Virtuoso harp and guitar duo team up with Traquair Choir

Gerald Barlow

Friday, 12th August, 2016,

Peeblesshire News


On Saturday 27th August, the Traquair Community Choir is performing a concert at the Eastgate Theatre in Peebles, writes Gerald Barlow.

This concert is a big event in the musical life of our part of Peeblesshire. First, it marks the launch of the new Creative Peebles Festival (the successor to the former Peebles Arts Festival).

Secondly, it will feature a programme of music by Savourna Stevenson, the renowned Scottish harpist and composer, joined by her son Miles Norris on the guitar.

Thirdly, it marks a milestone in the development of the Traquair Community Choir, making its first appearance in a major concert on a public stage.

Savourna Stevenson is described as a Scottish ‘national treasure’ (The Herald), known nationally and internationally for her playing of the clarsach and pedal harp, who has been at the forefront of the harp revival for many years.

She is also a renowned composer of music for theatre, dance and concerts, and has received commissions from many orchestras and choirs, most recently from Cappella Nova.

Savourna began playing the piano and composing from the age of 5 with her father, the late Scottish composer Ronald Stevenson.

Although her music strongly reflects her Scottish roots, it also reflects her urge to break through stylistic barriers between folk, world music and jazz. A performance of Savourna’s new work ‘The Dream’ can be heard during a programme at St Giles on 21st August by the Scottish Vocal Ensemble, in which coincidently the musical director of our Traquair Choir, Julie Leavett, sings soprano. Links within links!

The Eastgate concert will begin with The Traquair Choir performing a short programme of contemporary and traditional folk songs, including two of Savourna’s compositions commissioned by the National Youth Choirs of Scotland – ‘The Finn Woman’ and ‘Waiting for the Silver Sailed Moon’.

The latter was described by critics as “the loveliest tune to have been created by the choral organisation’s commissioning work”.These will be accompanied by Savourna on the pedal harp.

For the ‘Headline’ event of the evening, Savourna Stevenson (clarsach) and Miles Norris (guitar) will perform music from around the world, from African-inspired to South American flavoured, an Irish waltz and music from mediaeval England and beyond.

The Traquair Choir has in the two years since its beginning in 2014, grown rapidly in numbers from an initial 20 to 50. It is still very much a community choir open to singers of all abilities and all ages: the youngest is 12 and the oldest 84. Its success is due to the exceptional skills of its musical director Julie Leavett, in making even those who have never sung or read music before to feel welcomed, enabled to find real enjoyment and their skills growing.

The choir performs a mixed repertoire, rehearsing and performing a range of genres each term.

Appreciation is due to Elaine Heron, the founder of the Traquair Choir and moving spirit behind this new and exciting collaborative concert at the Eastgate.

Composer-Curator: two new projects tour the UK

Jon Davies

Monday, 1st August, 2016

The Skinny:
The final projects supported by Sound and Music’s 2016 Composer-Curator programme are about to head out on tour. We spoke to artists Ailie Robertson, and Michael Betteridge and Anna Braithwaite, about how personal and historical stories have informed their distinctive works

Curatorship is as much about identity as it is aesthetics – the chance to marry the two together to gather an expanse of stories.

Two new curatorial projects supported by Sound and Music (the UK’s leading organisation for new music) – Nobilis Humilis: Echoes and Traces by Scottish harpist and composer Ailie Robertson, and In Their Own Words by composers Anna Braithwaite and Michael Betteridge – draw from matters close to home in order for the artists to explore their own work, as well as collaborate in varying unique ways.


Echoes and Traces: Scottish history in the work of Ailie Robertson

For Ailie Robertson, digging into Scottish heritage has influenced her work Echoes and Traces – in helping her to represent her own upbringing, and in her desire to retain a sense of pride in ancient history.

With the help of Creative Scotland and Sound and Music, Robertson has commissioned eight new choral works inspired by a 900-year-old plainsong, Nobilis Humilis, from a wide range of composers and songwriters including Sally Beamish, Aidan O’Rourke and electronic musician Matthew Whiteside.

“I grew up with traditional music, so the more I try to ignore it the more it starts popping up, but it makes my music different from a lot of UK contemporary music,” Robertson says. “There was a lot of snobbery [towards traditional music], and people didn’t take that seriously.”

Cappella Nova

[Cappella Nova, who will perform the eight commissioned pieces]

As with much maligned music, the perception of folk music being primitive and simple is a case of not reading enough into its subtleties. “On the surface there are simple phrases and structures, but [as] with anything else there are huge complexities,” Robertson says. “If you look into folk song there is what is perceived as out-of-tuneness, but that was often a stylistic option, and microtonality is inherent in traditional music. There is also really interesting ornamentation that can be brought forward into contemporary music.” It would be easy for Robertson to simply re-enact ancient music, but her driving aim is to bridge the gap between the two.

The project is outward looking: supplementary to the eight-date tour in early September is a learning programme from Historic Scotland, in which Robertson will visit schools across Scotland to introduce young children to early folk music. “One of the most important things is to get kids to realise that composers are still living,” she says. “When I was in school [all the composers] I studied were dead white males! So we need to show that female composers exist, and then we also want children to engage in different ways. We’re going to start with the text, then see where they take it – trying things with their voices, manipulating their work with electronics, or going out and doing some field recordings.”

Giving children an early entry into composition is important to Robertson, who says she never thought she could pursue it as a career – especially when, she feels, Scottish contemporary classical lags behind England. “It’s about getting audiences to recognise all the living composers here. We have to support that or else the music stops.”

The Echoes and Traces tour acknowledges the rich history of Scotland and its relationship with choral music, taking in dates at Stirling Castle, Iona Abbey and Glasgow Cathedral, amongst others. “We wanted to keep the performances totally acoustic, so no amplification of the [30-piece] choir, but we also wanted the sense of history, and [to] make the composition really relevant,” Robertson says. She hopes the tour can be Janus-faced, both reviving Scottish culture and creating a platform for Scotland to look outwards. “It’s a small country; we do have great orchestras but there aren’t many opportunities within them for working composers. But the more we can put things on that are accessible, such as vocal music in historic places, [the more] we can capture an audience that wouldn’t otherwise come to a new music performance.”

In Their Own Words is at the International Anthony Burgess Foundation, Manchester, 24 Aug; Quarterhouse, Folkestone, 16 Sep, and Hackney Showroom, London, 1 Oct. Follow the project at @their_own_words.

Nobilis Humilis: Echoes and Traces tours Scotland 31 Aug-8 Sep. Full tour dateshere. Follow Ailie: @ailierobertson.

These projects have been developed as part of Sound and Music’s Composer-Curatorprogramme, which is supported by the Arts Council, PRS for Music Foundation and Help Musicians UK.

We are interviewing all of 2016’s Composer-Curators here at The Skinny. Read our interviews with Composer-Curators Emma WeltonIsabel Jones & Duncan Chapman, and Neil Luck


Mearns Leader – Savourna to play Stonehaven this weekend

One of Scotland’s leading and most innovative musicians and composers is set to play a special concert in Stonehaven.

Savourna Stevenson, a world-class player and champion of Scotland’s traditional harp, the clarsach – will perform on February 27, giving audiences a rare chance to hear her unique take on this beautiful and ancient instrument.

She will playing after holding workshops for local harp players, with both the tuition and the concert staged by the North-east branch of The Clarsach Society.

Savourna has had a lifelong love of the clarsach and has written prolifically for the instrument, collaborating with traditional artists including Aly Bain, Eddi Reader, Danny Thompson and June Tabor.

Savourna began playing the piano and composing at the age of five with her father, the composer Ronald Stevenson. Her current commissions include her largest project to date, a work for piano and orchestra named The Secret Life Of A Piano.

Her Stonehaven concert, which begins at 7.30pm, will see her perform with her son, Miles Norris, on guitar. It will be held in The Church of St James with tickets available on the door. Proceeds are going to the fabric fund of the church. Pamela McFadden, secretary of the branch, said: “Savourna is recognised as a major talent and we are honoured to have her both teach in Stonehaven, then play for a wider audience.”

For more details, contact Pamela McFadden ad [email protected]

Read more:

RSNO Celebrates Hallowe’en with Ghosts, Skeletons and Music

RSNO Children’s Classic Concerts: Magic and Monsters: Royal Scottish National Orchestra, RSNO Junior Chorus, Jean-Claude Picard (conductor), Devised and presented by Owen Gunnell and Oliver Cox, Usher Hall, Edinburgh, 01.11.2015 (SRT)


This is the first of the RSNO’s Children’s Classic Concerts I’d been to.  Not knowing what to expect, I brought along my two godchildren, aged 7 and 5, and they loved it.  It’s a great audience-building tool, introducing children to the concert-going experience in a safe, noisy and interactive way.  Our irrepressible hosts, Owen and Olly, guided us through a series of tunes, such as the theme from Harry Potter, or Gnomus from Mussorgsky’s Pictures, and, importantly for young audiences, gave us something to do for each number, such as look for the Gnomuses hiding in the orchestra, or spot the Headless Horseman riding across the stage.  We even danced to Thriller in the final number, and the Gruffalo himself put in a special guest appearance.  I especially enjoyed the story of Misterstourworm, the musical tale of a young boy who, with the aid of a Kelpie, slays an enormous sea serpent.  The RSNO Junior Chorus joined in too to provide some of the songs (and to show us how to dance properly at the end!).

Everyone had the opportunity to dress up, and nearly all the kids did, with a few adults too.  (I did my bit as a pretty half-hearted Hogwarts teacher.)  I was really charmed to see how much the orchestra threw themselves into it, too.  The temptation is to put out the B-team for a gig like this, but I recognised most of the regular players on stage and, hearteningly, they all dressed up too.  We had a pirate in the violins, a (prize-winning) zombie doctor and a couple of ghosts and skeletons, to name just a few, and I especially liked the nuns who had taken over the flutes.  Even the conductor, Jean-Claude Picard, had dressed up as a Star Trek character (get it?), and some brass players managed the pretty considerable feat of playing through a mask.  A great concert for its key audience, and played, of course, with typical panache.  It’s the kind of thing that makes you wonder why all orchestras don’t do this.

Simon Thompson


Keith Bruce

The Herald

Composer Savourna Stevenson (pictured) has written a quarter of a new work to be premiered at Temple Church, off London’s Fleet Street, a week tomorrow. Four female composers have each composed a movement celebrating four women in history to complete Tetra, which will be played by female harp quartet, 4 Girls 4 Harps. The concert celebrates the fifteenth birthday of the group, who will then tour the work in the upcoming season.

Stevenson’s movement is inspired by American-born, Paris-based dancer, singer and actress Josephine Baker. She is currently working on a piece for piano and orchestra that also takes its inspiration from that era, documenting an instrument played by Horowitz, Gershwin, Ravel and Louis Armstrong.

Stevenson’s work for young people with writer Stuart Paterson, Misterstourworm and the Kelpie’s Gift, will have new performances by the RSNO in Children’s Classic Concerts in Glasgow and Edinburgh this autumn.

Mother and son feature in pioneering concert

The Peeblesshire NewsMiles Smiles 02 website

A pioneering concert in Broughton Village Hall will showcase the talents of one of Peeblesshire’s most famous musicians – and it’s all for a good cause.

The concert on Saturday, May 17, features the combined talents of harp and clarsach virtuoso Savourna Stevenson and her son Miles Norris, who plays guitar and bass guitar.

The evening’s entertainment has been devised by Broughton mother Ingrid Campbell, whose son Dart is in Primary 1 at the local school.

Her hope is that this popular concert will help kick-start a range of other musical events and activities both in school and further afield.

“I would like to do something to help encourage a love of music in our local young children,” she said. “I hope that this concert will make some money which we can plough back into further music-making in the community.”

Savourna Stevenson has had a varied and brilliant career and is established as one of the most imaginative musicians in the Borders.

Her cross-cultural enthusiasm has led to collaboration with artists from the worlds of traditional, jazz, rock and world music, working with an impressive array of musicians including Aly Bain, Danny Thompson, the Bhundu Boys, the Royal Scottish National Orchestra, the Miles & Sav 02 websiteNational Youth Choirs of Scotland, the Scottish Ensemble and Catrin Finch, former Royak Harpist to HRH the Prince of Wales.

Savourna has become famous as a pioneer composer for the clarsach, or Scottish harp, performing on groundbreaking instruments made by her husband Mark Norris in his Stobo workshop.

Her son is a talented guitarist and bassist. He spent two years in Germany working on music projects for people with special needsand also playing bass in the German reggae band Antofagasta.

Broughton Village Hall will be set up with a fully licensed bar and cafe tables for a varied programme ranging from early music, through traditional Scottish and Irish, bluegrass, jazz, Latin, and blues from the harp and guitar, including excerpts from Savourna’s celebrated ‘Tweed Journey’, commissioned in 1989 for the Borders Festival of Ballads & Legends…

The Snow Queen: Royal Scottish National Orchestra, Usher Hall, Edinburgh

Kelly Apter


Edited down from Hans Christian Anderson’s original by playwright Stuart Paterson, The Snow Queen was read with theatricality and passion by Siobhan Redmond, dressed in her sparkling white finery. But it is at the door of Scottish composer Savourna Stevenson that most plaudits must be laid. Her expansive score captured the essence of Anderson’s tale – the fear, tenderness, loyalty. Each step of the narrative journey was accompanied with just the right musical intent.

Aeolian Harp

Aeolian Harp Pavilion at the Royal Botanic Gardens

Aeolian Harp Pavilion at the Royal Botanic Gardens Edinburgh.

Created by Scottish harp maker Mark Norris, the Aeolian Harp Pavilion was installed in the Royal Botanic Gardens Edinburgh in May 2014 and is now a permanent feature in the gardens.

The harp is made from a 200 year old Wych Elm tree which was felled in the gardens in 2003 after Dutch Elm disease.

This time-lapse film shows the 3 day installation of the Pavilion … with music from Savourna Stevenson, which is also performed on a harp made by Mark Norris …

Music tracks are … ‘Calman The Wolf’ and ‘An Buachaille’ from the CD Calman The Dove ( Cook CD 137 )
… and ‘Come Try Me ( 1st Movement String Quintet )’ from the CD Touch Me Like The Sun ( Cook CD 192 )

Savourna Stevenson & The Edinburgh Quartet, Merchiston

Sue Wilson

The Scotsman

IN A telling aside during this Edinburgh International Harp Festival concert, having referred to her set-list’s spanning of numerous different genres, harpist/composer Savourna Stevenson wrinkled her nose and observed, “I don’t really like that word.”


Billed as a mini-retrospective of her recording and composing career, right back to her 1985 debut album Tickled Pink, the programme certainly highlighted Stevenson’s fruitful lack of regard for genre divisions, especially now she’s working equally on the traditional clarsach and the classical pedal harp – a boundary-free approach, with a breadth and depth of technique to match, that underpins her status at the forefront of Scotland’s harp revival.

Traditional music remains a central wellspring of inspiration for her compositions, even if her innovative array of fingering methods and unorthodox keys or scales often transported these sources far beyond their roots – as in the eldritch atmosphere and dramatic colours of The Source, from her Tweed Journey suite, conjuring the tale of Thomas the Rhymer, and the vivid impressionism of Dawn, Earth, Wind and Water.

A clarsach-led first half, whose last couple of numbers featured Stevenson’s guitarist son [ Miles Norris ] , also wove in jazz and Latin influences.

Meanwhile, after the interval, the pedal harp took centre stage, primarily in her three-movement Harp Quintet, for which she was joined by the Edinburgh Quartet, in a beautifully intricate, bold yet delicate interlacing of different string timbres and textures, exploring and enriching the piece’s four core folk-song melodies.

Scottish Ensemble with Catrin Finch, Cottiers Theatre, Glasgow

Michael Tumelty

The Herald

The Joy of Savourna Stevenson’s music, I have always found, is that it is direct music, from the heart and to the heart, absolutely open and totally honest in its integrity and expressive qualities…The concerto, full of whole-tone and pentatonic implications, and lovingly played by Finch with expressive delicacy and an alluring sense of elan, is actually a voluptuously Romantic piece, unashamedly gorgeous in its first movement, with more than a hint of tango, a wonderfully touching sense of yearning, perhaps melancholy, in its second, and a darker, striking flavour of Bernard Hermann in the harmonies and mood of its finale.