THE ORCHESTRA AT THE EDGE OF THE EARTH
‘LOST SONGS’: FIRST EVER ORCHESTRAL PERFORMANCE ON WINDSWEPT SCOTTISH ISLAND OF ST KILDA
FORGOTTEN TUNES RETURN TO OUTER HEBRIDEAN HOME CONTEMPORARY ORCHESTRATIONS FROM SIR JAMES MCMILLAN & REBECCA DALE
“The power of music is felt everywhere. The St Kildans are enthusiastically fond of it... They delight much in singing, and their voices are abundantly tuneful” – Rev Kenneth Macaulay, History of St Kilda, 1764
A Scottish ensemble is to set sail for the island of St Kilda in the Outer Hebrides, making history by being the first ensemble to perform on the remote, windswept island. Nevis Ensemble will perform Rebecca Dale’s Soay, and Sir James McMillan’s Hirta, two pieces written for the Decca release The Lost Songs of St Kilda in 2016. The album shot straight to No.1 in the Classical album chart, selling out in a matter of hours on its first day of release.
Nevis Ensemble, Scotland’s Street Orchestra, takes its 40-piece symphony orchestra to venues around the Outer Hebrides in August 2019 as part the biggest ever tour of the islands by an orchestra. A highlight of the tour will see the whole orchestra travelling on four chartered boats to Hirta, the main island of St Kilda, on 24th August, with a planned performance at 1pm – weather permitting! The most remote group of islands in the British Isles, and evacuated in 1930, the archipelago is now home to a million seabirds, National Trust rangers and military personnel.
‘The Lost Songs of St Kilda’ is the fastest-selling posthumous artist debut in history, but the leading soloist, Trevor Morrison, will never know of his chart success, having passed away in 2012.
Born in Glasgow, Trevor learned a number of folk tunes as a small child on the island of Bute, having been taught the music of his home by an itinerant piano teacher from St Kilda. Determined to preserve the melodies for future generations, he sat the boy at the piano and placed his fingers on the keys. It was not for another 60 years, at the end of a colourful life that took him from the west coast of Scotland to Africa, Afghanistan and Arabia, that the songs of St Kilda would return to Trevor. In his final years, then a resident of an Edinburgh care home, Trevor frequently enchanted fellow residents with his strangely haunting melodies, played on a rickety piano.
The songs made their way to Decca Records after Classical A&R Executive Fiona Pope, a cellist from Glasgow, heard about the existence of the recordings and was asked to transcribe the melodies. She later took them to Scotland’s foremost contemporary composers to reimagine, reinterpret and remix their favourite tunes. Each song is named after part of St Kilda (including its magnificent sea stacs) and evokes the wild beauty of the landscape.
Conducted by Holly Mathieson (RSNO, Scottish Ballet) and Jon Hargreaves (Octandre Ensemble, NYOS), this relentlessly energetic group will give 35 concerts in public spaces and community venues on Barra, Vatersay, Eriskay, South Uist, Benbecula, North Uist, Berneray, Harris, St Kilda, Lewis and Skye, between 19-28th August.
Composer James McMillan is celebrating his 60th birthday year, enjoying a busy diary of performances in Scotland and the UK together with international events. Speaking in 2016 ahead of the original album release, he said, “There’s something very haunting about those recordings. You can feel the years rolling back: something very ethereal. The idea of bringing those songs, those melodies back to life is lovely in itself but to clothe them in new music or to allow them to become the jumping-off point for a composer’s own explorations into those melodies is a great idea.”
Rebecca Dale, who arranged Soay for violin and orchestra, said, “These songs were incredibly moving to hear. My eyes filled with tears on first listen, they’re just remarkable. So evocative of a lost island and culture that Trevor has helped us rediscover. I hope he would like what we have done.”