Orchestra of Scottish Opera performs monster work by Savourna Stevenson and Stuart Paterson
A new orchestral work with the grand title Misterstourworm and the Kelpie’s Gift was always likely to make a name for itself. Add the unusual setting of a large barn in the East Lothian countryside and a narrative by a Hollywood star, and the cheering response of 400 schoolchildren was no surprise.
The one-off performance by the Orchestra of Scottish Opera and the actor Billy Boyd at Skateraw farm demonstrated that there may be life yet in classical music.
Misterstourworm is a collaboration between Savourna Stevenson, the harpist and composer, and Stuart Paterson, the Fife-based playwright who, for more than 20 years, has adapted children’s myths and legends for the stage.
The work is the result of what Stevenson called a “life-changing” grant of £25,000 made by Creative Scotland in 2001.
It enabled the couple to create a tale set in a mythical Scotland in which a young hero embarks on a magical quest to free his people from a fearsome, fire-breathing sea monster, Misterstourworm.
Boyd, who played Peregrin “Pippin” Took in Peter Jackson’s feature-film adaptation of the J.R.R. Tolkien novel Lord of the Rings, has long been a friend of Paterson. The playwright gave him his big break in Scottish theatre by casting him as Arthur in a Christmas production of The Sword in the Stone. He said that he had been “flattered and delighted” to be asked to narrate the performance.
Stevenson and Paterson said they had been keen to create a work in the mould of Peter and the Wolf, and originally turned to the Greek myths for inspiration. “We wanted a story where we felt there was something underneath – it’s not all surface. But we also felt we had been given a grant to do something Scottish, we need to do something that felt like a real Scottish myth,” Mr Paterson said.
They fell on the tale of the stoorworm, which was said to have been as long as Scotland, and whose humps became the islands off the West Coast after its death. They added Kelpies, alluring and magical but deadly creatures, and set events in the fictitious land of Tiree.
The two had first worked together in 1986 on the writer’s reworking of Beauty and the Beast for the Royal Lyceum Theatre in Edinburgh. “I wanted proper music for that, not rink-a-dink panto music, and she was perfect – Savourna is a delightfully talented composer, and she played it live.”
In that production, the music had been less important than the script, Ms Stevenson said. “Stuart always regarded the music as important to the show, but it inevitably gets squeezed out to the edge. In a piece of theatre it is secondary. Stuart and I always thought if I followed the story closely enough, we should be able to take the words away and the music would still hold up,” she added.
The success of the project can be measured by yesterday’s album release of the music, by Circular Records, a company established with assistance from the Scottish government’s Scottish Music Futures Fund, to help to protect musicians’ and composers’ intellectual property rights.
Mr Paterson has recently completed a screenplay entitled Master of Lies for the film director Nic Roeg, and hopes that a film may attract funding. However, before his work finally hits the big screen, Hansel and Gretel, a second orchestral collaboration between Stevenson and Paterson, will be premiered this Christmas.
Music review: Misterstourworm and the Kelpie’s Gift ****
MORE than 400 excited East Lothian schoolchildren packed the large barn at Skateraw, East Lothian, for a short concert to launch the CD of Misterstourworm and the Kelpie’s Gift.
Composed by Savourna Stevenson to a text by playwright Stuart Paterson, this enchanting tale explores the heart of myth and legend as a young boy sets out to kill the terrifying monster, Misterstourworm, with the help of a Kelpie.
The story was told through a potent combination of music, from the Orchestra of Scottish Opera with conductor Derek Clark; lively narration by Lord of the Rings star Billy Boyd – who was cheered to the rafters by the children – and stunning projected illustrations by Martin McKenna.
Stevenson’s musical language is simple but beautifully crafted, as she spins a magical sound world of grisly deep-voiced monsters and tinkling fairies in a dramatic, fast-moving score that could have easily been longer.
Comparisons with the children’s much-loved classic, Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf, are highly apt given that the youngsters were mesmerised by the performance. The short blast from the finale of Rossini’s William Tell Overture, which opened the concert had them whooping noisily and there were smiles of recognition as the orchestra played John Williams’s suite from Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone.
Johnny Watson’s barn at Skateraw proved to be a fabulous venue, with the images of Beuys, Kantor and other artists from Richard Demarco’s archive collection lining the walls to create a vivid backdrop.
No myth. . .Billy Boyd’s in the barn
AN EAST Lothian barn was the unlikely venue for a high-profile orchestral concert celebrating a great Scottish myth.
The barn at the Skateraw Foundation, near Dunbar, played host to the Orchestra of the Scottish Opera Production of Misterstourworm and the Kelpie’s Gift, which featured Hollywood sensation Billy Boyd as narrator.
The project, played out last night in front of 400 school children, featured the story of the monster as long as Scotland, whose humps created the west coast islands when he died.
Boyd, who starred in the film Lord of the Rings, said: “Misterstourworm and the Kelpie’s Gift is a magical and exciting tale for kids of all ages.”
Children to attend music launch
East Lothian News
Dunbar is set for a musical extravaganza on June 9 with the launch of a new classical orchestral work for youngsters
Misterstourworm and the Kelpie’s Gift will be presented to an audience of 400 East Lothian schoolchildren free-of-charge at the event, taking place in a huge barn at The Skateraw Foundation near the town.
Lord Of The Rings star Billy Boyd will narrate the 45-minute performance accompanied by the Orchestra of Scottish Opera.
He said: “Misterstourworm and the Kelpie’s Gift is a magical and exciting tale for kids of all ages.”
30 May 2008
The recording of the Savourna Stevenson/Stuart Paterson composition Misterstourworm and the Kelpie’s Gift was given an early sales boost on Saturday thanks to the Edinburgh area choir of the National Youth Choir of Scotland and its director Mark Evans.
As Mary Brennan writes in Herald Arts (Monday June 8), the disc is launched today at Skateraw in East Lothian with Billy Boyd narrating Paterson’s story, which Stevenson has scored. However the disc also features the girls of the Edinburgh NYCoS choir performing the three songs Stevenson wrote as one of ten composers invited to add to the NYCoS book for its tenth anniversary. One of the three, Waiting for the Silver-Sailed Moon, has already assumed classic status in the repertoire of youth choirs the length and breadth of the country, and the Edinburgh girls gave an un-programmed bonus performance of it at Saturday night’s end-of-session concert in St Cuthbert’s Church at the West End of Princes Street.
Although fighting for attention in a superb concert, it did have the bonus of being available for purchase at the interval, where an early supply of the discs joined the fund-raising tasty home-baking for sale. At the end of the concert there was but one solitary copy of Stevenson’s Stourworm disc left on the NYCoS stall.
Keith Bruce (The Herald Arts Blog)