Savourna Stevenson and Steve Kettley
Acoustic Music Centre (Venue 138)
This was a magical evening of new choral music by eight Scottish composers inspired by ‘Nobilis Humilis’, an early plainchant piece honouring Orkney’s murdered Viking Saint, Magnus. Cappella Nova sang this complex, contemporary music with great skill and sensitivity; they were particularly impressive using a range of unusual, cutting-edge vocal techniques, required by the composers to express a mixture of tragedy and rejoicing within the work. Orkney is a collection of islands with a common thread (as are these compositions) – and this is what I took from ‘Echoes and Traces’. For me the overwhelming conjured presence was the landscape of Orkney – enduring, remote, bleak, dramatic – which in busy central Edinburgh is quite an achievement for both composers and performers!
Greyfriars Kirk and St Giles Cathedral, until 25 Aug.
tw rating 5/5 | [Louise Rodgers]
Original source for review: http://www.threeweeksedinburgh.com/article/echoes-and-traces-cappella-nova/
Live Music Now Scotland continues its ‘Composing With Care’ project, revealing a brand new piece of music by Scottish composer Savourna Stevenson.
Music charity Live Music Now Scotland was delighted to receive funding from Renfrewshire’s Culture Heritage and Events Fund, designed to support Paisley’s bid to be UK City of Culture 2021. The outreach organisation gathered together some of the talented musicians on its roster — Lizy Stirrat, Grant McFarlane, Yvonne Robertson and Ross Wilson, who all hail from Paisley in Renfrewshire, West Scotland — and invited them to perform in care homes around the region.
Focusing on the historic Paisley Thread Mills, the musicians gathered stories from people in five older people’s care homes and day centres last year which were then used as inspiration by celebrated composer Savourna Stevenson to create a new piece of music for flute and guitar, entitled ‘Mill Memories’.
Savourna explains more about her new composition: “‘Mill Memories’ is a celebration of the mills of Paisley through the memories of the mill workers. The mills were central to Paisley’s status as a city of international industrial acclaim through the famous Coats cottons and silks and the exquisitely patterned Paisley shawls, but central also to the community and social life of its workers.
The machinery of the Paisley mills was operated by a female workforce while the men maintained the equipment and worked as firemen. The working environment was dangerous and noisy and such hard working conditions required cooperation and camaraderie between workers that extended far beyond the mill gates.
‘Mill Memories’ opens with a ‘con moto’, emulating the sounds of machinery, spinning, shuttles flying and raised high voices. Spanish and Eastern influences represent Paisley’s exotic international trade. The 70 children who died in the Glenn Cinema disaster of 1929, (the largest cinema disaster in European cinema history) are commemorated in the penultimate section with echoes of the mill themes in the finale suggesting hope and regeneration of Paisley’s cultural past.”
Flautist Yvonne Paterson and classical guitarist Ross Wilson will perform the new music in a series of concerts in the care homes and day centres which inspired its composition in June.
Paisley 2021 bid director Jean Cameron said: “We are thrilled to have helped support this great project through Renfrewshire’s Culture, Heritage and Events Fund.
“Our bid for UK City of Culture 2021 aims to reconnect the people of Paisley to their unique and internationally-significant heritage – and Live Music Now Scotland are bringing that to life in a really innovative way, while showcasing some of the superb homegrown musical talent we have here.
“At the same time, the bid aims to reach every corner of Renfrewshire and give groups who may not always get to enjoy the benefits of cultural activity an opportunity to do so.
“This project is a great example of how that can be done – and should we win the title our 2021 year would feature lots more projects along these lines.”
For further information, contact Live Music Now Scotland’s Press and Marketing Officer [email protected]
Article taken from: http://www.paisley2021.co.uk/news/music-charity-reveals-paisley-thread-mills-inspired-composition-by-savourna-stevenson/
Eight new choral works make up this vocal gem, performed by Cappella Nova.
Cappella Nova are a superb choral group comprising 12 singers, expertly conducted by Alan Tavener, and they begin the concert by singing part of the original Nobilis Humilis, concluding it at the end of the new compositions.
The eight composers include some of Scotland’s finest, such as Sally Beamish, Stuart MacRaeand Savourna Stevenson, and all tackle the theme differently. Hanna Tuulikki begins the series by evoking the sounds of the sea using the old language of Orkney and Shetland, Norn. Aidan O’Rourke also uses this old language, but to evoke the battles of Viking society.
Beamish’s work is dedicated to her mentor, Orkney’s great composer Sir Peter Maxwell Davies, who died in March this year. It is based on a poem by another great Orcadian, George Mackay Brown, called April the Sixteenth, which celebrates St Magnus’s saints day. Beamish uses the full range of Cappella Nova, both as soloists and in harmony, to paint a vibrant vocal jewel that will surely become an established part of Scottish choral music.
The works by MacRae and Stevenson are also superb, and overall Echoes and Traces is a vocal gem. Echoes and Traces is made possible by funding from Creative Scotland, among others, andHistoric Scotland helped it tour some of Scotland’s historic sites. It demonstrates the depth of Scottish musical culture, and this is in sharp contrast to the recently concluded Edinburgh International Festival. Although the latter is a great musical festival, this year there were no Scottish composers included in any of its over 50 concerts.
Part of the Edinburgh Festival mission is to bring the best of Scottish culture to international audiences. Festival director Fergus Linehan could do worse than programme Capella Nova and Echoes and Traces into next year’s Festival!
The Scotsman’s arts critics round up their must-see theatre, art and concerts for the next week…
CLASSICAL: Echoes and Traces Cappella Nova premiere Echoes and Traces this week, eight new choral works written in response to an ancient Orcadian plainsong fragment. The composers are a varied bunch, drawn from the classical and folk music worlds: Stuart MacRae, Rory Boyle, Sally Beamish, above, Matthew Whiteside, Hanna Tuulikki, Aidan O’Rourke, Savourna Stevenson and Ailie Robertson, who had the idea for the project in the first place.
• Duff House, 4 September; St Magnus Cathedral, 5 September; Iona Abbey, 7 September; Greyfriars Kirk, Edinburgh, 8 September www.historicenvironment.scot/echoes-and-traces
Eight new choral works inspired by a 900-year-old plainsong fragment from Orkney will be premiered in St Magnus Cathedral tomorrow evening, Monday.
The Kirkwall performance of Echoes and Traces, by world-renowned choral group Cappella Nova, is one of seven taking place across Scotland, but is particularly significant because the plainsong fragment, Nobilis Humilis, originated from Orkney and celebrated St Magnus.
The commissioned composers includes those working within contemporary classical, folk, electronica and world-music genres, so as to best represent the wealth of compositional talent currently in Scotland: Sally Beamish, Rory Boyle, Stuart MacRae, Savourna Stevenson, Aidan O’Rourke, Ailie Robertson, Matthew Whiteside and Hanna Tuulikki.
The performance begins at 7.30pm [5 Sept., 2016], and tickets are available from The Orcadian Bookshop.
Echoes and Traces
Stirling Castle Chapel
FOLLOWING so swiftly after the vocal music binge of the Edinburgh Festival, and playing a range of less familiar venues, the reappearance on the scene of chamber choir Cappella Nova, performing an important programme of new commissions by composers working in Scotland has perhaps not been as remarked as it might have been at another point in the year.
Artistic director Ailie Robertson, whose own Eastern-influenced composition concluded the entirely unaccompanied programme by the 12 singers, asked for responses to the 13th century Hymn to St Magnus which had previously been used by Sir Peter Maxwell Davies, so the project has inevitably become in part a tribute to Max, who died earlier this year –quite explicitly so in the case of Sally Beamish’s Saint’s Day.
Unsurprisingly perhaps, it was one of the highlights of the evening, a rich celebration of both the martyr and her mentor that was as challenging to perform as Stuart MacRae’s Magnus, Noble Martyr, with its exquisite choral voicings that made the most of both the singers and the acoustic. Both are likely to have a live beyond Echoes and Traces, as surely will Savourna Stevenson’s Magnus, the only “song” of the eight and remembering her late composer father in its gospel inflections.
The other works, by Hanna Tuulikki, Matthew Whiteside, Rory Boyle and Aidan O’Rourke – the latter all the better for being percussively language-led at its most memorable points – are all well worth the hearing as the suite tours Scotland’s historic buildings, hampered only by somewhat clunky production, with between song live commentary by John Purser. A little theatrical advice to the musicians might have been no bad thing.
MAGNUS Erlendsson was a gentle soul, or at least he was according to the legends. His life is told in the epic Orkneyinga Saga: how he ruled as a compassionate Earl of Orkney for just over a decade at the start of the 12th century, how he had a reputation for piety which the Norwegians laughed off as cowardice, how he was murdered on Egilsay by his cousin Haakon Paulsson then martyred by his nephew Rognvald Kali Kolsson and his relics laid as the foundations of St Magnus Cathedral in Kirkwall. His death was in 1117. Eight and a half centuries later, the Stromness writer George Mackay Brown wrote a richly poetic novel called Magnus in which he drew parallels between the Orkney saint and the philosopher Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who was murdered by the Nazis during the Second World War.
There’s a lovely hymn dedicated to St Magnus, too, which is probably the oldest surviving evidence of harmony we have in Scotland. It’s a 12th century plainchant called Nobilis Humilis whose Latin manuscript was penned (or quilled, strictly speaking) in St Magnus Cathedral and is now kept in Uppsala University in Sweden. The voices rise and fall in tranquil parallel thirds: “Noble one, humble one, you the martyr’s course have run/ Gentle one, helpful one, your merit we revere.”
This simple tune has been noticed before. When he first moved to Orkney in the early 1970s, the composer Peter Maxwell Davies integrated Nobilis Humilis into his own Hymn to Saint Magnus, which was the first major piece he wrote from his storm-battered little home on Hoy. The music is full of the brutality of martyrdom and the rugged violence of the sea, but also with serene handbells and soft sounds. I love the anomalous image it creates: Magnus, that gentle Viking, that pacifist warrior.
And now Nobilis Humilis has become the starting point of a whole programme of new choral pieces called Echoes and Traces. Eight Scottish composers have been sent the hymn and asked to respond with a work for 12 voices lasting around eight minutes. The brief, as far as I can glean, was no more specific than that, so the results should hopefully be nicely multifarious. The programme will be premiered by Cappella Nova in Dunfermline Abbey then toured around historic venues including St Magnus Cathedral.
Instigator of the project is the harpist and composer Ailie Robertson, an Edinburgh-based musician who spans traditional and contemporary classical idioms and who set up a contemporary music company called Larimer Productions precisely to make programmes like Echoes and Traces come to fruition. She tells me that she chose the seven other composers (she has written one of the new works herself) with the aim of representing a range of stylistic backgrounds and an equal gender balance. “And let’s be honest,” she grins, “to get my own name in the same programme as some of my favourite musicians.”
So how have the eight composers responded? Hanna Tuulikki – herself a vocalist as well as a composer and visual artist – focuses on themes of pacifism, and a passage in the Orkneyinga Saga that describes the young Magnus refusing to take up arms during the Battle of Anglesey and instead remaining on board his ship singing psalms. (George Mackay Brown’s novel describes the scene vividly, and how Magnus’s fellow fighters are none too thrilled with his singing). Tuulikki uses approximations of the extinct Norn language that would have been spoken in 12th century Orkney: sju for sea, swaal for sea swell, laar for a light breeze.
Fiddler/composer Aidan O’Rourke also turns to Norn in his piece, or rather to its closest living equivalent: Av sonnum hevur hann hogt erpnu halsar teirra heidnu – that’s the first line of the hymn, for anyone not quite fluent in Faroese. Turns out that the guttural, consonant-rich language of the Faroe Islands does similar things to Gaelic when set for voices. Stuart Macrae goes for a blend of Latin and English in order, he says, to shift our attention to different expressive moments in the text. He points out that this is a hymn and a history that sit on the brink: Vikings and Catholics, the end of Magnus’s life and the beginning of his legacy through the new Cathedral.
Rory Boyle takes the music rather than text of the hymn as his starting point and makes a feature of those beautiful lilting thirds, uses them to create what he describes as “thicker blurring textures”. For Ailie Robertson’s own contribution, she felt it important to reference Magnus’s Viking-ness so she weaved in a Swedish traditional song called Ho Sitt a Gillan as well as Celtic drones and ornamentation.
Savourna Stevenson retained the melody of the hymn and asked the writer Les Barker to provide a narrative. “Magnus’s epic and involuntary journey from Orkney down through the Hebrides, Northern Ireland and the Isle of Mann; warfare and pillage all the way to their accidental encounter with a Norman army on Ynys Seiriol.” That’s the battle where Magnus stayed on the boat and sang. Barker homed in on a line in Psalm 88 (“shall the dead arise and praise thee”) which, says Stevenson, “led us through centuries of warfare and intolerance, down to today and to the hope that one day we’ll realise we’re all one people.”
When Robertson first started planning Echoes and Traces, she had hoped the programme might include a new piece by Maxwell Davies, a chance for him to revisit the old hymn he set four decades ago. In the end he didn’t live to write the commission but he is present in Sally Beamish’s piece Saint’s Day, which she dedicates to her “friend and mentor”. Beamish doesn’t use the text of the hymn; instead she chooses words by George Mackay Brown, who once wrote that “the essence of Orkney’s magic is silence, loneliness and the deep marvellous rhythms of the sea and land, darkness and light.”
The poem that Beamish sets is called April the Sixteenth – Magnus’s saint’s day – which she felt embodies those deep marvellous rhythms of the sea and land. Here, then, is a taste: “What have they brought to the saint?/ The shepherds a fleece./ That winter many lambs were born in the snow./ […] And the poor of the island/ Came with their hungers/ Then went hovelwards with crossed hands over the hill.”
Echoes and Traces is at Dunfermline Abbey tonight, Stirling Castle tomorrow, then Glasgow Cathedral (September 2), Duff House, Banff (September 4), St Magnus Cathedral, Kirkwall (September 5), Iona Abbey (September 7) and Greyfriars Kirk, Edinburgh (September 8).
The world premiere concert tour of Echoes and Traces is about to bring a 900- year-old plain-song fragment from Orkney back to life with eight new choral works by eight inspired Scottish composers.
Echoes and Traces, which is on tour from August 30 until September 8 2016, was developed in response to Nobilis Humilis, which celebrates St Magnus – and, fittingly, St Magnus Cathedral in Kirkwall will be one of the concert tour’s venues.
Scotland’s most stunning historic venues and sites
The tour will feature world-renowned choral group Cappella Nova performing seven concerts in, thanks to the support of Historic Environment Scotland, some of Scotland’s most stunning historic venues and sites. Echoes and Traces will be performed at Dunfermline Abbey, Stirling Castle, Glasgow Cathedral, Duff House and Iona Abbey, as well as Greyfriar’s Kirk in Edinburgh and St Magnus Cathedral, Orkney.
To best represent the wealth of compositional talent currently in Scotland, the commissioned composers includes those working within contemporary classical, folk, electronica and world-music genres – Sally Beamish, Rory Boyle, Stuart MacRae, Savourna Stevenson, Aidan O’Rourke, Ailie Robertson, Matthew Whiteside and Hanna Tuulikki.
Scotland’s brightest and best composers
“We are so privileged to live in a country with an enormous wealth of music, both past and present,” said Ailie Robertson, Artistic Director of Echoes and Traces and one of Scotland’s leading young composers.
“We are thrilled to bring Scotland’s brightest and best composers to the fore with this project, and to bring innovative new choral music to the length and breadth of the country.”
To find out more, click here.
Some of Scotland’s most historic locations will resonate over the coming month with the sounds of an 800-year-old plainchant and responses to it by eight Scottish contemporary composers, performed by the renowned Scottish choral group Cappella Nova. The original plainsong fragment is Nobilis humilis, written in honour of Orkney’s St Magnus; the project, Echoes and Traces, is the brainchild of someone perhaps best known as a folk harpist, Ailie Robertson, but who is also an award-winning composer.
Performed in such iconic venues as Iona and Dunfermline abbeys and the saint’s own cathedral in Kirkwall, Echoes and Traces will feature choral responses to the ancient Orcadian piece written by such established figures as Sally Beamish, Stuart MacRae and Rory Boyle, as well as by sound design and electronic specialist Matthew Whiteside, composer-performer Hanna Tuulikki, fiddler Aidan O’Rourke, of the folk power trio Lau (who has also worked with string quartets), and two composer-harpists, Savourna Stevenson and Robertson herself. For some it will be their first venture into purely choral music.
Robertson stumbled across Nobilis humilis while working on an archive project. “I was looking for early examples of Scottish music and came across it, but it sat on the back burner for a while.”
Currently in the throes of a PhD in composition at London’s Trinity Laban Conservatoire, Robertson formed her own company, Lorimer Productions, two years ago, specifically to create new music events.”I wanted to do something with Nobilis humilis then thought it would be great to make it into a much bigger project, an entire programme of new music, because so often it gets jammed in among the standard repertoire at concerts. Also we have this wealth of composer talent in Scotland that doesn’t always get a very public voice.”
She approached Cappella Nova who, under their director Alan Tavener, proved enthusiastic, then put together a funding application to Creative Scotland and also approached Historic Environment Scotland who came on board as a venue partner. The project is also supported by the Hope Scott Trust and Sound and Music.
Nobilis humilis, a hymn in praise of Orkney’s Viking saint, thought to have been martyred in Orkney in 1117, is the oldest known example of Scottish plain song to feature harmonies, says Robertson, who is excited by the composers’ reactions to it. “Some have directly referenced the melody and transformed it, others have taken the text and given it a different melody, some have simply used the idea of St Magnus as a starting point for other lyrics or musical ideas.”
The first thing audiences will hear, however, will be the serene cadences of the original fragment, which was found in a 13th-century manuscript at Uppsala University, making the song at least eight centuries old. The music will be introduced by musicologist and broadcaster John Purser.
Robertson’s own compositions have won awards, including the Scottish Chamber Orchestra Composition Prize and the Sofia International Composition Competition, although they haven’t stopped her touring with her Outside Track folk band – she spoke to me from Oban, where they were enjoying an enforced day off, the ferry which should have taken them to a gig on Colonsay having been cancelled.
Folk music informs her compositions almost subconsciously, she explains, although the relationship hasn’t always been easy. “When I started contemporary composition,” she says, “I tried to shy away from the folk side. Particularly in London, I found a lot of snobbery – people could be really dismissive towards folk music, but I’ve found that if you ignore something, it crops up in your music anyway.
Now 32, she’s been playing folk music all her life, “so it’s always there somehow and I’ve learned to embrace it as something that makes my music distinctive.”
■ Echoes and Traces is at Dunfermline Abbey, 31 August; Stirling Castle, 1 September; Glasgow Cathedral, 2 September; Duff House, 4 September; St Magnus Cathedral, Kirkwall, 5 September; Iona Abbey, 7 September; Greyfriars Kirk, Edinburgh, 8 September. See www.historicenvironment.scot/echoes-and-traces