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.

Fellabaer

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.

Advertisements

Video Preview Nordic Viola Concert RSNO

Thank you so much to Danny Pollitt of RSNO for making this video preview of Nordic Viola’s concert in the RSNO Chamber Series Sunday 21st January at 2:30 in the New Auditorium, Glasgow Royal Concert Hall.

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.