Published: 30/06/2014 12:11 - Updated: 30/06/2014 14:06

Mary Ann's Ferryboat sets sail for Skye premiere

Mary Ann Kennedy (seated) with Inverness Gaelic Choir.
Mary Ann Kennedy (seated) with Inverness Gaelic Choir.

BROADCASTER and music Mary Ann Kennedy is making sure Gaelic has its place in the celebrations for Glasgow’s Commonwealth Games this summer.

Kennedy is among 20 artists who have won a New Music Biennial commission for original work to be performed as part of the arts and culture programme accompanying the XXth Commonwealth Games with her project Aiseag (The Ferryboat) coming to stages in London, Skye and Inverness, as well as Glasgow.

"I very firmly believe that Scotland is a very welcoming place with a healthy attitude to cultures of all shape and form," she said.

"When you have a confidence in your own indigenous culture, it gives you the confidence to embrace those from elsewhere.

"Also, I wanted to embark on an adventurous new creation in Gaelic. It’s important to know where your roots are, but you have to move forward."

Kennedy’s commission has its own Commonwealth link as it sees her working with Canadian composer Scott Macmillan, who she worked with on his soundtrack to a documentary film about the Skye Bridge.

Macmillan and fiddle player Colin Grant, a fellow Nova Scotian, recorded the soundtrack at Watercolour Music, the studio operated by Kennedy and her producer husband Nick Turner in Ardgour.

The recording went so well that the Scots and Canadians promised to work together again,

"Very shortly after that I heard this call for submissions. The challenge for UK writer was to collaborate with Commonwealth artists and it was just what we had been talking about," Kennedy explained.

"The reason we’re working with the Nova Scotians is that Cape Breton Island is the only remaining Gaelic speaking diaspora in the world. Making the connection between it and Highland Scotland was very important. But also we wanted to pick up on the openness and tolerance of communities that share Cape Breton — the French-speaking Arcadians, the Gaels, the First Nation Mi’kmaqs. That seemed to be a microcosm of what the Games are about."

Canadian composer Scott Macmillan.
Canadian composer Scott Macmillan.

The finished commission involves not only Kennedy and Macmillan as the composers, but Turner’s audio design and lyrics from Gaelic poet Aonghas MacNeacail.

The performance will also feature Colin Grant and other traditional musicians, including piper Angus MacKenzie from the band Daimh and Allan Og MacDonald on percussion, Brodie Jarvie on bass, a nine piece string section and Inverness Gaelic Choir.

Together with narration from MacNeacail and Christine MacDonald, that means almost 60 people will appear on stage at Aiseag’s world premiere on Skye next week.

"It made sense to have the premiere at Sabhal Mor Ostaig because it came about when I was musician in residence," Kennedy explained.

"We are going to have a bit of fun with the college itself. We’re talking about boats, so we are going to dress the place up a bit and the tickets will be a boarding pass. I’m hoping we’ll be able to do something similar at Eden Court.

"The ferry provides a really powerful metaphor. They do things that bridges can’t. They connect people and communities, they’re where you pick up your gossip or meet up with someone from across the water."

In the case of Kennedy and Macmillan, that water is the Atlantic, which meant that apart from a three hour meeting at the Celtic Connections Festival in Glasgow, the pair had to rely on Skype and email to bring the project together.

"Scott is by far the more experienced composer. My weapon of choice is choral music and I concentrated on that," Kennedy said.

"The choir have been so open to new ideas and so adventurous. We’ve got to the point in rehearsals where they are no longer looking at me with the fear of death!

"It’s very taxing music technically, but I think Scott and myself have managed to create something that’s good fun. I realise it’s something quite unusual, but I hope the audience will be as adventurous as the performers and their curiosity will bring them in."

• Mary Ann Kennedy’s Commonwealth Biennial Commission Aiseag (The Ferryboat) will receive its world premiere at Sabhal Mor Ostaig on Thursday 3rd July at 9pm.

It can also be seen at the Southbank Centre, London, on Saturday 5th July; at the Empire Theatre, Eden Court, Inverness, on Friday 1st August at 7.30pm; and the Royal Concert Hall, Glasgow, on Saturday 2nd August at 9.30pm as part of the New Music Biennial weekend.

The New Music Biennial concerts will be broadcast on BBC Radio 3 and also released as a download.

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