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Tuesday, 29 June 2010

St Magnus Festival

Above is a photo of the "Lord Nelson", a sailing ship that was in Stromness for a couple of days recently. It came and went under motor power, there not being enough wind for the sails - not a usual occurrence in Orkney!

Last week I went to a number of events at the annual St Magnus Festival. The programme this year included a number of performers from Poland, including classical musicians and a folk dance group. Each year performances are held around Orkney, some in large spaces like the Pickaquoy Centre in Kirkwall, and some in more intimate spaces such as the Italian Chapel.

This year I went to a poetry reading in Stromness, given by Simon Armitage, a British poet. Though at the reading I attended he gave a lecture on his translation of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, unfortunately some of the more gruesome bits! But his description of the process of translation of such an ancient poem (written in "old English") was interesting. After this session it was a brisk walk to the next venue where Polish pianist Eva Kupiec gave a fabulous performance of some Chopin pieces. Her energy at playing the music quite tired me out!

The festival runs for several days, so the next day I went to the Pickaquoy Centre in Kirkwall to hear the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra. The Sports Hall was converted into a concert hall. I sat so close to the musicians I could have turned the pages of music for the lead violinist - if I could have read music that is!! As part of the festival the BBC orchestra had also been working with the Orkney youth orchestra and at another event they performed together. I was unable to attend but by all accounts it was an excellent performance and I know the young players enjoyed the opportunity to play with a professional orchestra.

I also went along to the Johnsmas Foy, a performance of music, dance, words and images conceived by Nalini Paul, who has the George Mackay Brown Fellowship and works with local performers and with the schools encouraging the arts, particularly writing. It was a very inventive performance on a theme "In search of Home" and was much appreciated by the audience, myself included.

I had planned on going to see some of the Polish dancers, but circumstances changed and I didn't get the chance to go. However I did get to a lunchtime concert in St Magnus Cathedral with a performance by Scottish violinist Nicola Benedetti which was wonderful. I've not been to a performance in St Magnus before, the acoustics are great, but the sight-lines are not so good. Although I'd got the tickets on the first day they went on sale, many events are so popular that only "unreserved" seats were available. So at this concert I ended up in the choir stalls. However I really enjoyed the experience. I was cocooned in wood in an individual stall, as were about a dozen other folk, at the back of the cathedral. I couldn't see the musicians without craning my neck, so instead I gazed up at the Cathedral Rose window and listened to the beautiful music! It was a lovely experience.

As well as these various events I managed to fit in various opportunities for tea and cake, as well as chats with other Festival goers. I also managed to meet up with L & J who are on a visit from the US, and I got to know through my blog. It was delightful meeting them.


  1. I went to the Monday Simon Armitage event and he read selected poems and talked a little about them. I really enjoyed it, but I would have liked to have heard him talk about Gawain and the green knight.

  2. Joanna - I did enjoy his talk, but would have loved to have heard him read his own poetry. I love hearing the cadences and rhythms of a poem read by the poet.