Summer Concert in the Blue Church, Seyðisfjörður, Iceland.

I have two exciting performances to tell you about this summer. Today’s news is that I’ll be performing in the Bláakirkjan, Seyðisfjörður, East Iceland with Arnhildur Valgarðsdóttir on 6th July. Next week I’ll tell you much more about our Edinburgh performances after the press launch on 31st May.

Back in 2016, Seyđisfjörđur in East Iceland was the first stop on my sabbatical. Chosen on the suggestion of friend and Iceland expert, Cathy Harlow because of it’s rich and varied cultural life, (and also for its direct services to the Faroe Islands, which I visited on the same trip) the people in the village welcomed me into their community. I gave short performances in the schools, masterclasses in nearby Egilsstađir and also performed in the magnificent Bláakirkjan (blue church) with local violist, Charles Ross. Bláakirkjan is the most iconic building in Seyđisfjörđur, its colourful blue and white facade standing at the end of the rainbow road. Inside, it is a bright and intimate space, built of wood and gently resonant.

Katherine Wren and Arnhildur Valgarðsdóttir

I therefore can’t wait to return to Seyđisfjörđur to perform in the Bláakirkjan summer concert series on 6th July. The series has become one of the major cultural events in East Iceland. It offers a varied programme of music where you can see many of the country’s most interesting musicians as well as international artists. I’ll be performing with Arnhildur Valgarđsdóttir, who I also met in 2016 in Reykjavik. Adda trained in Scotland and currently works as a highly respected pianist, organist and choirmaster in Reykjavik. In fact, if you live in Central Scotland, you’ll be able to catch her on tour with her choir this August.

We’ll be taking our audience on a journey round the North Atlantic, starting in Orkney with Gemma McGregor’s Hardanger-fiddle-inspired “Joy” and Peter Maxwell Davies’ much-loved “Farewell to Stromness.”

After a reflective pause on our journey with  Arvo Pärt’s “Spiegel im Spiegel”, we visit our host country with Jón Thorarinsson’s short viola sonata. Thorarinsson studied music at the Reykjavík Music School and with Paul Hindemith at Yale University. He was head teacher from 1947 to 1968 at the Reykjavík Music School, head of Sjónvarpi’s art and entertainment department from 1968 to 1979, as well as numerous other projects in the field of music. Full of character, this sonata shows off the singing tone of the viola with long, cantabile lines, a passionate, at times bleak second movement and a final Rondo with lively jazz rhythms.

Adrian Vernon Fish’s Qaanaaq Sonata is a much more substantial piece. It’s inspired by the main town of that name in the northern part of the Avannaata municipality in northwestern Greenland. Adrian and I  share a love of Greenland and Adrian’s music depicts so much about life there: the beauty, but also the barrenness and harshness of the landscape, the warmth and humour of the people and the rollicking energy of a dogsled ride that Adrian was lucky enough to experience there.

That’ll be the end of our official programme, but we might just have a little treat from Shetland to throw in at the end, too.

Once the concert is over, I’m looking forward to exploring the hills around Seyđisfjörđur: the high mountain lakes and the streams of waterfalls tumbling down the valleys. The eerie green murk of the Lagarfljót up at Egilsstađir and the unique woodland along the lochside at Hallormsstaðaskógur Doubtless there’ll be more inspiration to be gathered there for future projects!

Whale Song

Sunday 8th August, Fishmarket Arbroath 2020+1 12pm

A new collaborative performance of music and poetry inspired by whale song, devised by poet Lesley Harrison with viola player Katherine Wren and clarinettist Alex South.Tickets available here: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/…/whale-song-live-poetry…

Alex and I have composed new pieces around the poetry from Lesley’s recent collection, ‘Disappearance’. This performance explores the theme of the voyage of the 19th-century whalers to the polar seas, and the cultural aftermath of the whaling industry.

Our music includes sounds recorded on location in Greenland and Iceland melded with our improvisations and including live electronics. The programme is framed by traditional tunes from the North Atlantic Whalers who travelled from Shetland.

A special screening of CETACEA will follow the live performance.The trio’s music and words meet with marine biologist Michael Scheer’s recordings of pilot whales and Alexander and Nicole Gratovsky’s underwater footage to create the piece CETACEA. This film proved to be one of the most popular events in GIOFest last November. You can listen to the music below:

Arbroath 2020+1 Artworks

Arbroath will be buzzing in this summer-long festival of the Declaration of Arbroath. Why not come to our concert, treat yourself to a fish and chip lunch by the sea and then explore the artworks around town. https://arbroathfestival.com/festival/2021-festival-programme/

Alternatively, if a brisk walk is more your scene, explore the magnificent clifftop walks close to town. I look forward to seeing you there!

Seastories Competition Winners

Following our first online international workshop earlier this month, I am delighted to announce the winners of our recent “Seastories” Competition.

Our overall winner is Anni Helena Lamhauge from the Faroe Islands. Anni’s Korona-Trot for accordion reflects on her boredom with Corona as she looked out over the sea, watching the changing light. Her music reflects this, shifting from a dark C minor to the warmer, brighter key of A flat major.

In runner up spot is Ronja Gaard Hansen, also of the Faroes, with her tune for violin and piano, Fjøra, which means seashore.

Anni Helena’s piece will feature in our online “Sagas and Seascapes” concert for Orkney International Science Festival from 3rd September, but we will also be introducing Ronja’s tune to you in a short video in the lead-up to the festival.

Our Shetland winner was Victoria Byrne McCombie with Cumliewick Shore. Victoria thought of the tide and the way it comes in and out. She chose to have a note through the tune that the melody keeps coming back to, like the melodic movement of the tide. Victoria’s piece will be performed in Shetland on 25th September at the Boat Hall in Shetland Museum, when we take “Sagas and Seascapes out live!

We also received a recording of a Greenlandic Hymn from our friends in Maniitsoq which, with permission, we will hope to share with you later too.

Many thanks to Gemma McGregor for leading the workshop and to Dávur Juul Magnussen for interpreting and for helping with the music!

Sea Stories – A competition for Young People

Sea Stories-konkurrence – See below

Sea Stories keppni – See below

Are you fascinated by the sea, the sound it makes and the stories it tells?

Are you a young musician aged 12-18 living in the Scottish Islands, Faroes, Iceland or Greenland?

Are you interested in sharing the music and stories of your home country with other young people from around the North Atlantic?

Then this competition from Nordic Viola is for you.

  • Write or record a tune or a short piece of music max. 3 minutes
  • You can play (or sing) the music on your own instrument or with your friends, or you can write a tune for us. We play flute, violin/viola and trombone
  • Send your entry by 5th June 2021
  • You can send your music as a PDF file or you can record mp3 audio or mp4 video
  • Submit your via google forms or email it to nordicviola6@gmail.com with your name, where you come from, a few sentences about your tune and your email address
  • We will select up to 15 tunes
  • Selected entrants will be notified by 7th June 2021 and invited to join a workshop on zoom
  • Following the workshop, one tune will be selected for Nordic Viola’s online concert on 3rd September 2021 for Orkney International Science Festival
  • After the festival we will release a short highlights video from the workshopped pieces

Privacy and safeguarding policy

Sea Stories-konkurrence – Nordic Viola

Bliver du fascineret af havet, havets lyde og de historier, det fortæller?

Er du en ung musiker i alderen 12-18 år, der bor på de skotske øer, Færøerne, Island eller Grønland?

Er du interesseret i at dele musikken og historierne i dit hjemland med andre unge fra hele Nordatlanten?

Så er denne konkurrence fra Nordic Viola noget for dig.

• Skriv eller optag en melodi eller et kort stykke musik max. 3 minutter

• Du kan spille (eller synge) musikken på dit eget instrument eller med dine venner, eller du kan skrive en melodi til os. Vi spiller fløjte, violin/bratsch og basun

• Deadline for tilmelding er 1. juni 2021

• Du kan sende din musik som en PDF-fil, eller du kan optage mp3-audio eller mp4-video

• Indsend via google-formularer eller mail den til nordicviola6@gmail.com med dit navn, hvor du kommer fra, et par sætninger om din melodi og din e-mail-adresse

• Vi vælger op til 15 melodier

• Udvalgte deltagere vil blive underrettet den 7. juni 2021 og opfordres til at deltage i en workshop om zoom

• Efter workshoppen vælges en melodi til Nordic Viola’s online koncert den 3. september 2021 til Orkney International Science Festival

• Efter festivalen frigiver vi en kort video med højdepunkter fra workshop

vores privatlivspolitik

Sea Stories keppni – Nordic Viola

Heillar sjórinn þig ? Hljóðin frá sjónum og sögurnar sem sjórinn geymir?

Ert þú ungur tónlistarmaður á aldrinum 12-18 ára og býrð í Skotlandi, Færeyjum, á Íslandi eða Grænlandi?

Hefðir þú áhuga á að deila tónlist og sögum heimalands þíns með öðru ungu fólki við Norður-Atlanshafið?

Þá gæti þessi keppni frá Nordic Viola verið fyrir þig. 

  • Sendu inn lag , hljóðritað eða á nótum, hámark þrjár mínútur að lengd.
  • Þú getur leikið á þitt aðal hljóðfæri eða sungið , ein/einn eða með öðrum, frumsamdar tónsmíðar velkomnar.
  • Við spilum á flautu, fiðlu/víólu  og básúna.
  • Skilafrestur er til 1. júní 2021.
  • Það má senda tónlistina á mp3, mp4, eða á nótum á pdf-formi.
  • Senda má í gegnum google forms’ eða á netfangið nordicviola6@gmail.com, þar sem fram kemur nafn þitt og netfang , heimaland og stuttur texti um lagið.
  • Við veljum allt að 15 þátttakendur. Þeir verða látnir vita 7. júní 2021 og þeim boðið að taka þátt í tónsmiðju á zoom þann 12. júní.
  • Í framhaldi af smiðjunni verður  eitt laganna  valið til flutnings á tónleikum  í tengslum við hina Alþjóðlegu Vísindahátíð Orkneyjar þann þriðja september 2021,
  • Einnig verða sýnd valin brot úr tónsmiðjunni.

Persónuverndaryfirlýsing

Supported by:

Music for the Anthropocene

In partnership with the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland’s Art-Making in the Anthropocene series.

Concert Streaming from 27th April 17:00 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wVYuC4BRRIE

The Anthropocene – the era in which mankind’s effect on the earth became the dominant influence on the environment. Irreversible climate change, a lack of respect and care for the environment and for other species. The pursuit of wealth, the focus on the individual.

The arts have not been immune in the march of human “progress.” International touring, viewed as a mark of prestige coupled with easy and cheap travel has led to a world where artists are continually on the move, sometimes moving between countries on a daily basis.

How do we respond to this as artists? This is a question posed by the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland’s series, “Art-Making in the Anthropocene”, supported by the Royal Society of Edinburgh and SHARE. The talks have focused on a wide range of issues that artists are increasingly engaging with: social justice, awareness-raising, activism and, perhaps most important of all, the question of how we lessen our own impact on the planet.

When I was asked by series organiser, Dr. Emily Doolittle, to put together a concert for the series with Nordic Viola, it felt like a natural fit in many ways. I can’t pretend to be an angel when it comes to good practice – I’m not sure any of us can. Travel is, in many ways, intrinsic to my project. Air travel is inescapable if you are going to visit Greenland after all. Other than paying your way on an expedition boat or finding a way to travel on a cargo ship, there is no other way of getting there. However, when I do travel, I try to stay in one location and do as much as I can. I also find that this helps to build relationships. I’ve never owned a car, so I rarely have to face that demon. Slow travel is my life – if I possibly can cycle, walk or ski for transport then I will, and I love it.

You’ll have gleaned from this that being outdoors in the landscape is something intrinsic to my life. Rightly or wrongly, I don’t want to agonise too much about the state of the earth in my art. Overall I feel at peace in the world and I’d prefer to move people to make changes in their lifestyles in two ways. Firstly by showing that travelling slowly and living in a more sustainable way generally is possible and secondly by inspiring people to look at and love the beautiful world around them and consequently to seek to protect it by making better choices.

I hope that the programme I’ve chosen reflects this. That’s not to say we shy away from “gritty” issues. On the surface, Anna Appleby’s Hrakningar portrays migrating geese, but it also poses the question of why we accept the migration of non-human species and yet dispute the rights of people to migrate. You can hear Anna talking about the piece by clicking on the link for the piece above.

Similarly, Lisa Robertson’s Machair depicts this unique Scottish landscape with the sound of seabirds and a feeling of spaciousness. Yet the introduction of a Gaelic song underpinned by a sinister cello pedal point and the use of human voices highlights the effect of human interference on this precious landscape.

Antonia Kattou’s It’s a Sad Child That Destroys Its Own Weather for solo flute similarly incorporates the human voice. I find this piece incredibly disturbing, actually, and flautist Janet Larsson’s performance in our concert is quite startling in its focus and intensity.

Aileen Sweeney’s Siku, performed in our concert by cellist Ruth Rowlands, was composed in conjunction with William Harcourt, a PhD student of glaciology at The University of St. Andrew’s and depicts Greenlandic sea ice. I’ve experienced climate change first-hand in Greenland. People laugh at me when I tell them that I suffered heat exhaustion there, but temperatures in the mid-twenties that far north are no laughing matter. The first time I travelled to East Greenland we almost got stuck in the sea ice in a small dinghy. Nowadays that bit of sea is frequently completely clear of ice in the summer. You can argue that it’s not necessary to travel to see and know this but the impact of seeing it is much greater than reading reports of it. In return, I hope I have given back something good in the form of my music-making and work with musicians there.

The centrepiece of our programme offers a real moment of peace and musical stillness. The low energy and feeling of calm in Martin Suckling’s “Her Lullaby” comes from the pure consonances of just intonation, using the naturally occurring harmonic series, meaning that the frequencies of the intervals are in phase with each other. I learned this piece in the long second lockdown and found the intense listening required to pick up on the harmonics “within” the viola utterly absorbing and calming – almost a form of mindfulness.

The other two pieces in the programme were written during lockdown, with the composers contemplating the nature in their immediate vicinity and beyond. Ailie Robertson, in focusing on the natural sounds outside her Glasgow flat, casts her mind back to the beautiful sight of a hen harrier in Orkney performing a Skydance, its elaborate courtship ritual. The delicate harmonics on the viola depict the bird soaring and diving. There’s a feeling of space and freedom, something we all craved in lockdown.

Emily Doolittle’s Gardenscape focuses on the world outside her composing window. It’s great fun to play as Emily leaves it up to the performer to choose what birds to feature in their garden and how to structure the piece. The performer can decide whether or not it’s raining, whether to feature some birds more than others (though the blackbird really has to feature with its rich and varied song) and even whereabouts in the garden the birds are with some use of spatial techniques either electronically or (post-pandemic!) physically. What I most loved about putting this piece together was how it made me hyperaware of my own surroundings. I heard Emily’s garden birds everywhere in my village – blue tits, wood pigeons, chiff chaffs, blackbirds. Emily is spot on with her bird observations and transcriptions!

And so we come full circle, back to contemplating our planet and the need to protect the diverse and beautiful forms of life here. I hope indeed that our concert makes you listen intently to the world around you and inspires you to appreciate its beauty. Most of all, I hope it encourages you to consider our impact on it and to understand the damage that humans are causing. Hopefully you’ll leave our concert wanting to care just a little more about the legacy we’re leaving behind us and to do what you can to preserve our amazing landscapes.

Please join us as the concert streams for the first time this Tuesday, 27th April at 17:00 BST on https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wVYuC4BRRIE If you can’t make it live, you can catch up afterwards.

April News Update

Histories and Herstories

Raising the profile of music by women

There’s lots going on with Nordic Viola this month. First of all, one year after it was meant to happen, our “Histories and Herstories” concert will be streaming online for the University of the Highlands and Islands’ Institute of Northern Studies on 16th April from 4:15pm. The concert is part of the 5th International St. Magnus Conference, which this year focuses on the role of women in island life and features speakers from all around the North Atlantic as well as further afield.

Our programme of music by women composers ranges from traditional tunes from Orkney (Fiona Driver), Shetland (Margaret Robertson) and Iceland (arranged by Jocelyn Hagen) to new music from Greenland in our commission from Arnannguaq Gerstrøm that depicts winter in the Arctic. There’s also music reflecting on climate change and the landscape by Lisa Robertson, and migration, human and avian, by Anna Appleby. Other composers include Gemma McGregor and Lillie Harris.

This concert proved to be one of the most popular events in Orkney International Science Festival’s 2020 festival. As well as the music, people commented on the beautiful images of the Far North in the video. Here’s a little taster featuring the Faroe Islands in Mjørkaflókar, composed by me and students from Anderson High School in Shetland. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2sakvHqCVPM

If you didn’t hear the concert last time, make sure you set a reminder by clicking on this link for the 16th at 4:15 BST. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZosZA_ZG_fM If you heard it and enjoyed it, please share far and wide with your friends and acquaintances!

Art-Making in the Anthropocene

Our second concert this month is for the Art-Making in the Anthropocene Series hosted by the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland.

Art-Making in the Anthropocene is a series of 8 free online talks/discussions and an online concert, which bring together Scottish and international artists, activists, and academics from across disciplines to explore what art-making can be in this time of ecological emergency.

Art-Making in the Anthropocene is funded by a Royal Society of Edinburgh Research Workshop grant, and co-organized by Dr Emily Doolittle, Dr Sarah Hopfinger, and Dr Stuart MacRae at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland.

Our concert features music with a connection to the environment and humankind’s relationship with it. All the composers have a strong connection to Scotland. Some of them are old friends of ours, but we also issued a call for scores and we’re excited to bring you some new voices from the thriving contemporary music scene here in Scotland.

We’re also partnering with the Ear to the Ground Podcast who interviewed our composers for the concert and who will be presenting an issue of the podcast focusing on the ideas behind the concert. I’ll share the links with you, as well as more information on the composers and music, nearer the time.

Art-Making in the Anthropocene is supported by:

Aud by Linda Buckley

Finally, a taster of news about an exciting project that we’ll be working on between May and September this year.

This week I received our new commission from Linda Buckley, supported by PRSF Women Make Music. Aud is a new piece for clarinet, violin, viola, cello and electronics and it will form the centrepiece of our new programme, “Sagas and Seascapes.” It depicts Aud’s journey from Ireland, via Orkney to Iceland, where she was one of the early women settlers. Featuring an atmospheric electronic track and with music brimming with energy, we can’t wait to start work on it.

Much more news to follow on “Sagas and Seascapes” in May. Add your email address below to subscribe and you’ll be amongst the first to hear about our exciting plans!

Histories and Herstories at the 5th International St. Magnus Conference, University of the Highlands and Islands Institute of Northern Studies

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 HarrisAND 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.

Histories and Herstories at Orkney International Science Festival 4th Sept

©Martin Stewart

I hope you have enjoyed our series on women composers. I am delighted to announce that we will be presenting the full programme in an online video performance for Orkney International Science Festival on 4th September at 20:30 BST:

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.

As Orkney International Science Festival celebrates Scotland’s Year of Coasts and Waters 2020 there are many more virtual events to enjoy, including more concerts and performances, virtual outings and foraging, food and drink, exhibitions and talks. Why not join Nordic Viola and immerse yourself in a week of Orcadian culture?

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.

Raising the profile of music by women

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.

Histories and Her-stories – Institute of Northern Studies, University of the Highlands and Islands

Island life would have been impossible without the equal contribution of both women and men. Women have often taken leading roles in island communities, running them when their men have been off-island seeking employment, as fishermen, whalers, serving in the navy or as merchant seamen.

In partnership with UHI’s “Institute of Northern Studies” 5th International St Magnus Conference, Nordic Viola present reflections on female experience of landscapes, motherhood and social gatherings around the North Atlantic region in music by women composers for string quartet. The programme includes “Machair” by young Highland composer Lisa Robertson (shortlisted in Scottish Awards for New Music 2019), previous commissions from Greenlandic composer Arnannguaq Gerstrøm, Lillie Harris and Anna Appleby traditional music from Iceland arranged by American Jocelyn Hagen, new music by traditional fiddlers Margaret Robertson (Shetland) and Fiona Driver (Orkney) and, following Nordic Viola’s collaboration in Orkney 2018, music influenced by Orcadian history and Hardanger fiddle style by Gemma McGregor.

Following rehearsals in school, Nordic Viola will be joined by fiddle students from Anderson High School in “Mjørkaflókar” a piece about Shetland and the Faroes they created in workshops with Katherine Wren in 2016, which was performed by music students in the Faroe Islands in 2018.

The concert is open to the public and takes place on 16th April 2020 at 7pm in Islesburgh Community Centre, Lerwick. The performance will last an hour and entry is by donation.

Supported by the National Lottery through Creative Scotland, the Ambache Trust, raising the profile of music by women and UHI’s Institute of Northern Studies. Part of Scotland’s Year of Coasts and Waters 2020.