In conversation with Katherine Wren
Sagas and Seascapes grew out of the germ of an idea I had in 2019. I'd long wanted to programme Lillie Harris’ sextet, Elsewhen, which I’d first come across at the St. Magnus Composers’ Workshop in 2017. At the same time, I’d got to know artist Orla Stevens’ work.
Orla’s interpretations of seascapes from the west coast of Scotland really resonated with me and I was eager to see how she would respond to the Northern Isles. I also felt that she was the right person to work with Lillie in offering the audience a “way in” to Lillie’s music. I knew that Orla would understand the eeriness of Lillie’s music as it looks back through time at the ancient monuments of Orkney, wondering who the people were who wandered the landscape of Orkney 5000 years ago.
My travels around the North Atlantic have led to a fascination with how the same stories crop up with slight variations around the northern seaboard, and I approached Howie Firth of Orkney International Science Festival about a programme of music on this theme. We’d just submitted funding applications when “you-know-what” happened in 2020. Sagas and Seascapes couldn’t happen that year, but Histories and Herstories, just on the point of touring to Shetland, did.
In common with so many artists, I was about to enter a steep learning curve about how to produce a digital concert when you can’t even play together! And so I met Craig Sinclair, who produced our first video concert. The concert was a great success, so, with Covid still causing so much uncertainty, we decided with OISF to go ahead and produce another online concert, “Sagas and Seascapes”. By now we were able to record together and to travel to film, rather than relying on stock footage – just.
Drone footage, Craig Sinclair, Old Man of Hoy
We had a new commission by Linda Buckley, “Aud”, based on the journey of the incredible Viking settler of Iceland, Aud the Deep-Minded, whose Orcadian descendants connect through to St. Magnus himself. Thus the Icelandic Sagas and the Orkneyinga Saga intersect. Gemma McGregor’s Carry His Relics reflects on the St. Magnus Way in Orkney and describes key points and landmarks on the journey. It was written for Gemma and I to play at the Shoormal Conference in the Mareel arts centre in Shetland in 2019.
I decided I would take the three composers up to Orkney to contemplate the stories and locations that had inspired their music and that I would ask Craig to film the discussions they had in a documentary style. Meanwhile, Orla would capture the emotions described by the composers as well as the mood and stories inherent in the music. Orla stayed on in Orkney to really immerse herself in the landscape and culture and this inspired an extensive body of work which included the three key paintings of Lillie, Gemma and Linda’s music.
Research Trip, Orkney
Craig had the huge task of drawing together footage of the ancient sites and coastal landscape, film of Orla creating the artworks and the musicians performing. We feel the film really captured the essence of these beautiful islands and that Orla’s paintings added an extra interpretational dimension to the music, drawing out the emotions of the stories and the composers themselves which build up complex layers of meaning in the scores. The digital performance really captured people’s imaginations and opened up many new conversations, which in time will lead to new Nordic Viola performances.
When the opportunity arose to apply to the Made In Scotland Showcase, I knew Sagas and Seascapes would be a perfect fit. It would tour so well to the neighbouring Nordic countries and Iceland with its common narratives at a time when cultures are eager to connect again.
To celebrate, Orla has been working with Faroese composer, Eli Tausen á Lava to create a new piece of art depicting the selkie legends that are shared between Scotland and the Faroes. We are so grateful to our Crowdfunder community for enabling this work. The Faroes will also be represented by Kári Bæk and “Wogen” or “Waves” his vivid description of the sea for viola solo, transcribed from the cello original by Katherine Wren.
Sketching Ideas inspired by the folklore of the Seal Woman.
The Scottish Storytelling Centre is the perfect host for our performance, as it’s stories that we want to tell through our music and art. We also hope that you’ll enter into dialogue with us with your own tales of the Far North and legends that we haven’t yet come across.
We are so excited to screen the film with live music for the first time in Edinburgh and hope to welcome you all there from 15th-17th August at 8:30pm
You can book tickets here.
There will be a relaxed performance on 17th August which also has audio description and social distancing. If you can’t make it to Edinburgh, then the original digital show will screen from the Scottish Storytelling Centre’s website at 7pm on 18th August, followed by a zoom Q and A with the creators at 8:30pm.
Sagas & Seascapes