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Wednesday, 22 June 2011

St Magnus Festival

As I mentioned briefly yesterday, this week it's the St Magnus Festival, the annual "arts" festival in Orkney. It began in 1977, set up by composer Peter Maxwell Davies, a long time resident of Orkney (now Master of the Queen's Music or some such fancy title!).

Anyway this signals a week of events including performances of classical music, poetry readings, theatre and performance. This year due to pressure of work I've only been to a couple of events, and one more to go tonight.

Both Kirkwall (the main town in Orkney), and Stromness (the town just across the water from Graemsay) are quite lively during Festival week. Visitors come from far and wide to join locals in all the events which include "Festival Clubs" going on into the wee small hours.

On Saturday I went to a piano recital given by Alessandro Taverna performing pieces by Bach, Beethoven, Debussy and Stravinsky. It was a brilliant recital. We were in the "cheap seats" up in the gods of the balcony of the Town Hall (a former church), but actually we had a great view and could watch his amazing fingerwork across the keyboard. I love local festivals, because as well as having the chance to see international performers, you always meet lots of folk you know and it gives you a chance to catch up with them in the interval or at the local cafes!

Later that evening we went into Kirkwall where the St Magnus Festival always has a "fringe theatre" space. This year it was in an old builder's merchant shed, and we saw a show which was billed as "A stunning, hypnotic show. The sorceress-puppeteer creates theatre of startling images, at once droll and frightening." Hmm let's say it was from the sublime to the ridiculous. Several people walked out and it was one of the longest hours I have spent..... It will be interesting to see the reviews - I'm not sure anyone in the audience I was part of enjoyed it.....

One of the "events" that even made it to the BBC news was Sir Peter Maxwell Davies (known locally as Max) incensed at the number of mobile phones ringing during performances. One in particular apparently ruined a magnificent silence at a performance in the cathedral. It's amazing considering there is ALWAYS an announcement at the beginning to turn off your mobile phone!  Even at the piano recital I heard a phone ring, but fortunately it didn't disturb the musical atmosphere, just made people cross! Mobile phones can be wonderful but oft-times they can equally be a curse!

Tonight it's off to Hoy for a performance of the Stromabank Pub Choir (from the island) together with a visiting group "Pure Brass". That should be very entertaining!

As well as the Festival there are other activities going on, including a new summer exhibition at the Pier Arts Centre, and an initiative by local artists which consists of the display of works by 45 local artists in shop and house windows along the main street in Stromness.  It's a great idea and I love seeing the art in unusual spaces! For a review click here.


  1. Thanks for the info re the photo,
    enjoy your festival.

  2. Louise from Seattle22 June 2011 at 23:51

    Love your new photo. And loved hearing about the Magnus Festival this year. We enjoyed two events in Kirkwall last year, one in the cathedral and one in Town Hall. Weren't you planning to see/hear Daimh? Do let me know what you thought of them. The puppet/theater event sounded hilarious!

  3. Sounds great fun - was in both Kirkwall and Stromness last summer, only for the day though - staying in our camper van over near John O Groats. Walked into the cathedral in Kirkwall and sat listenng to a beautiful choir rehearsing for a performance that night - also headed into the Pier arts centre and was blown away by their permanent collection of the St ives painters, my personal favourites. Was reading a book about them at the time which had photos of paintings that were in the gallery - synchronicity or what!! Enjoy the festival.

  4. Sounds interesting - I love festivals and especially live musical performances. You can't beat that spinetingling feeling only live music can produce! Really must venture up to Orkney some day. I'm much taken by it - especially Sanday - and discovered only a few days ago that a very old friend from Glasgow has his family roots up there. He made me envious when confirming he'd been up last summer and loved the place!

  5. Pat - thanks I did!

    Louise - Yes saw Diamh - that was at the Folk Festival in May (do keep up! Tee Hee!!). They were brilliant. Saw them twice in fact and they were excellent both times.

    Simon - So glad you enjoyed your brief visit to Orkney. Hope you come back for longer next time. I too love the St Ives painters at the Pier Arts, it was a delight to find them there.

    Iain - Hope you get to visit ORkney some time. Yes I love live music. Classical music and jazz are my favourites, but to be honest I love ANY music live, such a great experience.