Dunblane Cathedral Arts Guild – Sagas & Seascapes

Sunday, 28 November 2021, 3.00pm – Sagas & Seascapes

Nordic Viola’s Sagas and Seascapes series culminates in Dunblane with our biggest ensemble yet as we perform Sibelius’ great tone poem, En Saga, in its original septet version.

Aud by Orla Stevens

Linda Buckley’s Aud, which was commissioned by Nordic Viola for Orkney International Science Festival, has been attracting a lot of attention since we first performed it online. It is currently a featured work in Creative Scotland’s #ClassicAll campaign and you can view a video performance of it here

Linda’s evocative score reimagines the journey of Aud the Deep-Minded from Norway and Ireland via Caithness, Orkney and Faroe to Iceland, where she was one of the early settlers in the 9th century. Linda wrote the piece during lockdown and, as well as telling the ancient story of Aud, the music is full of a sense of yearning to travel again to the Far North.

Elsewhen by Orla Stevens

Lillie Harris’ Elsewhen explores the mystery of the ancient standing stones of Orkney. You can hear Lillie talking about the piece onsite in Orkney here.

The programme is bookended by the Danish String Quartet’s delightful arrangements of the Unst Boat Song from Shetland and The Dromer, a Danish folk dance based on the Scottish reel “The Drummer.” Both these tunes are taken from the Danish String Quartet’s Last Leaf album.

The concert starts at 3pm. To avoid queues, please pre-register contact details for NHS Test and Protect on this link: https://www.dunblanecathedral.org.uk/event/10525272

Orla Stevens

I’m sure that a lot of you will be intrigued by the beautiful paintings above. They were specially commissioned by Nordic Viola for our Sagas and Seascapes series from Orla Stevens. Orla is currently resident in Callander, but grew up in Dunblane. She travelled with myself and the composers to Orkney to explore the landscapes and concepts behind the music.

Orla’s beautiful prints connected to the music will be available to order at the concert, alongside greetings cards with her beautiful images. If you can’t wait that long, you can also order them here.

Orla talks about her work on the project here:

Histories and Herstories Composers Part 8

Arnannguaq Gerstrøm

Arnannguaq Gerstrøm

I met Arnannguaq Gerstrøm when I was in Nuuk, the capital of Greenland, in February 2017. Arnannguaq is an accomplished flautist, conductor and composer. She grew up in the Greenlandic towns of Ilulissat (by the World Heritage Site of Disko Bay, famed for its icebergs issuing from the Ice Fjord) and Nuuk, where she now lives.

As well as being a fine musician, Arnannguaq is also a great and eloquent ambassador for her country. I spent many absorbing hours talking to her over fabulous homecooked food about Greenland’s music and music-makers. We also talked about many aspects of life in modern Greenland in this increasingly outward-looking country. Whilst Greenland is modernising at a rapid pace, it is also proud of its culture and traditions.

On returning to Scotland, I commissioned Arnannguaq to write a piece for viola, flute and bassoon as a companion piece to Faroese composer Kári Bæk’s “Vár Trio.” Vár means Spring and Arnannguaq chose to write Ukioq (Winter). Inspired by the spirit, nature and forces of winter in the Arctic surroundings of Greenland. The early Inuit believed that nature was endowed with the spirits. Every single stone, piece of straw, animal and organism was alive and had a soul. They also believed that the human soul could migrate from animal to animal, and this led to a lot of imaginative stories.

People often think of Arctic winters as being harsh and inhospitable and of course they can be exactly that. However, what I love about Arnannguaq’s piece is that, as well as mimicking the sounds of wind and ice, she illustrates the “sparkle” of a Greenlandic winter – the crystal clear days I remember from my time there, where the bright snow contrasts with the sapphire blue of the sea and the pale blue arctic sky, the sheer joy of being outside in the lengthening days of late winter absorbing the beauty of the landscape around me.

Arnannguaq finds inspiration in nature and once spent 4 nights on icecap along with 30 Greenlandic dogs, collecting material for her works.

Ukioq was premiered in Dunblane Cathedral in October 2017 and later performed as part of the Royal Scottish National Orchestra’s Chamber Series in January 2018, with the composer present at the performance on a weekend where we even managed to summon up some Greenlandic weather for Arnannguaq: temperatures down to minus 10C and knee-high snow.

As with many of the female composers in this “Histories and Herstories” series, Arnannguaq has played a leading role in her community. After her studies abroad, Arnannguaq moved back to Greenland. From 2004-2014 she worked at the Musikskolen in Nuuk which she led for a while. The music school continues to thrive and has expanded to the East of the country, with a branch in Tasiilaq. As well as providing a musical education, it also has an important social function for its young students.

In 2013 Arnannguaq was appointed Cultural Ambassador of Kommuneqarfik Sermersooq and in 2014 she was accepted in the Far North artist network as a composer. In 2014 she also founded the Erinniat Ensemble in Greenland with the purpose of performing new music.

Her list of works includes compositions for orchestra, ensemble, choir and solo pieces. In 2016 three of her works were premiered in the Tivoli Koncertsal, Copenhagen and chosen from among more than 500 submitted works to be performed at the Harpa concert hall in Reykjavik at the 2016 Nordic Music Days.

In her compositions Arnannguaq explores her mixed roots from Europe and the Inuit culture, transforming the rhythm and melodies into completely new soundscapes.

As  with many island women I’ve met during my project, alongside her career in music, Arnannguaq holds a number of business positions, including being managing director of the family company Usisaat and co-owning the companies AJLA Nordic and MATU security. She sets great store in these posts in developing her staff – much as she did previously with her charges in the music school.

If you enjoyed listening to Arnannguaq’s Trio, try listening to her orchestral piece “Seqinniarfik”, which depicts the first sunrise after a long winter in Ilulissat.

Review of 2019 and onwards into 2020 – Scotland’s “Year of Coasts and Waters”

2019 has been the busiest year yet for Nordic Viola as the project continues to grow and make new connections around the North Atlantic. This year has seen an increasing number of collaborations with other artists working in the region and Nordic Viola is increasingly becoming a point of information and liaison for other musicians and composers.

Iceland

The first event of the year was a week in Iceland in March/April working with two musicians I met back in 2016 and who I’ve been desperate to work with again.

Firstly, Charles Ross, fellow viola player, composer and improviser. Charles has an incredible way of looking at the viola not as a traditional string instrument but as a source of sound to be exploited in any number of different ways. He has a very acute sense of timbre in music and is a very skilled improviser. There is a naivety and joyousness in much of his music, perhaps born of his interest in improvisation in world music.

We performed together in Mengi, Reykjavik and at Slátarhusið, Egilsstaðir in East Iceland. Somewhat nerve-wrackingly, the weather conspired against us in Reykjavik, meaning that we were on stage live with no rehearsal. It made for a very exciting and intense performance, though. We had much more time in Egilsstaðir, allowing us to perform with pre-recorded electronic tracks, introduce more sound effects and instruments and to better structure our work.

Whilst in Egilsstaðir I visited the music school again to give a masterclass to senior pupils, meeting old and new friends alike. It was also a great pleasure to hear Kristófer Gauti Thórhallsson, who I coached back in 2016, playing a movement from Vivaldi’s Four Seasons with the Austerlands Symphony Orchestra. Music is really thriving in East Iceland, thanks in part to the leadership of Soley Thrastardóttir, head of the music school.

Arnhildur Valgarðsdóttir has been a great friend to me whenever I’ve visited Reykjavik and a performance together was long overdue. We performed a viola/piano tour of the North Atlantic with music by Gemma McGregor, Peter Maxwell Davies (both Orkney), Adrian Vernon Fish (Qaanaaq, a sonata inspired by Greenland) and Oliver Kentish (Iceland).

Dunblane

In June I repeated this programme with Kevin Duggan in Dunblane Cathedral and I hope to be able to tour this popular programme with both Adda and Kevin in the next couple of years.

The Dunblane concert was a particularly joyous occasion for me as I finally got to welcome Adrian Vernon Fish to one of our concerts. Adrian and I have been in touch since Nordic Viola began as we share a deep love for Greenland and he has been a source of inspiration and advice to me from the start. Apart from Qaanaaq, a viola sonata that really deserves to be out there in the wider world, his “Uyeasound” Nocturne has become one of our favourite pieces.

I also welcomed Gemma McGregor to Dunblane to hear her piece, “Joy” for solo viola. We had worked together in Orkney in 2018 and this was a chance to catch up and discuss a new commission (more on that later) as well as trawling through my now extensive collection of Far North CDs.

Scotland New Music Awards

In May I was honoured to be shortlisted for the New Music Scotland  “Making it Happen Award” alongside eventual winners the Nevis Ensemble and Glasgow Experimental Music Series. It was incredibly inspiring to share an evening with a full house of inspirational musicians – the contemporary music scene in Scotland is thriving at the moment. Stories were shared with old friends and new alliances were formed.

Out of the Box

July saw my first concert of the year guesting on another project. Fiona Driver’s “Out of the Box” concert in Inverness Cathedral featured a group of musicians inspired in various ways by traditional music of the north. Fiona and husband Trevor Hunter are two of the driving forces in fiddle music from Orkney and Shetland and are now practising their art in Inverness. We were joined by Lea MacLeod on pipes and flute, Anya Johnston on fiddle and Dave Chadwick on the incredible Swedish Nyckelharpa. David Martin and I played some folk tunes from Iceland and then joined in a trio with Fiona to play her “Hoy’s Dark and Lonely Isle” and my “Mjørkaflókar”, inspired by Orkney and the Faroes respectively.

I hope to invite Fiona down to Dunblane sometime on a new and similar collaboration.

Flitting around the islands

September proved to be an incredibly busy month for Nordic Viola. First up was the “Shoormal Conference” on rural creativity at the University of the Highlands and Islands in the beautiful Mareel Centre in Lerwick, Shetland. I teamed up with Orkney composer and flautist Gemma McGregor for this project to talk about our work in Orkney last year. We gave a presentation entitled From the Northern Isles to Greenland: Exploring environment and culture through improvisation and sonic art, reflecting on our work with school children in Kirkwall and Stromness last year.

One of the aims of my Orkney residency last year was to commission Gemma and our concert at the conference, Nordic Viola: A Journey Around the North Atlantic in Words and Music, saw the premiere of her new piece for viola and flute based on the St. Magnus Way, “Carry His Relics”. The focus of the concert was on showcasing how a rich palette of sound can be generated from limited resources when travelling in remote rural areas.

Putting theory into practice, Nordic Viola’s next outing was to the Isle of Coll Music Group with flautist Helen Brew, fellow violist David Martin and bassoonist David Hubbard. Coll is an island in the Inner Hebrides off the west coast of Scotland and we were blessed with some surprisingly mediterranean weather! Music included a new arrangement of the Unst Boat Song by the Danish String Quartet and Emily Doolittle’s “Social Sounds From Whales at Night” which has proved a big hit in my concerts this year.

Alongside Autumn – A Composer’s Walk

October saw another new collaboration with composer Matilda Brown in Durness on the north coast of Scotland. Matilda had journeyed right through Scotland from Annan in Dumfriesshire to Durness entirely on foot, performing and composing as she went. We share a lot of the same inspirations in our music and I found sharing in the end of Matilda’s journey an incredibly moving and inspiring experience. We’re both looking forward to working together in the future.

2020 and beyond!

The rest of the autumn has been about planning ahead for 2020 and beyond and we have some very exciting plans, many growing out of new connections made this year.

Histories and Herstories

The Shoormal Conference proved to be especially profitable in building new partnerships, not least with the University of the Highlands and Islands themselves and my first project will be a programme of female composers writing about island life as part of the Histories and Herstories Conference in April. I am delighted that pupils from Anderson High School will be joining us in performance.

Year of Coasts and Waters

Event Scotland’s theme for 2020 is tailor-made for us and we will be touring a programme entitled “Sagas and Seascapes” to the Orkney Science Festival, Shetland and Dunblane. The programme looks at the many cultural links around the North Atlantic and especially shared stories such as the Icelandic “Njál’s Saga” and the “Orkneyinga Saga”. We’re also very excited about performing the rarely heard Septet version of Sibelius’ “En Saga” in Dunblane and about a new commission – more will be revealed as the year progresses! We will also be enjoying depictions of landscapes from the sea cliffs of the Faroes and the ancient monuments of Orkney to name but two.

Cross-disciplinary collaborations

Shoormal opened new opportunities for me to work with Nordic Viola in tandem with other art forms. At the moment these are in a developmental stage but I’m looking forward to preventing some new and innovative performance formats in the 2020/21 season. Together with composer Renzo Spiteri (now resident in Shetland) and visual artist Orla Stevens I am developing a project inspired by the Northern and Western Isles and beyond looking at the transitions from darkness to light at northern latitudes.

I have always been fascinated by words and am therefore excited to be working with Lesley Harrison. One of her publications, “Beyond the Map” charts an imaginary journey following the early whalers up the east coast of Scotland to the Northern Isles and up to Greenland. The parallels with my own project are obvious and I look forward to developing an event with Lesley and other musicians such as Alex South and Emily Doolittle who are interested in whale song.

Nordic Viola seems to be developing at a rapid rate at the moment and I look forward to sharing the journey with you as these new projects and partnerships develop.

Dunblane Cathedral

A big thanks to all who came to our Dunblane Cathedral concert on Sunday. We had a great turnout of all ages.

It was a particular pleasure to welcome Gemma McGregor, composer of “Joy” and Adrian Vernon Fish, composer of “Qaanaaq”. Gemma and I worked together in Orkney last November, but I’ve waited a long time to meet Adrian. I was first in contact with him before I travelled to Greenland in 2017 and, as well as his beautiful music, he also gave me some valued advice and connections to friends over in Greenland. It was therefore wonderful to finally meet him.

We also performed works by Peter Maxwell Davies, Arvo Pärt and Oliver Kentish on our journey through Orkney, Iceland, and Greenland via Estonia!

I really enjoyed working with Kevin Duggan, not least because he shares my fascination with the Far North, having worked in Denmark for several years.

I have plans to work with all 3 musicians again, so watch this space!

Thanks, too, to Dunblane Cathedral for allowing us to play in this beautiful building.

Dunblane Cathedral Concert 2nd June

From Orkney to Greenland via Iceland. It’s a journey that Dunblane resident and RSNO viola player Katherine Wren has become very familiar with. In fact, she has recently returned from a tour in Iceland where she performed with pianist Arnhildur Valgarðsdóttir, herself trained at what was then the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama (now RCS).

On Sunday 2nd June at 12:30, Katherine will join with Dunblane Cathedral organist, Kevin Duggan, to perform the programme she played in Iceland. The two musicians share a love and fascination with the music of the north and their programme is rich in melodies inspired by traditional music and cultures of the Far North.

Their programme opens with music from Orkney: Gemma McGregor’s “Joy,” influenced by the Norwegian Hardanger fiddle and Peter Maxwell Davies’ ever popular “Farewell to Stromness.” Arvo Pärt’s simple and meditative “Spiegel im Spiegel” is followed by British composer Adrian Vernon Fish’s viola sonata “Qaanaaq,” which depicts a settlement in the far north of Greenland. By turns richly romantic and boisterous, this piece paints a picture of the vast landscapes in Greenland as well as a rather energetic sleddog team and went down a storm in Iceland! Click on the hyperlinks above to hear some excerpts!

The concert ends with a set of variations on an Icelandic folk melody, “Kvinnan Fróma,” by English-Icelandic composer Oliver Kentish.

The concert will last approx 50 mins and admission is free with a retiring collection.