The Loch Shiel Festival was founded in 1997 by local composer and singer, Patrick Stephen-Samuels. From its outset, the Festival has sought to bring internationally-renowned musicians to the Loch Shiel area, and to engage with the local community of music lovers. Year on year, the festival grows in scope and vision and is now established as one of the UK's most unique and exciting chamber music festivals. Here's what we got up to in previous years.
The 2017 Festival explored the theme of Music Lost/Music Found, discovering music from the Gaelic tradition, with singers Rachel Walker, Megan Henderson, Ainsley Hamill, and the Lochaber Gaelic Choir; we were joined by the excellent Atea Quintet, who along with the Maxwell Quartet and cellist Robert Irvine, gave some memorable performances of great chamber works; and the festival finished in style with a unique programme which took us on a journey through vocal and instrumental music from 1500 to present day.
In 2016 we celebrated 20 years of the Loch Shiel Festival in style. We were joined by a host of renowned artists including Jamie MacDougall, with his Bardic Trio of harpist Sharon Griffiths and guitarist Matthew McAllister; Red Note ensemble with their wonderful Reels to ragas collaboration with Tabla player Kuljit Bhamra; and we staged a large-scale performance of Britten's Cantata Saint Nicolas, conducted by Jackie Shave and with former director Charles Mutter leading the orchestra, the Kilmallie Singers and a children's choir from Lochaber Music School led by Peter Rose.
2015 was hosted by new Artistic director Duncan Strachan, and his string quartet the Maxwell Quartet. Joined by some of Scotland's finest emerging musicians, the programme was a glorious celebration of the natural surroundings with a focus on the music of Dvorak, with new compositions by Sally Beamish and Eddie McGuire. We were treated to performances by musicians including Canadian cellist Christian Elliott, Scots singer Robyn Stapleton, and violinist Liam Lynch.
This year saw the finale of Charles Mutter's directorship at the Festival. In an emotional farewell to the festival's inspirational leader of 10 years, there were just three performances, the centrepiece of which was Mahler's Das Lied von der Erde, stripped down and arranged for just 8 instrumentalists and singers by Charles Mutter himself, to heartbreaking and inspirational effect.
This festival saw a host of internationally acclaimed artists appearing at the festival - including cellist David Watkin, who performed Bach Suites as well as Schubert's wonderful String Quintet alongside rising stars the Maxwell Quartet; Jonathan Powell, who gave a powerful account of Sorabji's music; Percussionist Simone Rebello, and talented young cellist Ghislaine McMullin.
2012’s festival was hosted by the Florin Ensemble, which itself grew out of the ensemble that performed Bruckner in 2008. Florin is a string trio at heart, and combined with three guests - Helena Rose, Duncan Strachan and Susan Frank - presented music both familiar and unfamiliar, from the sublime beauty of Mozart’s Divertimento K.563 to the devastating power of Alfred Schnittke’s String Trio from 1985.
2011 saw, amongst many other delights, ground-breaking jazz featuring Norwegian composer Thomas Strønen and British trumpet virtuoso Tom Arthurs, tango legend Astor Piazzolla brought memorably to life by Patrick Lannigan and Mr McFall’s Chamber, a staged production of Stravinsky’s “The Soldier’s Tale”, and hauntingly beautiful songs by Mahler, Britten and others from Ilona Domnich, Christopher Josey and the Loch Shiel Philharmonic Ensemble.
In 2010 we commissioned again: "The Sound of Glenborrodale" for 10-piece brass, written by Iain Ballamy, Guy Barker, Gary Carpenter and Peter Cowdrey. Spectacular Glenborrodale Castle opened its doors for an action-packed “Family Gala Day”. The festival culminated in Glenfinnan with a jaw-dropping production of Benjamin Britten's musical drama “Noye’s Fludde” featuring children from 27 “local” schools, James Naughtie as the Voice of God, animal head-dresses made by artists round the world, sublimely talented professional singers and a spectacular stage set! Our production was later featured on BBC2’s The Culture Show.
We featured the music of one of Britain’s great romantics, Arnold Bax; he spent many creative months at the hotel overlooking the Morar Sands, which gave us the idea for our first Festival walk! Bax’s biographer, Lewis Foreman, gave a wonderfully illuminating lecture on the man and his music.
This year saw us explore early music, from the 14th century onwards, in the expert company of Red Byrd joined by local clarsach magician Ingrid Henderson. Particularly memorable was their presentation of a “secret mass” by William Byrd, at Kinlochmoidart House. At the end of the week we shoehorned Anton Bruckner’s majestic 7th Symphony into Glenfinnan Church, thanks to an ingenious arrangement by some of Schoenberg’s friends and the amazing artistry of the Loch Shiel Philharmonic Ensemble.
We celebrated the Highland Year of Culture with a major commission: five composers from widely varying backgrounds - James Clapperton, Kenneth Dempster, Christine Hanson, Bendik Hofseth and Alejandro Schwarz - were each given the same source material, the lament “Mo run geal og” and invited to respond to it however they wished. The result was “Lady Chisholm’s Songbook”, for which Glenfinnan Church was packed to the rafters. The entire roll of Arisaig Primary School also took part in the Festival, with two children’s operas by Kenneth Dempster, and James Clapperton performed Charles Ives’ monumental “Concord Sonata” at the Ardnamurchan Natural History Centre.
We staged a concert at Glenfinnan railway station, featuring Steve Reich’s “Different Trains” performed by the Smith Quartet; other highlights that year included sumptuous music for string octet by Mendelssohn and Glière, and Charles Mutter's arrangements of Shostakovich’s haunting 14th Symphony and Glière’s Concerto for Coloratura Soprano, with Wilma Macdougall displaying agility and gorgeous lyricism in equal measure.