Changing perspectives, new ways of working and some valuable help from the RPS Enterprise Fund in Association with Harriet’s Trust

A reflective post today looking back on the initial shock of the music world closing down in March 2020 and how, with a little bit of help from the RPS Enterprise Fund in association with Harriet’s Trust, Nordic Viola found new and exciting ways of working and of reaching our audiences around Scotland, the North Atlantic and beyond.

Entering the pandemic and a crash course in digital production

As covid began its grip on the world, Nordic Viola were just on the verge of travelling to Shetland for the University of the Highlands and Islands‘ “Histories and Herstories” Conference. I remember sitting on stage with the Royal Scottish National Orchestra as we entered lockdown wondering how my project, formed in travel, could ever survive such a thing. But musicians are resourceful people and our project was very quickly repurposed to become a digital concert for the Orkney International Science Festival instead.

But where to begin? I could make rudimentary recordings but I was clueless about video. Step in Creative Scotland who provided me with top notch support and encouraged me to aim high and work with a top quality video professional. And so began what would become a fruitful partnership with Craig Sinclair Video.

Me and my team of wonderful and resourceful musicians (violinists Emily Nenniger, Anne Bünemann and cellist Ruth Rowlands) swiftly learned to record in our own homes and Craig and I set about interviewing composers online before Craig offered us remote support to film our own performances which he then pieced together with stock footage of the North Atlantic region (filming his own footage being forbidden in lockdown!).

And so our first digital concert was born.

A world opens up

Very quickly I learned that, far from being the end of Nordic Viola, this was actually a new beginning. Touring abroad is an expensive business, environmentally as well as financially, but now we had a way of reaching audiences far and wide from the safety and comfort of our own homes. Not only that, but I had a way for the composers to speak directly to audiences, putting a face and a personality behind the music.

So far, so good, but using professionals for every short piece of video is an expensive business. I needed to learn how to make my own content, saving my financial resources for larger-scale performances, and I needed better equipment to do it. Step in the Royal Philharmonic Society Enterprise Fund. This amazing organisation exists to create opportunities for musicians to excel and champions the vital role that music plays in everybody’s lives. They are a relatively small organisation with a very big heart indeed. The RPS Enterprise Fund offered individual performers and chamber music groups the means to strengthen and transform the extent of their creativity, connectivity, profile and revenue, encouraging us to think entrepreneurially.

Sagas and Seascapes

Following on from our first collaboration with Orkney International Science Festival, in 2021 we embarked on a much more ambitious project, Sagas and Seascapes. This project brought in many professionals from other fields and involved the creation of artwork for the project from Orla Stevens. Hedd Morfett-Jones and Simon Lowden from the RSNO recorded our performances in Glasgow and Craig was able to do his own filming on location in Orkney with me and the composers. It seemed the perfect project for me to take as a basis for developing my own technical skills.

Informal learning

The first part of my learning was to watch the professionals at work. I learned how Hedd ran a recording a session, how audio and video worked together and and picked Hedd and Craig’s brains about equipment and software.

On-location in Orkney, I happily handed over the reins of project management to Craig and watched how he pre-interviewed the composers, planned a shoot and managed the team on location.

Sagas and Seascapes was an ambitious programme and I learned a fair bit about people-management, too, as everything came together and deadlines needed to be met! After a week of working through the night, adrenaline was running high as Sags and Seascapes premiered at the science festival!

New microphones!

Meanwhile, my new microphones and audio interface were proving their worth. I was literally 24 hours away from performing live at the Scottish Awards for New Music when I got pinged! And so, as I awaited my PCR result, I got down to recording Eddie McGuire‘s Legend and Electra Perivolaris‘ Geese Flying Over My Head and into the Distance in audio and video. Without this equipment, I’d have lost a fee and left New Music Scotland with a gap to fill on very short notice. Thank you RPS!

Video Training Course

With the year’s big project in the bag, it was time to learn more formally from Craig how to produce my own small-scale video. Craig devised a 4-part course covering pre-production, filming, editing and distribution. Following an intense 4-hour online session where I learned how to identify the needs of my audience, plan my filming and interviewing and set up my camera properly, we moved onto the fun part – filming!

I wanted the session to produce something engaging and useful to myself and others, so we decided to invite our project artist, Orla Stevens, along, so that we could learn together and also produce a film that we could both use to publicise our work.

In the editing session, I learned so much about working quickly and efficiently with my material. I moved from randomly grabbing bits of material and putting it together in a haphazard way to learning to plan the shape of my video, gather together the material in advance and really tell a story. I also learned just how much B-Roll film you need to cover an interview – thanks to Craig for letting me use some of his Orkney footage and to Orla for filming the paintings! Baby steps, but I’m secretly very pleased with my first “proper” little film.

What I learned and where we go from here!

There were so many things I learned along the path from having absolutely no idea where to start with producing a video concert to taking on a project with the scope of Sagas and Seascapes and, finally, making my own tiny outdoor filming project and interview.

Here are my takeaways:

  • Record absolutely everything – you never know when you might need it!
  • Invest in quality equipment, especially microphones – it really does make a difference
  • For big, important digital projects, employ professionals – it’s worth the money
  • BUT don’t be afraid to try new things yourself – it’s fun, you learn a lot and make new connections
  • Share with your colleagues. Knowing I was part of a group of musicians handpicked by the RPS for their enterprising attitude was empowering and inspiring and gave me the confidence to go for it
  • Help others – I hope I can continue that sharing with my close colleagues, helping with equipment and sharing my experiences from working with such an amazing team of creative people.

And a few useful links for my Scottish colleagues in particular:

Craig Sinclair Video – first and foremost if you need someone to produce film for you, but also for some top-notch tuition and mentoring!

Chamber Music Scotland’s Resources for Musicians and in particular Tim Cooper‘s Audio Recording Resources

Sound Scotland – This innovative new music organisation does much to encourage creativity amongst musicians and also offers support and new opportunities through peer group meetings such as their fortnightly Cofveve sessions.

New Music Scotland – organisation supporting composers and performers working in New Music – training sessions, resources, a meeting point.

Book: Recording Classical Music by Robert Toft – Published by Routledge

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 (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

A Faroese World Premiere

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

©Danjal Arge

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 Bæk

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.

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:

Heading north and a live concert!

This week is a landmark week for Nordic Viola in several respects. First and foremost, it’s the first time we’ve headed north since UHI’s Shoormal Conference in September 2019. (Little did we know then what was coming.) It seems an age ago and yet, in the scheme of things, 2 years isn’t so long.

So what are we up to? We have a team of composers (Linda Buckley, Lillie Harris and Orkney-based Gemma McGregor) and a video producer (Craig Sinclair) going to Orkney to film content for our online concert for Orkney International Science Festival, which will be premiered on 3rd September. It’s quite an operation in the covid age, but a process that musicians and producers alike are having to get used to in this strange new world. Pre-travel testing, health questionnaires, rigorous planning to allow for safe travel, accommodation and distancing whilst working.

Hopefully all will go to plan, we can enjoy the amazing history and scenery that Orkney has to offer and produce some exciting and engaging content.

Another landmark moment is working with a visual artist, Orla Stevens. Orla will interpret the landscapes and seascapes around us as well as interpreting the emotional responses of the composers as they explore the places that inspired their music.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the 2nd July marks Nordic Viola’s return to live performance and I am so happy that this should happen in the Northern Isles. Gemma McGregor and I  will perform a programme of music for flute and viola entitled “Birds and Landscapes of the North.” We will play some of our own music as well as music by Ailie Robertson and Electra Perivolaris, two of the most exciting young composers on the Scottish scene. The Faroes and Denmark will be represented with pieces by Kári Bæk and Kristain Rasmussen, who is currently studying in Aberdeen. There’ll also be traditional music from Shetland and Orkney and a brand new tune composed for the occasion by Orkney fiddler, Fiona Driver.

The concert is promoted by Orkney Arts Society and takes place on 2nd July in Stromness Town Hall from 7:30pm. Tickets available from Eventbrite. https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/birds-and-landscapes-of-the-north-tickets-158727304641?aff=erelpanelorg

The concert is supported by Chamber Music Scotland’s Transmission Fund, which has enabled a new commission from Gemma McGregor for viola and flute.

Filming is supported by Creative Scotland and, for Linda Buckley, PRSF Women Make Music.

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!

June update – Sagas and Seascapes Recording, Competition and a Live Concert!

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.

UK premiere of new Faroese work

We are also extremely grateful to the Aura Duo for allowing us to give the UK premiere of upcoming Faroese composer Eli Tausen á Lava’s Søgnin um Kópakonuna í 10 Myndum

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.

Seastories Competition

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.

Sagas and Seascapes Launches

2020 saw Nordic Viola’s first foray into online concerts with our popular Histories and Herstories video performance. As our lives open up and we can once more work in the same space, we are excited to announce our new and ambitious Sagas and Seascapes programme which, once again, we will be producing alongside the Orkney International Science Festival.

Norse stories and landscape around the northern sea-routes form the inspiration for this concert. Scottish-based Irish composer Linda Buckley’s Aud draws on the settlement of Iceland, while Lillie Harris’ sextet Elsewhen seeks to capture the atmosphere of Orkney’s ancient sites. In Carry His Relics for flute and viola, Orkney composer Gemma McGregor describes the journey of the remains of St Magnus from Birsay to Kirkwall, along the present-day St Magnus Way. Eli Tausen á Lava from Faroe reflects on legends of the Selkies in Søgnin um Kópakonuna í 10 Myndum for flute and clarinet and his compatriot, Kári Bæk, depicts the ever-changing sea in Wogen. The Danish String Quartet’s dynamic arrangement of The Dromer offers a rousing finale.

Audiences loved film footage of the Far North last year as well as the chance to hear the composers speak about their music, so once again we’ll be working with videographer Craig Sinclair. Composers Linda Buckley and Lillie Harris will travel to Orkney with me to join Orcadian composer Gemma McGregor on location. The composers will share their impressions of the landscapes and ancient sites that inspired their music, offering an insight into their creative processes.

A new and exciting innovation this year is inviting landscape artist Orla Stevens onto the project. In common with the music creators on the project, Orla’s work is influenced by expressive responses to sounds and images of the landscape, as well as the emotional experience that being in nature has on the psyche. In conversation with the composers and incorporating her own emotions on being onsite in Orkney, Orla will develop a series of paintings expressing the emotions of the sagas and seascapes explored through music as the programme mirrors Aud’s journey from Orkney, through the Faroes and finally settling in North-West Iceland.

Making music with young people is fundamental to Nordic Viola. Responding to the challenges of travelling during the pandemic, we’ve decided this year to unite young people from around the North Atlantic by running a competition to write a tune for us. We’ll select up to 20 young people to join in online workshops working with myself, Gemma McGregor and Faroese trombonist Dávur Juul Magnussen to develop their ideas. From these workshops, one piece will be chosen to feature in our main concert video and 5 others will feature in a short video of the project in the autumn. More information on that very soon!

I’ll be keeping you up-to-date as the project progresses. If you want to be amongst the first to hear about our recording sessions next month and our on-location filming in Orkney in June, then why not subscribe?

This exciting and ambitious programme has been made possible through the generous support of the following organisations:

Creative Scotland for general project support

for supporting our commission of linda Buckley’s “Aud”

for supporting the competition and workshops

our partners and hosts