‘Nordic Fire’ – A New Concerto for Viola

John McLeod 2We perform a new Viola Concerto by Scottish composer John McLeod CBE in Edinburgh (25 Oct) and Glasgow (26 Oct), featuring our phenomenal Principal Viola Jane Atkins. We met up with the composer to find out more about his new composition.

How did the commission come about?

More often than not, a new composition generates or inspires ideas for the next work - and this is how ‘Nordic Fire’ came into being. In January 2015 the SCO premiered my tribute to Carl Nielsen, Out of the Silence. At one point in that work there is a short viola solo – something that I included to give a little colour to a moment in the piece. However, the more I heard the work, the more I became attracted to the idea of featuring the instrument on a much bigger canvas, and in particular for Jane Atkins whose playing I have admired for many years. Luckily for me Jane, the SCO and Joseph Swensen were very keen on this idea, and so the commission came about!

What does the title ‘Nordic Fire’ refer to?

Specifically it refers to the amazing light, colour and energy of the aurora borealis – that natural electrical phenomenon characterised by the appearance of streamers of reddish or greenish light in the sky, especially near the northern magnetic pole. But its main characteristic is energy. And to me the viola represents the energetic centre of the string quartet, the string orchestra and the full orchestra – rather like the Chinese concept of Qi or Chi being the life force in the centre of the human body!

Tell us a bit about the structure and instrumentation

As far as structure and shape are concerned, it’s one of my more unusual pieces. Unlike a conventional concerto, it’s in one long movement – but divided into eight main parts – the last four being a reflection of the first four separated by a fairly substantial section exploring colour and energy in all sorts of different ways. It is scored for the general forces of the SCO with the addition of a harp and a large array of percussion – albeit played by one person.

What is it like to write with Jane Atkins as soloist in mind?

Nerve-wracking! Jane is such a wonderful player and she has just the right colour and energy in her playing for this piece – so I’m extraordinarily lucky. Right from the start she has been very enthusiastic and extremely helpful with ideas on what’s possible and what is not on the viola. Being a professional composer, you would think I ought to know that, but we often have wild ideas and are constantly seeking help from outstanding players on how to realise them


Hear Principal Viola Jane Atkins perform John McLeod's new work

Thursday 25 October 2018, 7.30pm  - Queens Hall, Edinburgh
Friday 26 October 2018, 7.30pm - City Halls, Glasgow


Book tickets

Nordic Fire is kindly supported by Donald and Louise MacDonald