On 1 September Stirling Castle will play host to a very unique event. New works by eight composers will be performed by the choir Cappella Nova, Directed by Alan Tavener.
We recently caught up with the composer Ailie Robertson to find out how all of this came about and what visitors can expect from this unique performance:
My key interest as a composer has always been to find ways to connect the past and the present to create something new. Having grown up playing traditional music, the stories, songs and poems of Scotland hold great resonance for me, and I am continually using these influences in my work. My father is a history fanatic, and so as my sisters and I were growing up he would take us to various historic locations around Scotland almost every weekend to try to educate us about our country’s history. Many of the Historic Scotland sites have thus been an integral part of my childhood so it’s particularly nice to be able to partner with Historic Environment Scotland for this project.
Several years ago, whilst researching ancient Scottish music for another project I came across a fragment of Scottish plainsong chant, and was immediately drawn to the idea of using this archive material in a contemporary music context. The fragment was Nobilis Humilis, written in honour of Orkney’s Viking saint, Magnus, thought to have been martyred in Orkney in 1117; the song is found in a 13th-century manuscript at Uppsala University, making the song at least eight centuries old, and is the oldest known example of Scottish plainsong to feature harmonies.
A project inspired by the Nobilis Humilis fragment began to emerge in my mind, and I spent almost a year putting together the project plans, applying for funding to support the project, and developing partnerships with Historic Environment Scotland, Creative Scotland and Sound & Music.
Echoes and Traces will feature choral responses to the ancient Orcadian piece written by such established figures as Sally Beamish, Stuart MacCrae 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 Ailie Robertson. What’s exciting is different ways the various composers have reacted 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. We’re also delighted to have musicologist and broadcaster John Purser with us for the concerts, which will help the audience understand the context of the piece in history.
We’re incredibly excited to have world-renowned choral group Cappella Nova as our performance partner for the project. They are hugely committed to supporting Scottish contemporary composers and we are delighted to have them performing the new works. The support of Historic Environment Scotland has also allowed us to tour the work to some of Scotland’s most stunning castles, cathedrals and mansions.
As the concerts approach, the planning now begins in full force. I am so excited to see the composers’ scores arriving, and to work closely with my amazing production team to bring this project to reality.
We are so privileged to live in a country with an enormous wealth of music, both past and present. I am thrilled to be able to bring eight of 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.
Echoes & Traces will take place at Stirling Castle on Thursday 1st September at 8pm