A Faroese double-header for you tonight. First of all, Søgnin um Kópakonuna í 10 Myndum (The Tale of the Sealwoman in 10 pictures) by young Faroese composer, Eli Tausen á Lava. This legend is shared all away around the western seaboard from the Celtic nations right the way to the Faroes and Iceland, with each country having its own distinctive twists to the tale.
Our artist Orla Stevens has also been creating new art for Eli’s music, which will be unveiled for the first time in Edinburgh.
Our second piece is by Kári Bæk, a more established name on the Faroese scene and a composer who we very much enjoyed working with as a trio in the Faroes back in 2018. Wogen was written originally for solo cello, but I loved it so much I asked Kári if I could make a transcription for viola. You can also hear a small excerpt in this video from Kári’s Vár Trio.
We’re looking forward to welcoming some of you to Edinburgh in 10 days or so. If you live too far away, don’t forget that there is also an online screening of Sagas and Seascapes followed by a zoom Q and A with composers Eli Tausen á Lava, Gemma McGregor and Lillie Harris as well as artist Orla Stevens and I. More info and a link to buy tickets over on sagasandseascapes.com/events
I first came across “Elsewhen” by Lillie Harris when she wrote it for the St. Magnus Composers’ course in 2017 and I knew straight away that I wanted to programme it with Nordic Viola. It is so evocative of the ancient monuments, and in particular of the Stones of Stenness, with its sense of mystery and eeriness. There’s something quite unsettling about the music or, as Orkney Arts Society put it, “There is edge here – edges, edginess, margins and menace under the surface.”
I’ll leave you with Lillie now to explain a little bit more about the piece, working alongside Orla Stevens on the art and, in general, about her collaboration with Nordic Viola.
Ancient sites are intriguing: they offer us amazement at the sheer age of artefacts, many mysteries of why things were that way, and the sense of a delicate thread connecting us now, to those people then. Our interactions with these relics helps us build an image of our past, but there is only so much we can learn from what remains – the rest is lost to time.
In ‘Elsewhen’ I have sought to capture the strangeness, wonder, and melancholy of objects and sites that exist out of time: they retain traces and memories of the past, but have outlived those for whom they were built, and have been left behind.
In the countdown to Sagas and Seascapes at the Fringe, each day this week I’m going to give you a short video introduction to each of the pieces in the programme.
First up is “Carry His Relics” by Gemma McGregor.
‘Carry His Relics’ describes the journey mentioned at the end of the Orkneyinga Saga when the followers of St Magnus carried his remains from Christkirk, Birsay along the coast to the capital town of Kirkjuvagr.
St Magnus is the patron saint of Orkney. He was murdered on 16th April, 1117. Twenty years after Magnus’ death, a farmer called Gunni, from the Orkney island of Westray, reported that Magnus had appeared to him in a dream and instructed him to tell Bishop William that he wanted his relics moved. Gunni reported his dream and permission was granted.
After the procession along the coast of Orkney, Magnus’ remains were interred at St Olaf’s Kirk, although they were later moved to St Magnus Cathedral. Many miracles had been reported by those who had prayed to St Magnus for help.
The joyful processional melodies make reference to both Magnus’ Viking culture and his Christian beliefs by using traditional Orcadian and Norwegian style music and by quoting from 12th century plainchants that may have been sung by the followers of Magnus.
The fifty-five mile long route taken by the pilgrims subsequently became a devotional walk but fell out of use centuries ago. The St Magnus Way was cleared and reopened in 2017 to mark the 900th anniversary of the martyrdom of St Magnus.
Last week I travelled up to Orkney – not with Nordic Viola this time, but with the Royal Scottish National Orchestra for the St. Magnus Festival. Nevertheless, with our performance of Sagas and Seascapes at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe as part of the Made In Scotland Showcase just 2 months away, returning to Orkney a year after we filmed there was an emotional experience.
Passing the Old Man of Hoy which features in our film of Linda Buckley’s Aud and then rounding the corner of Hoy and seeing the mountains exactly as captured in Orla Steven’s painting to Elsewhen by Lillie Harris.
On Sunday I had time to travel to Rousay, a new island for me. The weather was wild, with gale force winds. I found myself wondering how Aud would have experienced this coastline back in the 9th century, what her emotions were as she passed the imposing cliffs on her way to a new life in Iceland.
Cycling on the south side of Rousay, we looked across Eynhallow sound towards the Broch of Gurness where Gemma McGregor reflected on the journey of St. Magnus to his death in Egilsay. The tidal races through the sound are famously fast, and we were treated to a view of them in full flow. Travelling back to Tingwall on the mainland, I saw St. Magnus’ Chruch on Egilsay for the first time. You can read more about the influence of Magnus’ story on Gemma McGregor over on our sister site, sagasandseascapes.com
I felt the ghosts of these ancient peoples all around me after working so intensively with Craig Sinclair over the last few weeks on new film for our first multimedia live performance of Sagas and Seascapes at the Scottish Storytelling Centre 15th-17th August. Book your tickets here. If you can’t make it to Edinburgh, we will also be screening it online on 18th August. Tickets are free here. The screening will be followed by a zoom Q and A with the composrs, artist Orla Stevens and myself.
Recital in Iceland
After briefly touching base, I’ll be travelling to Iceland for the first time since 2019 to perform in the Summer Concert Series at the beautiful Bláakirkjan in Seyđisfjörđur in the East Fjords on 6th July. I’m really looking forward to performing again with pianist Arnhildur Valgarđsdóttir in what I’m sure will be a special event. The last time I played in this gorgeous church with a wonderful acoustic was right at the start of my travels with Nordic Viola in 2016. Back then, I had no idea that Nordic Viola would grow into the project that it is now.
I’ve been enjoying repertoire new and old as I practise for the concert. I’ve been getting to know Jón Thorarinsson’s sonata, which was written originally for clarinet. It’s a delightful three-movement work, full of melody and some jaunty rhythms. Thorarinsson was actually born in Eiðar near Egilsstaðir, just up the road from Seyðisfjörður and a place I know very well!
On a much larger scale is Adrian Vernon Fish’s “Qaanaaq Sonata” inspired by the eponymous settlement in North Greenland. It’s a monumental work which challenges both players and moves from the starkness of the Arctic landscape, through a warm, lyrical melody ( melody is a real feature of Adrian’s music) and onto a wild and exhilarating dog-sled ride in a rather funky 13/8 rhythm. As I play, my thoughts will be with one of the driving forces in music education in Greenland, Per Rosing, who is currently in hospital in Denmark.
Whilst l’m in the East Fjords, I hope to have a few days’ holiday in Borgafjörđur Eystri on the north east coast and to catch up with friends in Egilsstađir.
I know many of you really enjoy following Nordic Viola’s trips to the Far North. It’s been a long hiatus and I hope you’ll enjoy hooking up with me and learning more about the music, cultures and landscapes of this most stunning and intriguing part of our beautiful planet. I can’t wait to travel North once more!
I am delighted and proud to announce that Nordic Viola’s Sagas and Seascapes has been selected as part of the Made In Scotland Showcase at Edinburgh Festival Fringe and we will be performing at the Scottish Storytelling Centre from 15th-17th August at 8:30pm. There will be also be an online screening of the film via the SSC website on 18th August at 7pm, followed by a Zoom Q and A with the principal creators on the project.
The programme also features music from the Faroes by Eli Tausen á Lava and Kári Bæk. Orla Stevens has produced new artwork to asccompany Eli’s Søgnin um Kópakonuna í 10 Myndum (The Tale of the Sealwoman in 10 Pictures) which will be seen for the first time at the Fringe.
Visit our sister site, https://www.sagasandseascapes.com/ to book tickets and for much more interesting content on the project. You can also sign up to the newsletter to keep abreast of all the news in the run-up to Edinburgh. Tickets can also be booked here
You can here excerpts from the music we’ll be performing here:
Lots of news to tell you this month! First of all, the great news that our Crowdfunder campaign that we have been running to raise money towards our performances of Sagas and Seascapes at Edinburgh Festival Fringe has been very successful. Thank you so much to all the generous people who have contributed to that. It means we can support our musicians properly with rehearsal and travel costs. I have also been able to commission Orla to paint us a new piece in response to Eli Tausen á Lava‘s Søgnin um Kópakonuna í 10 Myndum (The Tale of the Sealwoman in 10 pictures). More of that in a minute!
If you haven’t contributed yet and would like to, then you can still do so by clicking here. Additional money over £2000 will be put towards a CD recording which we are aiming to produce in 2023. Alternatively, if crowdfunding is not for you, remember you can help us by visiting our shop. (Payment via PayPal, or use the contact form with your requirements and I can arrange payment by card).
We’ve also received some generous pledges from three businesses local to me. Working within the community is very important to me, whether that’s close to home or when I’m resident in other communities when performing in the Far North, so I’m delighted to be able to offer a free workshop for children in Dunblane as a way of saying thank you to these donors. I’ll introduce you to our sponsors and tell you more about the workshops once I’ve finalised details with everybody.
On 5th March, Orla Stevens and I ran our first joint workshop, Tuning In To The Trossachs, in Aberfoyle in Central Scotland. We were blessed with a crisp, clear spring day and enjoyed the morning outside in the forests collecting sounds and making sketches. In the afternoon we gathered in the hall to draw our ideas together, making graphic scores from the sketches and making some sound sketches using found sounds, instruments and our voices. The emphasis was discovery, reflection and process rather than an end goal, but we are nonetheless pleased with the sounds we made, which capture the peace and beauty of where we were working. Have a listen here:
The Tale of the Sealwoman
Finally, a little more on that collaboration between Orla Stevens and Eli Tausen á Lava. Eli’s piece for flute and clarinet was a joint commission between the Spanish/Danish Aura Duo and Nordic Viola. Edinburgh will see its first live performance in the UK. The music is inspired by the legend of seals (selkies in Scotland) who change into human form on land. These legends are common throughout Norse and Celtic mythology, and you can find out more about them here.
Orla and Eli met for the first time via Zoom a couple of weeks ago. You can see some of their initial ideas in one of our crowdfunder updates below and also read more over on Orla’s website.
As you see, there is a lot going on with Nordic Viola just now. Our next key date will be the Made in Scotland Press Launch on 31st May so please do subscribe to keep up with all our news in the run-up to Edinburgh.
I thought I’d just take a bit of time to tell you a little bit more about what to expect on the day in case you’re not sure whether to sign up.
Orla and I have spent the last year or so working on Nordic Viola’s Sagas and Seascapes project. We’ve become increasingly interested in how music influences art and vice versa. We also share a love of the outdoors, of northern landscapes in particular and the cultures that surround them and we want to share this with you.
Both of us have worked experimentally and are great believers in being able to express ourselves freely without worrying about “getting it right.” Our workshop will be very much exploratory, allowing you to paint and make sound in the way that expresses your feelings about being outdoors. We’ll encourage you to try both art and music. Orla got me drawing again after a 40 year break, because she gave me permission to work quickly and just draw what I felt without fear of judgement. If I can, you can!
For me, music is about so much more than playing the notes right. Even if you’ve never played an instrument, there are sounds all around you. You can make recordings and perhaps shape them into a soundscape, you can find objects lying around that create sound and you can use your own voice. Equally, if you want to write a good honest lyrical melody inspired by your surroundings, then that’s great, too.
We’ll aim to produce a graphic score and a short piece of music/sound art by the end of our day.
Our workshop is open to anyone aged 14 or over. It is fully accessible as even the outdoor part of the day has level access and parking. Just let us know in advance via Eventbrite or the contact form here, and we’ll arrange to meet you.
Tickets in advance from Eventbrite. Just 8 places left as of Monday, so sign up quickly!
I’ll leave you with a couple of short video clips where we talk about our work together.
I will be taking part in two workshops over the next month or so.
Soundwalk with The Bard of the Birds – 27th February 2pm – Online
The Soundwalk with the Bard of the Birds is part 2 of the Modern Chants project run by composer Ruta Vitkauskaite. Part 1 was an online concert in November where, following the many voices of the ancient goddess Cailleach, we ventured on a journey into the Gaelic and Old Norse imagery with poems by Dawn Wood. Music was by Ruta Vitkauskaite, Gemma McGregor, and Emily Doolittle and was inspired by winds, lochs, birds and bagpiping. You can hear some of the music in this playlist.
As spring emerges, The Bard of the Birds invites you to join her for a new music and storytelling experience where you will experience your surroundings in a new way.
Whether you live in the city or countryside, your days are beginning to grow longer as spring emerges and nature finds her way through cracks in the walls and pavements, and through sunlight and birdsong. It can be easy to miss these details.
The event starts on Zoom with an introduction from The Bard of the Birds. You will then be invited to take a walk (approx. 45 min) around your area. You don’t need to travel to any particular location. Indeed, if you feel more comfortable, you can even enjoy the soundwalk from inside your own home, looking through the window at the world outside.
On your walk, you will listen to a soundtrack featuring poems and stories by Dawn Wood, nature-inspired music by Ruta Vitkauskaite, Gemma McGregor, and Emily Doolittle, performed by clarinettist Joanna Nicholson and violist Katherine Wren with electronic sounds by Ellie Cherry and sound design by Chris Adams.
When you return from your walk, we will meet you back on Zoom and invite you to share your experiences with us.
Many of you will have seen the beautiful work that Orla Stevens created for Nordic Viola’s Sagas and Seascapes project. Working together has opened up many new avenues for both our work and we’re really excited to share with you some of the new ways of working that we’ve discovered.
We will be leading an art and music workshop in Aberfoyle in the beautiful Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park, close to our homes.
We will spend the morning outdoors watching and listening to the nature around us. We will collect sounds and make sketches as well as looking for objects that we can use to draw and to create sound.
In the afternoon we will split into 2 groups working in turn with Katherine and Orla at the Memorial Hall, Aberfoyle. Katherine will explore ways of sounding the landscape using instruments, our voices, found objects and recorded sound. We will learn about the elements that make up music and about how these help us to structure sound.
Orla will lead the drawing element of the workshop, exploring intuitive and expressive approaches to sounds and landscapes using both found objects and traditional art materials to create artworks and graphic scores.
At the end of the afternoon we will come together to explore how we can use graphic scores (a visual alternative to reading musical notation) to explore how shape, colour and composition can inspire sounds, and vice versa, finishing with an informal group performance.
Age Range: age 14-adult
Experience: No prior experience required, but if you play an instrument, please bring it along. Art materials will be provided.
Tickets are selling fast, so log on to Eventbrite here to book your place.
Our time together in Orkney in July was very special. It’s not so often that a group of composers get together to work on a project on location in a beautiful place like this and especially so during a pandemic. As a performer I felt privileged to listen to their conversations and to watch Orla at work learning about the music and the stories that inspired the pieces. I then enjoyed following the progress of the paintings as Orla worked in her own experience of the landscapes as well as the music.
The whole project was brought together by video producer, Craig Sinclair, and included shots of Orla making the art set to the music that inspired it.
Orla has very kindly produced a special edition of greetings cards and fine art prints of the paintings and you can now purchase these directly via Nordic Viola at our new shop. Alternatively, you can visit Orla’s own website for these and much more. They’ll make perfect Christmas presents, so please do have a browse!