Orkney: Tuesday 23rd June St Magnus Fest – Mendelssohn Octet

On impulse we decided to get the bus to Deerness as the sun had emerged for the first time since we arrived. It was still very cold and I had to buy a new scarf (pale blue merino Orkney wool).  The bus turned out to be the School Bus for Kirkwall Grammar.  This would be a cause for DREAD in London – a bus full of teenagers, eeek!  My terror was groundless, however, not only are they not as chubby as their London chums Orkney teenagers are about ten times quieter and better-behaved. Relieved, we could enjoy the stunning scenery.  Lovely big skies, violet sea, sunlight on one side and grey, dramatic lowering clouds on the other.  Very sturdy-looking lambs.  Incidentally, I had some of the local lamb at the Locano and I have to say it was delicious.  The bus dropped pupils at various remote stops along the way and, as we did not want to be late for our evening concert, we stayed on the bus at the end to get back to Kirkwall and St Magnus Cathedral in time.


JUOZAS PAKALNIS                            Little Prelude
FAUSTAS LATENAS                           String Quartet No. 2, In Loving Memory OLAV ANTON THOMMESSEN        Felix Remix MENDELSSOHN                                  Octet




Orkney: Tuesday 23rd June – St Magnus Fest SCO Wind Soloists

We emerged from the reading to find the town teeming with passengers from a huge cruise ship moored in the harbour. Had a bust-up with Spanish man who would not share a large table in a very crowded caff.  Were saved by two very nice festival-goers who did share – living proof that classical music is a civilising influence.  Will try to remember this when next at ROH being mown down in rush to bar by savage bankers and lawyers.

We had time for coffee and a scone before dashing off to the next event, a concert by the Scottish Chamber Orchestra wind soloists.


Mozart                         Overture, Il Seraglio
Jonathan Dove         Figures in the Garden
Handel                        Two arias for Wind Band HWV 410, 411
Beethoven                 Octet, Op. 103


Robin Williams                    Oboe
Rosie Staniforth                  Oboe
Maximiliano Martin          Clarinet
William Stafford                 Clarinet
Federico Aluffi                     Bassoon
Alison Green                        Bassoon
Alec Frank-Gemmill         Horn
Harry Johnstone                Horn

The Jonathan Dove piece was commissioned by Glyndebourne in 1991. The brief was a wind serenade based on a Mozart opera to be played outdoors before performances.  In Jonathan Dove’s own words:

I had the idea that with all the performances of The Marriage of Figaro that had taken place at Glyndebourne, sounds from the opera had in some way impregnated the garden:  snatches of recitative, musical figures, instrumental colours.”

It was a wonderful piece.

Orkney: Tuesday 23rd June St Magnus Fest – Rognvaldr Re-imagined

Over breakfast were regaled with lurid tales of murder most horrid involving “The Monkey Man” and “Black Bob”.  There is a journalist also staying here who seems to know everything and everyone. There is a dark underbelly to island life needless to say.  After breakfast hotfooted it to the Salvation Army Hall in Kirkwall to a reading and lecture on Viking Poetry by poet Ian Crockatt.

Rognvaldr jarl Kali Kolsson became Earl of Orkney in 1135 and also wrote poetry as well as being a much-travelled warrior.  He was the nephew of the murdered St Magnus and was the founder of  the cathedral in his name.  The poems were fantastic and highly stylised using word-forms called kennings which are pairs of sometimes contrasting images created to intensify poetic meaning.  This is to a strict metre and form using a great deal of onomatopoeia and assonance.  Skaldic poetry is one of the most original and elaborate in European literature.  Nice to know that even Beserkers had their sensitive side.


In praise of Auðun the Red, first to board the African-crewed
dromond (merchant ship).

Gekk á drómund døkkvan
– drengr réð snart til fengjar –
upp með oernu kappi
Auðun fyrstr inn rauði.
Þar nǫ́ðu vér þjóðar
– því hefr aldar goð valdit –
– bolr fellr blár á þiljur –
blóði vǫṕ n at rjóða.

How avidly Auðun’s
heart beat for fame. Claiming
all – hell-bent on bounty –
he reddened the dromond.
Christ – irresistible
His cause as the kisses
of blood-lipped blades – leads us.
Black trunks deck the soaked boards.

He laments his wife’s illness, seeks comfort in shaping words.

Akrs verðk opt fyr sjύkri
(ey) fitjar (Þó sitja
(góð er mér en mæra
menbrík) Njörun sika;
“heder fylgrat” hauðri
hauks (tínik svá) minu,
setrs leitandi sύtar
slœgr á hverjύ dœgri.

I brood at her bedside
– I’ve brought lace, necklaces,
bone combs – who lies, limbs and
lips feverish – wishing
back our glad hours hawking
low-isled water-meadows;
I shape grave words – heart-deep,
honed, brief – to imprison grief.

Ian Crockatt

Orkney: Carol – George Mackay Brown


Fix on one star, at last,
Any star
In the circling star blizzard.
That star will take you
To Death and Birth and Love.

Folded it is now, the dove,
Furled, star-folded.
The black rain falls,
The bitter floods rise still.
What hand
Will take the branch from the dove’s beak?

We stand, three vagrants, at the last door.
A black fist
Lingers, a star, on withered wood.

This poem has been set to music by  Peter Maxwell Davies and I heard it on the radio as part of the Nine Lessons and Carols from Kings College, Cambridge.

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Orkney: Kirkwall Cathedral, Monday 22nd June – St Magnus Fest


String Quartet in C minor Op. No 4

Piano Quintet in E flat major Op. 44

The Engegard Quartet

Arvid Engegard– Violin
Alex Robson – Violin
Juliet Jopling – Viola
Jan Clemens Carlsen– Cello

Christian Ihle Hadland – Piano

The Beethoven is one of his six string quartets Op. 18 dedicated to Prince Josef Franz von Lobkovitz and is in the minor key of C minor. From the programme:

It represents one of Beethoven’s earliest representations of intertwined torment and rapture.”

The Schumann Piano Quintet was dedicated to his beloved Clara.  Interestingly she was ill for its first performance and Felix Mendelssohn stepped in and sight-read it (!) for the recital.

It was a wonderful concert and I was in pieces during the Schumann.  Very, very moving.

We both thought the Engegard are a wonderful quartet and are going to look out for future concerts. We were particularly drawn to the viola player, Juliet Jopling.

Later we took the bus to St Margaret Hope via the bus which takes a long road snaking along the coast. Not a tree in sight.  Huge skies and freezing wind.  We got out at the end and despite good intentions turned tail and took the bus back again rather than be blown to smithereens.  Wrecks can be seen in the shallow water by the causeway.

The weather continued cold and wet.  We decided to try an Italian restaurant, the Lucano, we had seen earlier and trudged rather disconsolately down the grey, rain-washed streets and arrived in the middle of an Italian tantrum.  Things were not going well and the chef was venting his spleen. The language from the kitchen was ripe and plates were not exactly getting smashed but …  We decided to wait and see and were very glad we did.  Had the most wonderful meal and met the chef, Alessandro who was all smiles.  The restaurant is run by the marvellous Jenny, late of West Norwood.  Could not recommend it too highly, proper Italian food.


Address: 31 Victoria Street
Orkney KW15 1DN

Phone:  01856 875687




Orkney: Kirkwall Monday 22nd June

Had a late morning, full Scottish breakfast including porridge at our B & B, The Pomona.  Before the lunchtime performance had a mooch round the bishop’s and earl’s palaces who were next door neighbours though not on good terms. Had to take a break from taking photos which to be honest I sometimes find a complete chore.

The Earl’s palace is described as the most beautiful early Renaissance house in Northern Europe. It is a grey stone shell open to the sky.  Now a grim and deserted ruin it was designed on a very human scale.  The walls would once have been hung with arras and the inventory lists “Scottish blankets” rugs and tapestries.  Huge fireplaces, especially in the kitchen where it takes up an entire wall.  Built in lavs and storage which I loved.  There is a hole on the stairs for shouting orders to the kitchen. The main room was the perfect size for parties, not too large but plenty of room for dancing.  It must have been lovely.  Earl Robert, who built it, was jailed for disobedience and general bad behaviour and was forced to hand it over to the Bishop. I can only imagine how he would have felt.  There was an unsuccessful insurrection and he and his son were both executed.

Orkney: The St Magnus Festival, GREENVOE, SVANG, Sunday 21st June

Excitingly we had to get the bus to Stromness from Kirkwall. The countryside was shrouded in mist and rain and the town was slick with it.  We had just enough time for a wander down the main street until the performance in the Town Hall.  GREENVOE has words by Stewart Conn after George McKay Brown and music by Alaisdair Nicholson.  The music was performed by members of the Scottish Chamber Orchestra.

The Assembly Project – Actors:
Caroline Deyga

Nicky Elliott
Alasdair Macrae
Kirstin McLean
John Shedden

The Assembly Project – Musicians:
Fenella Humphreys –
Rachel Spencer –
Ian Anderson –
Clea Friend
– Cello
May Holyburton
– Double bass
Emma Halnan –
Fraser Langton –
Clarinet/Bass Clarinet
Kevin Elliott
– Horn
Tom Poulson
– Trumpet
Owen Gunnell –
Sharron Griffiths –

It was freezing cold – more like winter than summer – and luckily the hall was well-heated. We sat upstairs in the wooden gallery under a high-vaulted tongue-and-groove ceiling.  The music was lovely and the words were reminiscent of Under Milk Wood, though a sinister version, describing corporate machinations in a small Orkney village. Based on novel by George Mackay Brown it was funny and moving and sinister.

We hurried to the bus again to get to our second performance of the day – SVANG – in the Fusion Nightclub in Kirkwall.

Eero Turkka – Chromatic and diatonic harmonicas
Eero Grundstrom – Chromatic and diatonic harmonicas
Pasi Leino – Bass harmonica
Jouko Kyhala – Harmonetta, chromatic and diatonic harmonicas