St Magnus International Festival announces 2017 programme

St Magnus International Festival is a celebration of music and the arts which has been taking place for the past forty years in the magical setting of the Orkney Islands with its long, light nights of midsummer.  It runs this year from Friday 16 - Saturday 24 June in venues throughout the ancient Orcadian landscape including the magnificent mediaeval Cathedral of St Magnus in Kirkwall, the Pier Arts Centre in Stromness with its award-winning contemporary architecture, the 17th century mansion of Skaill House, and further-flung venues on the islands of Hoy, Stronsay and Rousay.  The wide range of events includes symphony orchestra concerts, ensembles, chamber music, poetry, music theatre, community parade, lectures, traditional music and jazz.

We are delighted to announce a new media partnership with Classic FM. With some six million listeners every week, this exciting new partnership enables St Magnus International Festival to reach wider and new audiences both on air and online.

BBC Radio 3 once again have a welcome presence at the festival and will be recording a number of concerts for future broadcast.

Alan Morrison, Head of Music at Creative Scotland, said: “So much wonderful music has been premiered and performed at the St Magnus Festival over its 40-year history that this important event on these beautiful islands is now the envy of the world. Each year its programme provides an international platform for Scotland’s most exciting composers and musicians while also bringing global stars of classical music to our home soil. This year is no exception, from the local resonance of Gemma MacGregor and Ron Ferguson’s ‘Magnus’ to highly anticipated visits from Trondheim Soloists and Bergen Domkor. It’s also particularly thrilling to see so many unique and atmospheric venues playing host to concerts in this most magical of Scottish landscapes.”

This year’s festival is supported by EventScotland, part of VisitScotland’s Events Directorate.  

Stuart Turner, Head of EventScotland, said: "St Magnus International Festival continues to go from strength to strength, showcasing Scotland as the perfect stage for events by attracting some of the finest musicians and artists from around the world to perform within the stunning setting of the Orkney Islands.This year’s festival promises to be another fantastic event, especially in the Year of History, Heritage and Archaeology with concerts and performances planned to mark the 900-year anniversary of St. Magnus’ martyrdom and the historical ties between Orkney and Scandinavia.”

Norway and St Magnus

2017 is the 900th anniversary of the death of St Magnus and the festival marks centuries of links between Orkney and Scandinavia with a number of Norwegian visiting artists: the Norwegian Radio Orchestra, The Trondheim Soloists, Bergen Cathedral Choir, and super-star knitters, Arne and Carlos who give knitting workshops on Saturday 17 and Sunday 18 June

The Festival opens with a Norwegian link, and the world premiere of a work I, Pilgrim with music by composer Alasdair Nicolson and words by one of Norway’s most famous writers, John Fosse.  The première will be given on Friday 16 June at 7.30pm in St Magnus Cathedral, Kirkwall, by the Trondheim Soloists and BBC Singers, and will travel to Norway for a second performance at the Olaf Festival in Trondheim in July.

A specially commissioned work Magnus has been created by Kirkwall composer Gemma MacGregor and Orkney writer, Ron Ferguson. This dramatic work will be premièred on Saturday 17 June at 7.00pm, also in St Magnus Cathedral, and tells the story of Magnus leading up to his murder and martyrdom. Kristin Linklater is Thora, Francis Church sings the role of Magnus, narrator is actor Tom Muir, and music is performed by The Assembly Project and Heather Rendall, organAlongside the professionals, there is a large cast of singers and actors from the Orkney community, St Magnus Cathedral Choir and pupils from Kirkwall Grammar School.

Continuing the Norwegian theme, the Trondheim Soloists play at 10.00pm in St Magnus Cathedral on  Saturday 17 June in a programme of Bach’s Goldberg Variations  arr. Sitkovetsky and Schoenberg’s Verklärte Nacht; the Norwegian Radio Orchestra perform two concerts under their Principal Conductor, Miguel Harth-Bedoya in the Pickaquoy Centre Arena. The first of these is with the St Magnus Festival Chorus on Sunday 18 June at 7.30pm in a programme of Mozart’s Requiem, Prokofiev’s Symphony No 1 and Norwegian composer, Geirr Tveitt’s folk tunes from Hardingtonar Op 151. The second concert is on Tuesday 20 June at 7.30pm with pianist Steven Osborne who performs Ravel’s Piano Concerto in G (also newly released on CD / Hyperion) in a programme including Greig’s Peer Gynt and Sibelius Symphony No. 5.

Bergen Domkor (Bergen Cathedral Choir) give two concerts: the first is of music arranged, written or improvised by members of this richly talented group at 7.00pm in St Magnus Cathedral on Thursday 22 June, and the second on Saturday 24 June at 2.30pm in Stronsay.

As part of the celebrations of St Magnus, the Festival launched a competition for composers to write a new score based on the music of the Hymn to St Magnus, known as Noblis Humilis, dating back to the 13th century.  The competition has two categories - under and over 18s - and the winners’ works will be performed by the Assembly Project in St Magnus Cathedral at 1.00pm on Thursday 22 June in a programme also featuring music by Maxwell Davies.


As well as his concerto performance with the NRK orchestra,  Steven Osborne gives a recital in St Magnus Cathedral at 7.00pm on Monday 19 June in a programme of Brahms, Rachmaninov and Debussy.  He is no stranger to the Steinway piano which he will play for this concert, as he helped choose it from the factory in Hamburg last year.  This concert will be recorded for future broadcast by BBC Radio 3. 

Away from performing, there is an audience with Steven Osborne in person when he gives his lecture What does music mean? at 6.00pm on Sunday 18 June in the Kirkwall Hotel.

Ashley Fripp is one of the younger generation of virtuoso British pianists and gives a recital of Bach, Thomas Adès and Chopin in St Magnus Cathedral on Tuesday 20 June at 1.00pm.  He makes a second appearance in recital with clarinettist Joseph Shiner in a programme of Schumann, Brahms, Poulenc and Debussy in Stromness Town Hall at 10.30am on Wednesday 21 June. This concert will be recorded for future broadcast by BBC Radio 3.

Chamber Music

Duo Van Vliet, viola and accordion, perform with clarinettist, Joseph Shiner in the atmospheric setting of St Magnus Cathedral on Tuesday 20 June at 10.00pm.  Their reflective selection of works spans centuries from Dowland to Messaien, and a world première by Simas Sapiega. This concert will be recorded for future broadcast by BBC Radio 3.

The Edinburgh Quartet play on Sunday 18 June at 2.30pm in Stromness Town Hall, in a programme of Haydn, Beethoven and a world première by Geoff Palmer.  The Gildas Quartet make their festival debut in a programme of Schubert’s Death and the Maiden string quartet and the world première of a new quartet by Philip Cashian at 1.00pm on Monday 19 June in St Magnus Cathedral.  The Edinburgh and Gildas Quartets appear together on Wednesday 21 June at 7.30pm in St Magnus Cathedral for two quartets and two octets. The Octets are by Shostakovich and the Nowegian-born Svensen, and the quartets are Slanting Rain by Alasdair Nicolson, and Janáček’s Kreutzer Sonata.

One of Scotland’s most renowned cellists, Robin Michael and violinist Savitri Grier, perform a late-night programme of Bach, George Benjamin and Kodály in St Magnus Cathedral on Sunday 18 June at 10.00pm .

A further concert for cello and violin is at Skaill House, Sandwick at 2.30pm on Saturday 24 June with a folk music-inspired programme of Bartók, Eddie McGuire, Kodály and Kraggerud performed by Live Music Now Scotland musicians,  Duncan Strachan cello and Rachel Spencer violin.

Choral and Vocal Music

Following their appearance in the opening concert, the BBC Singers give a lunchtime concert in St Magnus Cathedral on Saturday 17 June at 1.00pm in a programme of Maxwell Davies, Frank Martin, Anders Hillborg and a world première by Paul Crabtree.

Acclaimed Scottish soprano, Mhairi Lawson, performs with lutenist, Elizabeth Kenny at St Peter’s Kirk, Sandwick on Tuesday 20 June at 3.30pm. Their programme is of songs from Tudor and Elizabethan England by composers including Campion, Dowland, Morley, matched with songs from Stuart Scotland from the Musica Britannica and a Scottish première by Alec Roth.

Mhairi Lawson takes a public master class with student singers on Monday 19 June at 3.00pm

There are world premières by Stuart MacRae and Marco Ramelli in a concert at the Kristin Linklater Voice Centre at Dounby on Monday 19 June at 3.00pm, performed by soprano Alison McNeill and guitarist, Sasha Savaloni. The programme also features Stuart MacRae’s The Life of this World and Watts Chapel by Stephen Goss. Alison and Sasha perform a second programme of songs from Spain and France at 7.00pm on the island of Rousay on Tuesday 20 June at 7.00pm.

The Royal Conservatoire of Scotland students perform a vocal programme at 10.00pm in St Magnus Cathedral on Tuesday 20 June and a further programme of song at 3.00pm in Stromness Town Hall on Wednesday 21 June.

Community & education

As well as the parade and production of Magnus (Saturday 17 June at 7.00pm), the Orkney Traditional Music Project is an award-winning community group of around ninety talented, local musicians of all ages. They perform a programme of traditional music in a coffee concert on Saturday 17 June at 10.00am.

Hear My Music is a community music organisation enabling people with complex needs and/or Autism Spectrum Disorder to be recognised as individuals through participant-led music making. From Mainland to Island  - musical connections across the Pentland Firth is a film and orchestral music created by young people from the Hear My Music project in Caithness and Orkney, performing with The Assembly Project.  Sunday 18 June at 3.30pm.

Festival Poet

Scotland’s Makar (National Poet) Jackie Kay is this year’s Festival poet, and presents some of her work to an audience in Stromness Parish Church on Saturday 17 June at 11.00am and in the Orkney Theatre, Kirkwall on Monday 19 June at 11.00am. Jackie is visiting tutor on the St Magnus Writers’ Course.

Festival Club

From Friday 16 - Wednesday 21 June at 10.00pm, the venue for the popular, nightly Festival Club will be The Sound Archive in Kirkwall’s town centre. Each night brings lively socialising for musicians and festival-goers and variety of music. Some of this year’s Festival Club musicians are the acclaimed, young traditional group from Orkney, Gnoss; the Scottish virtuoso concertina player Mohsen Amini & guitarist Jean Damei, who are Live Music Now Scotland musicians; and the unmissable, early jazz, stomp and swing sensation from London, The Dime Notes.

Composers’, Conductors’ and Writers’ Courses

The St Magnus Composers’, Conductors’ and Writers’ Courses take place annually over twelve days, culminating in performances at the St Magnus International Festival.  Young professionals from all over the world come to Orkney to work with established composers (Sally Beamish and Alasdair Nicolson), conductors (Alexander Vedernikov and Charles Peebles) and writers (Pam Beasant, Jen Hadfield and Jackie Kay).  The writers and composers collaborate throughout the course, and conductors and composers work with professional orchestras and ensembles in performance. 

Eight young conductors appear with the Norwegian Radio Orchestra on Monday 19 June at 10.00am and 2.00pm. Eight new works by the composers on the St Magnus Composers’ Course will be performed by The Assembly Project, conducted by the conductors from the Conductors’ Course on Wednesday 21 June at 1.00pm in St Magnus Cathedral. The writers present their new collection of words on Wednesday 21 June at 5.00pm at the Pier Arts Centre, Stromness. 

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