Return to Orkney and a Recital in Iceland

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!

Sagas and Seascapes to feature in Made In Scotland Showcase in Edinburgh

Made In Scotland Showcase Launch

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.

This will be the first time that we have performed the concert live with the film, which incorporates Orla Stevens‘ stunning artwork and documentary footage from Craig Sinclair of composers Gemma McGregor, Lillie Harris and Linda Buckley and artist Orla Stevens discussing their work in Orkney last summer.

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:

We look forward to seeing you in Edinburgh!

Crowdfunders, workshops and more!

Crowdfunder

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.

Raising the profile of music by women

I’m also delighted to say that the Ambache Charitable Trust have once again agreed to support us for Edinburgh. Like Ambache, one of our goals is to raise the profile of women composers and in Sagas and Seascapes, we will once again be featuring the work of Gemma McGregor, Lillie Harris and Linda Buckley.

Workshop

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.

Sagas and Seascapes goes to Edinburgh – and a chance to help us on our journey!

We have some very exciting news for you today. Sagas and Seascapes will be going to Edinburgh Festival Fringe this summer for three performances from 15th-17th August at the Scottish Storytelling Centre on the Royal Mile. We will be part of a prestigious showcase of Scottish art, but I’ll save details of that for the official launch date of 31st May. Subscribe below to make sure we keep you up to date!

Live performance, art and more

For the very first time, we will be combining live musical performance of works by Gemma McGregor, Lillie Harris, Eli Tausen á Lava, Kári Bæk, Linda Buckley and the Danish String Quartet‘s wonderful arragement of “The Dromer” with Orla Steven’s specially commissioned art on screen alongside the music. There’ll be footage of Orla creating the paintings as well as film shot on location in Orkney by Craig Sinclair. The composers offer personal insights into their music as they converse together in Orkney at sights that inspired their music.

A chance to support us and collect some special rewards

Of course, more than anything, we hope you’ll be able to travel to Edinburgh to hear us play live in August, but we’d also like to invite you to play a key roll in our journey. We are running a crowdfunding campaign to raise £2000 between now and 2nd May to commission new art by Orla Stevens to accompany Eli Tausen’s wonderful Søgnin um Kópakonuna í 10 Myndum (The Tale of the Sealwoman in 10 Pictures) and also to support our musicians in rehearsal and for all the additional costs involved in taking 6 musicians through to Edinburgh.

Rewards

We have a few exclusive gifts at all levels of donation. Everyone who donates will be mentioned in our programme for the event. We also have everything from merchandise to signed posters to give away. If you are able to support us with a larger sum, we have limited edition prints of the new artworks that Orla will produce for the show for you and the offer of an open rehearsal where you can meet our musicians. These higher value offers are limited, so jump in quickly!

At the corporate level, we can feature your business logo in our publicity and websites for £200. Or perhaps you’d like to see your own community benefit? For £500 we are able to offer an art/music workshop for the school or community group of your own choice.

We really hope you can join in with us in this very personal way, and we look forward to meeting with you as we share our journey to Edinburgh together. Pledges can be made at: https://www.crowdfunder.co.uk/p/sagas-and-seascapes-at-edinburgh-festival-fringe-1

Sibelius’ En Saga – Dunblane Cathedral 28th November 3pm

The piece that inspired Nordic Viola’s “Sagas and Seascapes” is the piece that rounds off our series of three concerts that have taken us to Orkney, Shetland and now finally home to Dunblane.

This concert (tickets here) will be an event not to be missed, because whilst the material in the first version of Sibelius  En Saga dates back to his studies in Vienna during 1890-1891, this Septet version only received its first official performance in the Brahms Saal of the Musikverein, Vienna in June 2003.

So what’s the story behind the Saga? We know that melodies jotted down by Sibelius in Vienna ended up in the orchestral version of En Saga. We also know that in Spring 1891 he was working on an Octet and in September 1892 he mentioned a “Septet.” One month later he completed the first orchestral version of En Saga, which he stated was based on the Octet. The original Septet has not survived, but Gregory M. Barrett made a performing version based on the first orchestral version. I can’t say for sure, but I have a sneaking feeling that Sunday may just be its Scottish premiere.

What I love about this score is that it really brings out the folky element of this very Finnish-sounding melody, driven on by Sibelius’ wonderful ostinato rhythms. There’s so much colour and excitement in this score and it’s so much fun to play. Have a listen here in this revcording y the Turku Ensemble from Finland:

Speaking of premieres, our wonderful commission “Aud” by Linda Buckley, supported by the PRS Foundation’s Women Make Music programme, will receive its first mainland Scottish performance and Linda will be along to hear it. “Aud” traces the journey across the North Atlantic of the eponymous heroine, a 9th century settler of Iceland whilst simultaneously reflecting on how it felt to yearn to travel during lockdown.

Lillie Harris’ Elsewhen tells a more ancient tale yet, of the ancient monuments of Orkney and the stories they pass on to us across the ages. The music has a unsettling sense of eeriness reminiscent of standing near these stones and their all-knowing presence in the winter half-light.

Rounding out our programme are two arrangements of traditional tunes by the Danish String Quartet. Firstly the Unst Boat Song from Shetland,  which was set in the old Norn language and finally the Dromer, a Danish reel drawn from a Scottish melody.

And what of the story told by En Saga? Well, in the spirit of Nordic Noir, the underlying feeling is that all does not end well. Our violinist, Jacquie, has her own Saga, but she says it’s too horrid to share. Perhaps you can corner her in the cathedral and persuade her to tell all!

Orla Stevens’ Prints and Greetings Cards now available

It’s been a real pleasure and privilege to work alongside artist Orla Stevens on the Sagas and Seascapes project. Orla’s work interpreting music by Gemma McGregor, Linda Buckley and Lillie Harris added so much to our concert video for Orkney International Science Festival and proved to be very inspiring for myself and the composers.

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.

We hope to bring along the original paintings to our Dunblane concert on 28th November at 3pm. It’ll be very exciting to show them in front of the public with the music for the first time.

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!

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:

Sagas and Seascapes Live in Concert

Boat Hall, Shetland Museum, Lerwick, 25th Sept

When lockdown started in March 2020, Nordic Viola was just 2 weeks away from travelling to Shetland to perform their “Histories and Herstories” programme. With the support of UHI Institute for Northern Studies and Orkney International Science Festival and Creative Scotland, we managed to successfully take the performance online.

Nonetheless, we’ve been itching to bring our music to Shetland and  so, hot on the heels of our film documentary/concert for Orkney International Science Festival online last week, we are excited to be finally heading to the islands with our popular “Sagas and Seascapes” programme. We’ll perform two pieces from our online programme: “Aud” by Linda Buckley and “Wogen” by Kári Bæk of the Faroe Islands.

“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.

Workshops

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!

Sagas and Seascapes (Orkney) available to view online

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.

Additionally, if you enjoyed Orla Stevens’ amazing artwork for “Carry is Relics” (Gemma McGregor), “Elsewhen” (Lillie Harris) and “Aud” (Linda Buckley), you can now buy cards (prints coming soon!) of the images from https://www.orlastevens.com/shop-prints?Printed+Art=Cards

Filming in Orkney

Composers Lillie Harris, Linda Buckley and Gemma McGregor with artist Orla Stevens

Early July was a landmark for Nordic Viola: our first trip north since September 2019 and our first live performance since Covid-19 started. We headed out to Orkney with 3 composers, a landscape artist, a video producer and me – the largest team we’ve ever taken on tour and our most ambitious project yet.

Film footage is for our “Sagas and Seascapes” film that will air at Orkney International Science Festival on 3rd September and the goal was to place three of the composers, Gemma McGregor, Lillie Harris and Linda Buckley, in the landscapes that inspired their music. Artist Orla Stevens and video producer Craig Sinclair would document their reactions as well as incorporating their own creative responses to place.

The theme uniting all three pieces is Orkney’s history and genetic heritage. Central to our narrative is “Aud”, the remarkable woman who, in the 9th century set sail from Caithness to Iceland. On her way to settling in North West Iceland, she landed in Orkney, where one of her granddaughters, Gróa, was married. Remarkably, in Erik the Red’s Saga we can trace Aud’s line via Gróa and her daughter Grélaður, who married Thorfinn Torf-Einarsson, Earl of Orkney (also known as Thorfinn Skull-splitter) into the Orkneyinga Saga and down to Saint Magnus, subject of Gemma McGregor’s “Carry His Relics.” Gemma’s piece reflects on the journey of Magnus’ relics along what is now the St. Magnus Way and we explored the historic links through the ages as we traced the first part of this journey from the Broch of Gurness to the Brough of Birsay where Magnus was schooled in the monastery.

The Broch of Gurness is a remarkable place. Craig had us up bright and early and so we had the privilege of having the site to ourselves, a very special experience. Dating back to the Iron Age, this site, like our programme, also links into later Viking settlements, as the grave of a Viking woman was found at Gurness, along with some grave-goods – a sickle blade and a pair of ‘tortoise’ brooches.

As we visited this and other older, prehistoric sites such as the Stones of Stenness, Ring of Brodgar and Maeshowe, which all inspired Lillie Harris’ “Elsewhen” we talked about how “Aud”, too, may well have shared in our wonder at these ancient sites, too. This promoted many discussions about how humans perceive time and whether these sites would have seemed just as ancient to Aud as they do to us – how exactly do humans measure timescales over thousands of years? For me, these musings are strongly represented in the eery, slightly disturbing quality of Lillie’s music.

Our filming culminated with interviews in St. Magnus Church, Birsay, generously hosted by Robin Barr and preceded by some much-needed downtime over a packed lunch (and the famous Birsay  tea shop pies!) in Robin and Anne’s beautiful garden. During filming, Orla had taken time to sketch down some preliminary ideas and, in her wonderfully natural and enabling way, she encouraged us to express ourselves by drawing down by the beach between interviews – even those like me who haven’t produced any art since secondary school! Orla stayed on in Orkney to consolidate her ideas and you can read some of her initial thoughts here.

A Live Concert

Trips north with Nordic Viola are always packed affairs as we pack in as much activity as we can. One of the reasons for this is to lessen environmental impact by traveling less frequently but also simply from a desire to make the most of our time in the islands.

And so Gemma and I collaborated with Orkney Arts Society to give one of the first live events in Scotland since lockdown ended. I cannot even begin to explain to you how sweet it felt to play to a live audience again. Even with a masked audience, that feeling of connecting with people again was so special. One of the most important things for me in Nordic Viola is meeting after concerts to share experiences with audiences. Even at level 0, distance still needed to be respected but it felt so nice to talk informally with people after the event.

Our programme was entitled “Birds and Landscapes of the North” and included music for viola and flute by talented young Scottish composers Electra Perivolaris, Ailie Robertson and Kristain Rasmussen as well as Faroese composer Kári Bæk. I also performed live on my new viola d’amore for the first time in my arrangement of traditional Shetland tune “Da Day Dawn” and “Tirrick” (Orcadian for Arctic Tern) a reel I commissioned from Fiona Driver. Thanks to generous funding from Chamber Music Scotland’s Transition Fund, Gemma wrote a companion piece to “Carry His Relics” called “The Trysted Shore”. Inspired by George Mackay Brown’s poem “Magnus” (this year mark’s GMB’s centenary) it depicts Magnus’ betrayal on the island of Egilsay.

A note on travel and sustainability

Before I wrap up this blog, I’d just like to reflect briefly on our travel choices for this trip. As the world deals with the climate emergency, travel is becoming a point of focus for many musicians. Travel is obviously intrinsic to the Nordic Viola project so it is vital to consider how this is done with minimal impact.

A lifelong cyclist, this has been an intrinsic part of my thinking since my twenties. However, I do recognise that not everyone wants to be subjected to travelling the length and breadth of Orkney in a howling gale with instrument  (and tent) strapped to back. I actually also believe that being too dogmatic is not always the best way to persuade people to change transport habits. For me, the most important premise is to carefully think through travel options and to understand the impact they have, making balanced, informed choices.

I asked the team where possible to choose surface transport and this was, in the main, achieved. A couple of people did need to fly due to scheduling constraints, but again, the important point is that other alternatives were explored first. Our hand was also forced by the fact that Scotrail is not currently offering a Sunday service.

Some car use was necessary to carry filming equipment. I was also concerned at rising Covid cases in Orkney at that time. After a fair bit of soul searching, I decided that the safety of my team, the island population and the need to maintain bubbles within the two accommodation groups was paramount. We did carshare but ended up using one more car than I’d wanted to. I feel quite uncomfortable about that but I believe it was a pragmatic decision in light of the circumstances. I still managed to travel back from the final session by bike (into a howling gale, of course!) as well as touring on my free days on two wheels. I am also proud that my team only own 2 vehicles between 6 people plus partners. Hiring and borrowing vehicles leads to lower car use in the longterm and I’d love to see more people considering this.

Nordic Viola is supported by:

Linda Buckley is supported by:

The concert for Orkney Arts Society, including a new commission by Gemma McGregor was supported by: