditorium, Glasgow Royal Concert Hall, Glasgow

Box Office:
Book Online Now!
http://www.rsno.org.uk/concert-listing/concert-information/?c_id=744&action=Read%20More

£14 in advance / £16 on the day

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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.

Bent Sorensen
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

 

index

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

DSC_1947

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.

Dunblane School Workshops

DSCN4601

Working with young people has been an important part of Nordic Viola right from the outset. In the run-up to our Dunblane Cathedral Arts Guild concert on Sunday 1st Octobert, flautist Helen Brew and I spent yesterday up at Dunblane High School.

First up was a composition workshop with Advanced Higher Music students. We introduced them to ways of depicting northern landscapes in music. We talked about incorporating recorded sounds from nature into music, either by using the soundtrack itself in the music, or by imitating sounds of nature on our instruments. We also looked at some traditional melodies and talked about how we could draw motifs from these and use techniques such as imitation and canon to develop them.

In the short time we had available, we improvised as a group, setting up a texture to mimic the sounds of ice and wind. We then started laying on top of that fragments of an Inuit entertaining song.

We were just getting into a groove when, unfortunately, the bell went. Hopefully we opened the students’ eyes to new ways of creating music, discovering sounds they never new they had in their instruments!

After school we gathered in the school hall with the orchestra. I was astonished, first of all, at the number of musicians in the school and, secondly, at their sight-reading abilities. We spent an enjoyable hour playing through tunes from Shetland, Orkney and Iceland, all of which my own ensemble will be playing on Sunday.

Thanks go to Dunblane Cathedral Arts Guild for setting up the visit and to Dunblane High School for hosting us. We look forward to entertaining some of the young people and their parents on Sunday afternoon. As well as a wide range of music from the North Atlantic, there will be tales from mine and others’ travels as well as some images of the region to accompany tea and coffee in the interval.

Nordic Viola – 1 year on

One year ago I was about halfway through the first phase of my sabbatical. After two wonderful weeks in the Faroes, I’d just returned to Iceland and was preparing for a concert in the beautiful Bláa Kirkja in Seðisfjörður.

dscn3207

It’s perhaps fitting, then, that the coming month is going to be one of the busiest yet for Nordic Viola.

Composing the North!

DSCN3777

Things kick off on 25th September in Dunblane High School. Flautist Helen Brew and I will be spending the morning working with four Higher Music students on a composition workshop. Using sounds recorded in Greenland, the Faroes and perhaps even Dunblane, we’ll be exploring how we can use sounds from the natural world to inspire our music making. Maybe we’ll use live sounds in our pieces, or maybe we’ll try imitating them on our own instruments – it’ll be up to the students. We’ll also look at incorporating elements of traditional music into compositions.

Dunblane School Orchestra

After school, Helen and I will work on some music from Iceland, Orkney and Shetland with the school orchestra. I’m sure we’ll have a lot of fun playing together and hopefully whet the students’ appetites for our concert the following Sunday.

 Dunblane Cathedral Concert

DHXUKqAXUAAgsX6.jpg large

The concert is in Dunblane Cathedral at 3pm on 1st October and is promoted by the Cathedral Arts Guild. We have a brand new piece by Greenlandic composer, Arnannguaq Gerstrøm. It’s called “Ukioq”, which is Greenlandic for “Winter”. Arnannguaq has created some wonderful “icy” effects from flute, viola and bassoon. I love the way that, as well as the sterner aspects of winter, there is a lot of playfulness in the piece. Alongside this lively new piece there’ll be traditional tunes from the North Atlantic and possibly even a mystery guest!

Aberdeen Sound Festival

Later in October I’ll be at the Sound Festival in October, exploring whether we can pin down a “sound of the north.” More on that nearer the time.