St Magnus International Festival is one of Britain’s most highly regarded arts events. With music at its heart it encompasses drama, dance, literature, film and the visual arts, this year including the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, the internationally renowned Russian baritone, Sergei Leiferkus, British oboist Nicholas Daniel, Laus Concentus from Italy and the Trondheim Soloists from Norway, to name but a few.
Venues are wide-ranging across the ancient landscape of Orkney and among these are the great, medieval St Magnus Cathedral in Kirkwall and the intimate Italian Chapel at Lamb Holm. Whatever the venue or the event, the combination of the Festival atmosphere and Orkney at midsummer creates something incredibly special, attracting visitors from Britain and beyond year after year.
Festival Artistic Director, the composer Alasdair Nicolson says, “I have had a wonderful time planning this year’s Festival, full of great events ranging from intimate chamber music to a full symphony orchestra, a number of new works true to the St Magnus International Festival tradition, great international soloists and excellent performers of all ages from Orkney. It’s an enticing programme, which I think will draw people to our lovely islands for some midsummer magic.”
The 2014 programme highlights a number of significant dates, celebrations and historic events, which include the 80th birthday of the Festival’s founder, composer Sir Peter Maxwell Davies; the 200th anniversary of the Norwegian Constitution and Orkney’s links to that country; the 30th anniversary of Live Music Now Scotland; the anniversary of the release of the Italian Prisoners of War and the building of the Italian Chapel; and a commemoration of WW1. We also celebrate Scotland’s Year of Homecoming and welcome back ‘home’ to our Festival, many friends, both performers and audience members alike.
Caroline Packman, Homecoming Scotland 2014 Director said, “The St Magnus Festival has and impressive line-up for 2014 and we are delighted to support additional programming content from Norway, Sweden and Italy, and through increased national and international PR, we hope visitors will come from far and wide to experience what Orkney has to offer.”
Ian Smith, Portfolio Manager Music, Creative Scotland, said, “Creative Scotland is happy to support the 2014 St Magnus Festival as an undoubted jewel in Scotland’s roster of great festivals. It’s island archipelago setting makes it a must for cultural tourism, attracting so many visitors to the Orkney Islands to enjoy inspiring music in such an iconic setting.”
The theme of Norway in this year’s programme marks the 200th anniversary of the Norwegian Constitution and the historic connections between Nidaros Cathedral in Trondheim and St Magnus Cathedral in Kirkwall. Eminent Norwegian archeologist Øivind Lunde investigates the links between Nidaros and St Magnus Cathedrals during the middle ages in a fascinating talk at 3.00pm in St Olaf’s Church, Kirkwall on Saturday 21 June.
One of Norway’s finest chamber groups, The Trondheim Soloists, open the Festival on Friday 20 June at 7.00pm in St Magnus Cathedral, with solo oboist, Nicholas Daniel in a programme including Norwegian composer Henning Sommerro’s Rex Olavus and St Magnus’ International Festival’s Artistic Director and composer, Alasdair Nicolson’s Magnus, sitting alongside Handel, Berlin and Tchaikovsky. On Saturday 21 June at 8.00pm, The Trondheim Soloists perform with young Orcadian musicians in a programme including Peter Maxwell Davies, Grieg and traditional music from Norway and Orkney.
Norwegian art is represented by one of Norway’s foremost living artists Håkon Gullvåg, whose exhibition Paintings for a Cathedral will be hung in St Magnus Cathedral from the beginning of the Festival until 4 August. These extraordinary artworks were designed to be placed around Nidaros Cathedral in Trondheim, and this again brings the two Cathedrals together. On Monday 23 June, an excursion to the Orkney Brewery brings a Taste of Norway, celebrating with music from members of The Trondheim Soloists and food from internationally renowned Norwegian chef, Mikael Forselius.
The final strand in the Norwegian theme is rather unexpectedly, the art of knitting. Celebrity Norwegian knitters, Arne & Carlos, have an international following with books translated into many languages the world over. The formidable knitting duo give two highly entertaining and informative knitting workshops on Saturday 21 and Sunday 22 June in Kirkwall Community Centre and Stromness Academy respectively.
One of Orkney’s best-known sites is the extraordinary Italian Chapel which was created from two WWII Nissen huts by Italian Prisoners of War. This year is the 70th anniversary of its creation and the release of the Prisoners. St Magnus International Festival commemorates this with two concerts in the poignant setting of the Chapel on midsummer’s night, Saturday 21 June at 7.00pm and repeated at 9.30pm. Music at the time of Caravaggio includes works by Monteverdi and Orlando di Lasso, performed by the Italian ensemble, Laus Concentus. The concerts are in collaboration with the Italian Cultural Institute, Edinburgh and the first concert will be introduced by His Excellency Pasquale Terracciano, the Italian Ambassador to Great Britain.
On Sunday 22 June, a round table discussion chaired by James Runcie looks at the fascinating history of the Italian Chapel, its creators and the wider context of Italians at war. This is at 12.45pm in the New Phoenix Cinema, Kirkwall.
An exhibition in Orkney Library throughout the Festival, commemorates the Italian Chapel and Italian Prisoners of War through photographs depicting the construction of the Chapel and painting of the frescos by the men of Camp 60 in Orkney.
In keeping with its tradition of commissioning and nurturing new work, St Magnus International Festival presents a number of premieres during its seven days. The world premiere of a new string quartet by the Festival’s artistic director, Alasdair Nicolson celebrates thirty years of the organisation Live Music Now Scotland and was commissioned by them for this year’s Festival. It will receive its premiere on Tuesday 24 June at 2.45pm by Live Music Now Scotland musicians Astrid String Quartet at St Ninian’s Kirk, Deerness.
On their first visit to St Magnus International Festival the BBC Singers perform the first of two concerts at 10.00pm on Friday 20 June. This late-night concert includes the UK premiere of Toil and Trouble by Cecilie Ore, alongside works by music by Peter Maxwell Davies and Palestrina. The singers’ second concert is at 12.45 on Monday 23 June in St Magnus Cathedral where their programme includes Peter Maxwell Davies, Grieg, Tavener, Per Nørgård and Rodney Bennett.
Principal players from the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra form its Wind Quintet and give the world premiere of young Scottish composer Tom Harrold’s new work in Stromness Town Hall on Saturday 21 June at 2.00pm, in a programme featuring Arnold, Grieg and Mozart.
The Festival runs a series of courses: Orkney Conductors’ Course, St Magnus Composers’ Course, and Orkney Writers’ Course, where creators and performers work together in the inspirational surroundings of the Orkney Islands. Sessions are open to the public and the courses culminate in Festival concerts. On Wednesday 25 June at 12.45pm in the King Street Halls, Kirkwall, eight new works are presented hot off the press, conducted by young conductors from the Orkney Conductors’ Course.
Selected Festival Highlights
Sir Peter Maxwell Davies turns 80 this September, and in his time as a resident of Orkney has written numerous works for local performers young and old, many of which were premiered at St Magnus Festival. Pupils from six Orkney schools perform three of these works: Kirkwall Shopping Songs, Seven Songs Home and Songs of Hoy on Tuesday 24 June at 5.30pm in Orkney Theatre, Kirkwall. The concert is preceded by Peter Maxwell Davies and Glenys Hughes, former Festival Director and music teacher in Orkney, in conversation with Alasdair Nicolson.
The BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra return to St Magnus for three concerts this year in Kirkwall. The first is in the Pickaquoy Arena on Sunday 22 June at 7.30pm, conducted by Ben Gernon with solo violinist Jennifer Pike in Sibelius’ Violin Concerto and renowned Russian baritone, Sergei Leiferkus in Walton’s Belshazzar’s Feast. The Mayfield Singers and St Magnus Festival Chorus, comprising some 140 singers from all over Orkney, join the performance. At 8.00pm in the Pickaquoy Arena on Tuesday 24 June, Thomas Dausgaard conducts Nielsen, Tchaikovsky and Strauss’ Oboe Concerto with soloist Nicholas Daniel. The third concert at 7.30pm in St Magnus Cathedral on Wednesday 25 June will be broadcast live on BBC Radio 3, conducted by Thomas Dausgaard. It features works from the 20th century with soprano Kate Valentine and baritone Sergei Leiferkus who are the soloists in Shostakovich’s Symphony No 14. Also in the programme is Ives’ Unanswered Question and Ravel’s Tombeau de Couperin.
Members of the BBC SSO perform two further chamber concerts on Saturday 21 June in Cross Kirk in Sanday, featuring string quartets by Schubert, Puccini and Mozart; and in the Gable End Theatre in Hoy, featuring a brass quintet performing Purcell, Maxwell Davies, a work by the group’s tuba player and more.
The Fidelio Trio has established an international reputation for not only their performances of standard repertoire, but also new work. They perform in Stromness Town Hall at 2.30pm on Sunday 22 June in a programme of Fauré, Ravel and Alasdair Nicolson’s Half Told Tales. Their second performance on Tuesday 24 June at 12.45 in St Magnus Cathedral features the young Scottish soprano, Kate Valentine, who is enjoying a blossoming international career. She joins the Fidelio Trio for Shostakovich’s Seven Romances on Verses by Alexander Blok. This follows Korngold’s Piano Trio Op. 1 which he wrote when he was only thirteen years old.
Violinist Hugo Ticciati performs late night solo violin in the atmospheric surroundings of St Magnus Cathedral, contrasting some of JS Bach’s well-known works, with more recent additions to the repertoire from Stravinsky, György Kurtág and Nigel Clarke. The recital is an hour long at 10.00pm on Monday 23 June.
Theatre and Poetry
Festival Poet, W.N. Herbert, born in Dundee and equally at home writing in English and in Scots, is currently Dundee’s Makar (Poet Laureate) and reads from his acclaimed works on Saturday 21 June at 11.00am in Stromness Parish Church and Monday 23 June at 11.15am in Orkney Theatre, Kirkwall.
The First World War is commemorated with a dramatic performance with songs in a story inspired by Harry Lauder’s autobiography. “Keep Right on to the End of the Road” is a moving and heartwarming First World War story taking place at 7.30pm on Saturday 21 June and at 2.30pm on Sunday 22 June, Orkney Theatre, Kirkwall.
This year’s Johnsmas Foy is a dramatic feat of song, poetry, story-telling and old Norse writings brought to life by some of Orkney’s finest performers, telling the story of the Battle of Clonarf in Ireland where, in 1014, Sigurd Earl of Orkney was killed. The work The Raven Banner, Twelve Valkyries and A Ghost Army devised and directed by Sarah Jane Gibbon is on Saturday 21 June at 5.30pm in Stromness Town Hall and Tuesday 24 June at 11.00am at King Street Halls, Kirkwall.
Late events every night at The Reel in Kirkwall where artists, audience and locals enjoy a variety of music - swing, jazz and traditional - over a relaxing drink.
For more information visit: www.stmagnusfestival.com