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!

Nordic Viola Summer 2019

Greenland

It’s going to be a busy summer for Nordic Viola. Well, when I say summer, I really mean up until the autumn equinox. After all, that’s the period when the further north you are, the more daylight you have.

In fact, we’ll start with 24 hours’ daylight in Ilulissat (and also Nuuk) in Greenland. We’ll be on holiday rather than performing, but visiting World Heritage Site Disko Bay with its famous icebergs is sure to be inspirational. I’ll also be on the lookout for new music and hope to catch up with some friends whilst we’re in Nuuk.

Out of the Box, Inverness Cathedral, 26th July

At the end of July, David Martin and I will be performing as part of Fiona Driver’s “Out of the Box” concert in Inverness Cathedral. I first met Fiona and husband Trevor in Orkney last year. Fiona and Trevor are top class fiddle players from the Northern Isles but are also good classical players and enjoy good music of any type. Reflecting their open-minded approach to music of all genres Fiona has assembled a group of interesting musicians currently working in the north. “Out of the Box” will feature traditional music from Fiona and Trevor. Representing the younger generation of Shetland fiddlers will be rising star Anya Johnston. Finally there is David Chadwick playing the Nyckelharpa, a Swedish folk instrument. I’m really looking forward to seeing this unusual instrument at close quarters and you can get a sneak preview here.

David Martin and I will be playing a set of Icelandic folk tunes, Judith Weir’s “Sleep Sound ida Morning” from “Atlantic Drift” and “Lullaby”, which is an early piece by Sibelius. We’ve also invited Fiona to join us in my piece “Mjørkaflókar“, inspired by the Faroes and her trio “Hoy’s Dark and Lofty Isle”.

You can find out much more about the concert and perfomers and also hear some of their music here.

Shoormal Conference “New Coasts and Shorelines: Shifting sands in the creative economy” Shetland 18th-20th September

In September I’ll be returning to Shetland and working again with composer Gemma McGregor from Orkney. We’ll be presenting and performing at the Shoormal Conference, hosted by University of the Highlands and Islands and Shetland Arts at the Mareel Centre in Lerwick.

“Shoormal” is a Shetlandic word for the shoreline or high water mark, reflecting the conference’s focus on islands, culture and heritage and young people. Gemma and I will be talking about our creative workshops in Orkney last year and will demonstrate how to create a piece inspired by the landscape and natural sound.

Our concert will feature written and improvised works for viola and flute by ourselves and other composers from the North Atlantic.The conference also looks at innovation, challenges and opportunities of working in the islands and so we will be illustrating ways of creating a broad palate of sound from limited resources and within the restrictions of flying on small planes in remote regions. We will follow the performance with a short discussion of the issues that musicians encounter when performing in remote areas.

Isle of Coll Music Group, 21st September

Putting into practice some of the issues we explored in Shetland, I’ll immediately head west to the Isle of Coll with old friends David Martin (viola) David Hubbard ( bassoon) and Helen Brew (flute). We’ll be playing music from all around the North Atlantic and I’ll post more on the programme nearer the time. To whet your appetite, here’s our absolute favourite, “Uyeasound Nocturne” by Adrian Vernon Fish and Emily Doolittle’s evocative “Social Sounds from Whales at Night.” In fact, I hope we might get to spot some whales off the coast of Coll whilst we’re there.

If you’ve never been to Coll, why not come and join us on the 7:15 boat from Oban on 21st September, spend the day exploring this small island and then come to our concert. You’ll then have Sunday morning to see more of the island or hop over to neighbouring island, Tiree, before heading back to the mainland.

Hope to meet some of you on the boat!

Sibelius In Focus with the RSNO

For anyone working in the sphere of Nordic music, Sibelius is an unavoidable influence. Always one of my favourite composers, my Nordic music journey really began in 2015 with an RSNO performance of the mighty “Kullervo” Symphony with Ed Gardner at the Edinburgh Festival in 2015. I’d just returned from my first visit to Greenland and this piece, which I’d never encountered before, struck a real chord with me. Its power, energy and sense of melancholic longing was an outlet for my emotions and made me realise that I had to travel to the Far North again, and soon! One year later and I was travelling to Iceland at the start of a project that has become very dear to my heart: Nordic Viola.

A wonderful coincidence, then, that I will present the RSNO’s “Sibelius in Focus” event on 23rd March in Glasgow, the day before I return to Iceland for a series of concerts in Reykjavik and the East Fjords. The workshop will be repeated in Edinburgh on 11th May.

Sibelius the violinist

The afternoon’s workshop will focus first on the Violin Concerto, with special guests RSNO leaders Maya Iwabuchi in Glasgow and Sharon Roffman in Edinburgh, who will offer us an insight into how Sibelius writes for the violin. (Sibelius actually aspired to become a virtuoso violinist himself!)  

We will look at how Sibelius became a defining figure for emerging Finnish Nationalism with “Finlandia” and his dynamic orchestral works based on the “Kalevala”. Music filled with a longing for freedom, a pride in Finnish nature and literature with a gift for displaying the duality of light and dark in Finnish art and culture.

Ainola

After the break, we’ll be joined by Thomas Søndergård as we look at Sibelius the symphonist. We will follow the composer’s journey towards the incredible Seventh Symphony, which the RSNO will perform the same night in the Glasgow Royal Concert Hall with Thomas. We’ll explore how Sibelius explored the possibilities of expressing symphonic material in the most concise way imaginable by minimising gesture, optimising musical motifs and focusing on minute details in his music. Sibelius never completed his Eighth Symphony and what he had written was consigned to flames in his home, “Ainola”. Was there any more left for him to say after condensing symphonic form in the way he did in the Seventh Symphony?

And yet this sense of melancholy and longing, the starkness of the northern landscape in music and the obsession with tiny detail lives on in modern Nordic music with composers such as rising star from Iceland, Anna Thorvaldsdóttir, Danes Per Nørgård and Bent Sørensen as well as Faroese composer Sunleif Rasmussen. Closer to home, Anna Appleby, alumnus of the RSNO Composer’s Hub, wrote “Hrakningar” for my own Nordic Viola ensemble, a piece that reflects on the migration of geese between Iceland and Scotland and our attitudes to human migration – not so far removed from Sibelius’ famous swans and cranes!