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.
“Aud”, supported by the PRS Foundation Women Make Music programme, will be receiving its live premiere. Written by Linda Buckley during lockdown, “Aud”, in telling the tale of the 9th Century heroine of the Sagas, also reflects on the emotions evoked by travel; the uncertainties, the sense of adventure the feeling, perhaps, of leaving something behind.
New pieces for us in this programme are Orcadian Gemma McGregor’s “Our Lady of Sorrows and Danger”, based on a poem by Ron Ferguson and Finnish composer Aulis Sallinen’s “Sea of Peace.”
Traditional voices from established and new musicians from Shetland depict Shetland’s seascapes and its people. Margaret Robertson’s tender air to mothers everywhere opens the programme. Young people are central to our work and we’re delighted to welcome accordionist Victoria Byrne-McCombie, who was one of the competition winners in our international Seastories Competition with her winning tunes. Victoria will be introduced by10-year-old Isla Jamieson’s poem “You are beautiful, Shetland” which I came across online last year.
Much older, traditional stories told in Icelandic folk melodies end our programme.
If you would like to have a wee taster of our programme, I’ve put together a short playlist on Soundcloud for you.
During the week I’m also looking forward to an online workshop with pupils from Anderson High School on a Seastories theme. Last time I worked with the school, we developed one of Nordic Viola’s most popular pieces, “Mjørkaflókar”, so I’m excited to see what we can produce this time!
Our documentary/concert film “Sagas and Seascapes”, featuring interviews with the composers, stunning film footage and artwork produced specifically for the film, as well as two world premieres was streamed by Orkney International Science Festival last Friday.
It’s now available to view at your leisure on YouTube.
Back in June we announced the winners of our Seastories Competition, which was open to young people in the Northern Isles, Faroe Islands, Iceland and Greenland.
As we approach our online concert for Orkney International Science Festival this Friday, it’s time to introduce you to the fabulous tunes that our winners and runners up wrote on the theme of the sea.
Cumliewick Shore by Victoria Byrne-McCombie
First up is accordionist Victoria Byrne-McCombie. As we will be performing “Sagas and Seascapes” live in Shetland Museum Boat Hall on the 25th September, we decided to award a special prize to the best tune from Shetland, with the winner playing with us live in concert. You can buy tickets for the concert on Eventbrite here.
Victoria’s piece, Cumliewick Shore, depicts a beach near Sandwick on Shetland Mainland. Victoria said, “When I was thinking about the theme of the sea I was trying to think of a way that I could interpret the theme into a tune and I thought of the melodic tide and how it moves in, the way it comes in and out, so I knew here that I wanted to have a note through the tune that keeps coming back to and that was like the melodic movement of the tide. For the second part I took the same note of E as the structure but went higher and started changing the rhythm as the sea is much stronger than people think and the tide can change and weather (especially in Shetland!) at any time.”
Victoria also sent us “Just another double-peg day”, a double-peg day being the term the Northern Isles use for a windy day, which she will also play at our concert.
Korona Trot by Anni Helena Lamhauge
Coincidentally, our overall winner is also an accordionist. Anni Helena Lamhauge lives in the Faroe Islands and her winning piece, “Korona Trot” was written as she looked out over the sea from her home as she quarantined. The title is a play on words as “trot” in Faroese means to be tired of something. You’ll be able to watch Anni Helena playing her tune in our online concert, “Sagas and Seascapes”, on Friday 3rd September from 21:00BST.
Anni Helena also sent us a second tune, Tra Le Linee, which is a characterful minor key waltz.
Fjøra by Ronja Gaard Hansen
Finally, our runner up and youngest finalist is Ronja Gaard Hansen, also from the Faroe Islands. Ronja’s waltz for fiddle and piano, “Fjøra” (seashore), reminds her of happy days spent down by the sea on the long summer days.
If you live in the East of Scotland and are aged 12-16, I will be running another “Seastories” workshop with artist Orla Stevens in conjunction with Hospitalfield and Aproxima Arts in Arbroath next Sunday, 5th September. More information and details of how to sign up here.
The premiere of our Sagas and Seascapes online programme is nearly upon us. It will take place from 3rd September at 21:00. The live link will appear here.
Nordic Viola has enjoyed a strong connection with the Faroe Islands since I was first so warmly welcomed to the islands back in September 2016 and so it gives me great pleasure that our Sagas and Seascapes programme has a strong Faroese element to it. Kári Bæk’s Vár Trio was in our very first programme and his music has featured frequently since. A new composer for us, though one I was introduced to by Kristian Blak and Sunleif Rasmussen a couple of years ago, is rising star on the Faroese and Nordic scene, Eli Tausen á Lava. Finally, the winner of our recent Seastories Competition is also Faroese. Anni Helena Lamhauge will be playing her tune Korona Trot on accordion as part of our online concert for Orkney International Science Festival on 3rd September at 21:00 BST.
It is a great and unexpected honour for us to be able to give the world and UK premiere of Eli Tausen á Lava’s Søgnin um Kópakonuna (The Tale of the Sealwoman) for flute and clarinet, composed in 2019. The piece was commissioned by the Spanish/Danish Aura Duo and should have been performed at Sumartónar 2021 but was sadly postponed due to Covid restrictions. The duo very generously granted us permission to perform the premiere in the UK and we look forward to being able to share their performance dates with you when they are finally able to take the piece to the Faroes and Denmark.
The legend of the sealwoman is one that is common throughout the North Atlantic region with variants of it coming from the Hebrides, Northern Isles, the Faroes and Iceland. It is exactly these shared stories stemming from a shared environment and culture that were the inspiration and source of fascination for me when planning Sagas and Seascapes. The core of the story hinges around men who capture the selkie’s skin and take the selkie woman as a wife. The selkie, no longer in posession of her skin is trapped in human form with her captor.
In Shetland the stories take a more sinister turn, the selkies luring men into the sea at midsummer, their lovelorn admirers never returning to dry land. Anyone who has heard the mournful, eery sound of the selkies may not find this so far-fetched.
In Iceland, tales of elves are common and in some variants of the selkie legend, such as that told by Jón Guðmunsson the Learned in the 17th Century the seal-folk are in fact sea-dwelling elves or marmennlar (mermen and mermaids).
Eli Tausen á Lava
Since he first stepped onto the classical music landscape in 2015, Faroese composer and pianist Eli Tausen á Lava has quickly developed a unique and recognizable artistic voice. He has a deep appreciation for stillness and simplicity in both music and life — something he expressed most recently with his 2020 debut album Impressions, a 40-minute refuge from a hectic world.
Eli won Best New Artist at the Faroese Music Awards of 2019, marking the first time a classical composer received the award. One year earlier, he had attracted his fellow Faroe Islanders’ attention when he was selected, despite his young age, to represent the Faroe Islands at the international World New Music Days festival in Beijing.
Eli has worked with a variety of musicians and ensembles from around Europe. He has an intuitive and open-minded approach to making music and believes there is no right or wrong way to create art. “I try to get out of my own way when composing,” he says. “My feeling is that writing music is more like discovering an already-existing structure or organism, rather than creating one out of thin air.”
Eli introduces his music
I’ll leave it to Eli to tell you more about his piece and you can also hear a few short extracts played by Janet Larsson (flute) and Robert Digney (clarinet).
Kári is an old friend of ours and it gave us great pleasure to work alongside him in Tórshavn in 2018 when we performed his Vár Trio and Fragment with flute, viola and bassoon at Sumartónar 2018. Gemma McGregor also played his solo flute piece, Snjólysi, in Orkney last month.
Kári has played an important role in Faroese musical life as musician, choral conductor as well as composer. He began composing relatively late and has composed both choral and instrumental ensemble works, some of which have been recorded by the Faroese ensemble Aldubáran and by a wind quintet located in Reykjavik (Iceland). Bæk’s choir works range from sacred to secular music written for both amateurs and professionals. In 2006 a CD containing some of Bæk’s works for choir was released.
In this programme I’ll be playing my own transcription of “Wogen”, originally for cello, that I produced in consultation with Kári. I love how this piece captures the shifting moods of the sea. For me, the piece has a real sense of voyaging, a sense that the piece gains momentum as it progresses. It ends with a hymn-like passage which I discovered, on listening to Kristian Blak’s CD Shaldergeo (a collection of music based on Shetland and Faroese traditional music) comes from a stanza of Sinklar’s Visa set to a tune from the island of Nólsoy, in which the Scottish mercenary is warned by a mermaid not to engage in battle with the Norwegians. And so we find ourselves full circle with the selkie folk.
The end of May saw Nordic Viola playing together under the same roof for the first time since March 2020! And what a way to start, bringing our new commission, “Aud” by Linda Buckley, to life for the first time as we recorded “Sagas and Seascapes” for Orkney International Science Festival 2021. It’s always an amazing feeling to realise a new work and I love that collaborative process of working with a composer as we work together to unite the concepts of what they imagined as they created the music and how we interpret those dots as performers.
Covid made that experience slightly unusual as we went straight into the recording studio with “Aud” and still haven’t heard the complete score. I’m on absolute tenterhooks whilst Linda and our amazing recording team, Hedd Morfett-Jones and Simon Lowden work their magic and unite musicians with the electronic soundtrack.
Already the music has such a strong sense of journeying, depicting as it does Aud the Deep-Minded‘s journey from Ireland via Caithness, Orkney, and the Faroes before settling in Iceland. There is so much energy in the shifting textures and a sense of the music “flickering” through the distinct timbres of the three string instruments and the clarinet. It’s easy to think of string instruments as one body, but Linda’s writing really highlights how the colour of each pitch can vary across the three instruments.
There’s also a strong sense of yearning in the music – perhaps for that very human desire to be on the move and to explore that so many of us have missed during lockdown.
Søgnin um Kópakonuna í 10 Myndum (Faroese: the Legend of the Seal Woman in 10 Pictures) is inspired by a set of 10 drawings by Faroese artist Edward Fuglø, which were originally drawn for the 2007 stamp issue titled Kópakonan (the Seal Woman).
Edward Fuglø’s drawings illustrate the Faroese legend of a female selkie, a mythological Ecapable of transforming from seal to human by shedding its skin, who is forced to live as a human when a young man from the village of Mikladalur steals her sealskin.
Søgnin um Kópakonuna í 10 Myndum was commissioned by Aura Duo and was composed with the support of Koda Kultur. The piece was due to be premiered in the Faroes in 2020/1 but has had to be postponed due to Covid. We’ll be introducing Eli and the Aura Duo to you in August.
Elsewhen by Lillie Harris
In our biggest ensemble to date, we recorded Lillie Harris‘ “Elsewhen” an incredibly eery, almost primitive at times (think stomping, Rite-of-Spring-style chords) depiction of Orkney’s prehistoric monuments and how they have come to us through time. “Elsewhen” is written for flute, clarinet and string quartet and, as well as its eery textures and footstamping rhythms, it features yearning melodies in the wind instruments and violins.
Lillie is an old friend of Nordic Viola, writing my first commission, “AND” for solo viola. She has an uncanny way of capturing the essence of a place, sometimes prior to even visiting it. “Elsewhen” was originally composed for the St. Magnus Composers’ Course in 2017.
As well as our audio team, we had Craig Sinclair working on video and Matthew Smith on lighting and, as you can see above, they created a stunning stage for us to work on. We consider ourselves very lucky to have been able to record in the RSNO’s purpose-built New Auditorium.
Filming in Orkney
Craig is now in the driving seat as the composers, Linda Buckley, Lillie Harris and Gemma McGregor head to Orkney to capture footage of the landscapes, monuments and tales that inspired their music. Craig and I first worked together on “Histories and Herstories” during lockdown last year. Despite being reliant on stock footage, I loved how he matched the rhythm of the music with film and I’m eager to see how much more can be done when he is set free to film on location.
In another first for us, the emotions of the composers as they explore these historic sites and experience the nature and seascapes of Orkney will be captured and interpreted by landscape artist Orla Stevens. Orla, too is fascinated by seastories and landscapes and often captures the energy of the sea in paintings with a considerable textural element to them. She is also a keen musician and is interested in exploring the parallels between rhythm in music and art. I’m very excited and intrigued to see how she interprets these musical worlds.
We’re at the halfway point in our Seastories Competition. We’ve received some very imaginative entries from Shetland, the Faroes and Greenland. Last Saturday Gemma McGregor led our first international zoom workshop alongside myself and Faroese trombonist and, on this occasion, interpreter, Dávur Juul Magnussen.
We explored ways of creating music about the sea and the techniques we could use to expand our musical ideas. We also took time to share our experiences of the sea in our home countries and explored common stories, such as legends across the North Atlantic about seals, and also explored Norse words that have survived in dialect in the Northern Isles. At a time when travel is nigh on impossible, I hope we were able to help the young people imagine a world beyond their own shores and to connect with others whose cultures overlap with ours.
We’ll announce our competition winners next week.
Live in Orkney
I’ll leave you with a wee teaser – whilst I’m in Orkney, I’ll be performing in a programme entitled “Birds and Landscapes of the North” with composer Gemma McGregor on flute. We’re in Stromness Town Hall on Friday 2nd July at 7:30pm and you can buy tickets here. Tickets are strictly limited due to Covid, so you need to book in advance.
More on the programme next time.
As you can see, there’s a lot happening with Nordic Viola at the moment. If you want to stay up-to-date, you can subscribe here:
Finally, I’d like to thank our funders: Creative Scotland, PRSF Women Make Music for supporting Linda Buckley, The Royal Philharmonic Society Enterprise Fund for allowing me to learn more about video alongside Craig Sinclair and the William Syson Foundation for supporting our education work.
On International Women’s Day we are pleased to announce that our concert of music by women composers from the islands of the North Atlantic, “Histories and Herstories” will be featured in this year’s 5th International St. Magnus Conference hosted by the Institute of Northern Studies at the University of the Highlands and Islands. The concert will be streamed on Friday 16th April at 16:15 BST at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZosZA_ZG_fM
The concert links into themes explored in the conference looking at the role women have played in society from the Hebrides, Northern Isles and on to the Faroes, Iceland and Greenland from Medieval times to the present day. The conference link is here.
Shetland fiddler Margaret Robertson reflects on what it means to “always be a mother” in her piece Mother’s Love, written for a close friend who had recently lost a son. Figuratively speaking, Margaret is also a mother to “her gals”, the fiddlers of Edinburgh Tattoo band Hjaltibonhoga and we celebrate this in Windy Wellington” and St. Kilda Beach, written for Hjaltibonhoga’s trips to Australia and New Zealand. There are men in the band too, of course, but it is interesting to reflect on how Shetland fiddling, traditionally a pursuit of the menfolk, has become so popular with women and girls in our times, thanks in no small part to Margaret’s role as a teacher.
Margaret has been an invaluable source of information and inspiration in my work, too, and Mjørkaflókar, one of Nordic Viola’s most iconic pieces, was workshopped with Margaret’s pupils at Anderson High School, Lerwick, Shetland in 2016. In this concert it is performed with two students from Tórshavn Music School in the Faroes.
The hardship of motherhood in medieval times is represented in Jocelyn Hagen’s stunning arrangement of Sofðu Unga Ástin Min. In this traditional Icelandic lullaby, a mother sings to her child before leaving them out in the cold to die. Mothers struggling with too many mouths to feed in the harsh winters of Iceland would sometimes have to make this heart-rending choice.
The harsh winter weather of the Northern Isles of Scotland is represented in Lillie Harris’ AND for solo viola, a response to Jen Hadfield’s poem, “Blashey Wadder” from Nigh-No-Place (Bloodaxe Books, 2008) Fiona Driver’s Wild November depicts the swirl of a windy late autumn day in Orkney. Winter can also be a time of great beauty and is celebrated in the Arctic regions. Arnannguaq Gerstrøm’s Ukioq is inspired by the spirit, nature and forces of winter in Greenland.
Like Margaret, Arnannguaq is a prominent leader in her home in Nuuk, Greenland. She led the Nuuk Music School for a time and is now influential as a business leader where she places great emphasis on developing her staff. Alongside this, she continues to compose and make music as an ambassador for the culture of her country.
Mankind’s interaction with the landscape and nature are important elements in Anna Appleby’s Hrakningar and Lisa Robertson’s Machair. Anna uses the metaphor of geese migrating from Iceland to Scotland to reflect on attitudes to human migration and uses an other-worldly blend of goose calls and electronics alongside a trio of flute, viola and bassoon. “Machair” depicts this beautiful and fragile landform of the West Coast of Scotland. Lisa includes the human voice humming fragments of a Gaelic song as she reflects on how climate change is impacting on coastal landscapes.
Gemma McGregor is another longstanding partner of Nordic Viola and her piece Joy draws in elements of Hardanger Fiddle style from Norway which has always had a strong influence in traditional music in Orkney and Shetland. Gemma, too, plays a strong role in the musical life of her island home. She has been commissioned by the St. Magnus Festival in Orkney and plays with and leads several ensembles in the islands. She also lectures on women composers and teaches composition at the University of Aberdeen.
You can find out much more about the individual composers elsewhere in the blog and find links to their music.
“Histories and Herstories” is performed by violinists Emily Nenniger and Anne Bünemann, myself, Katherine Wren on viola and Ruth Rowlands on cello. Helen Brew (flute) and David Hubbard (bassoon) join me in “Ukioq” and “Hrakningar” and Janet Larsson (flute) and David Martin (viola) perform in “Mjørkaflókar.” We very much hope you can join us on 16th April as we close out the conference.
Nordic Viola is grateful for the support provided for this production by Creative Scotland, The Ambache Trust, raising the profile of women composers, and the RVW Trust. Thanks also to Craig Sinclair Video. Our concert is part of Scotland’s Year of Coasts and Waters 2020/21.
This concert is free to access but if you would like to support us in paying our musicians and composers fairly and to extend the reach of our education work, you can donate via Buy me a coffee or Paypal.me You can also keep up to date with our work by scrolling down to the bottom of our home page and entering your email address. Thank you for your support.
Nordic Viola reflects on female experience of landscapes and community from the Northern Isles to Greenland in music by women composers for string quartet. Highlights include ‘Machair’ by Highland composer Lisa Robertson and music influenced by Orcadian history and the Hardanger fiddle style by Gemma McGregor. Greenland’s only classical composer, Arnannguaq Gerstrøm, reflects on winter whilst English composer Lillie Harris depicts the full fury of a Shetland storm. Anna Appleby’s evocative ‘Hrakningar’ includes migrating geese from Iceland, and American Jocelyn Hagen offers a new take on the haunting Icelandic lullaby ‘Sofðu Unga’. There are new tunes reflecting on motherhood and the wild Orcadian weather by traditional fiddlers Margaret Robertson (Shetland) and Fiona Driver (Orkney)
As well as the music, you can meet many of our composers talking about the themes and landscapes that inspire their work and, indeed, see some of those landscapes for yourself in the beautiful video work put together by Craig Sinclair Video. We’re also joined in performance by two students from Tórshavn Music School in the Faroe Islands.
After you have enjoyed our performance on 4th September, if you would like to support us in paying our musicians and composers fairly and also help us extend our reach through education work, you can donate the price of a coffee (or more if you’d like to!) at https://www.buymeacoffee.com/NordicViola or paypal.me/katherinewren1
In partnership with UHI’s Institute of Northern Studies and funded by Creative Scotland, Ambache Charitable Trust, RVW Trust and the Year of Coasts and Waters.