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A woman and man are playing harp and violin respectively. They stage against an active background of smoke and coloured stage lighting streaming through.

Chris Stout and Catriona McKay: "it's a blessing to embody all that the music gives us"

6 Jan 2023

News Story

Burns Night is the perfect excuse for the Orchestra to explore the richness of the Scottish folk tradition. They are joined this year by the duo of Chris Stout and Catriona McKay, who kindly agreed to a short interview giving a flavour of what to expect. (Be warned, you may want to have a wee dram to hand - their words are every bit as evocative as their music!)

You have played as a duo since 1995. Has your relationship evolved over the years?

Yes, we’ve been almost 30 years performing and composing together. You could say that our relationship has evolved, in the same way in which we evolve as people of a period of nearly 30 years but what connects us so strongly still is that childlike desire to communicate with each other and be truthful and unguarded with each other through our music.

So, we have evolved as people and musicians together through a shared belief in music, shared values and that simple desire to let our music speak for us.

It’s not all folk musicians who play regularly with classical ensembles. Do you approach your concerts with the SCO any differently from solo (or rather duo) gigs?

Catriona and I were both born into families who held traditional music, church music and classical music dearly. It's a blessing to be brought up not to feel drawn to one particular style or another but more to embody all that the music gives us. We both studied classical music while remaining close to the traditional music where we came from. Our journey together has really been to make sense of all that, bringing together the music into one idea which is heartfelt and true of who we are and where we have come from. So, in that respect we don't treat this wonderful opportunity any differently we just have a stage full of incredible musicians to share the experience with!

Could you tell us more about the programme you have devised?

In the 1st half we will perform the only piece that we haven’t composed. It is the 10th anniversary since Sally Beamish composed the concerto ’Seavaigers’ especially for us. Of course we collaborated with her on the music but to have her incredible voice in music working closely with our sonic landscape was a real honour. The collaboration with Sally has helped shape our voice and has been the gateway to so many opportunities. We have performed Seavaigers all over the world now from Sydney to Trondheim to Rio Janeiro. Being the 10th anniversary of this piece it felt so natural to perform it with the SCO.

Closing the 1st half will be our piece inspired by the words of poet Christie Williamson ‘When Waves Whisper Sweet Somethings’. Christie’s words resonate with both of us as our connection to the sea is so very strong. The journey between Dundee and Shetland was not only the inspiration behind Seavaigers but its a stretch of water we have known and been influenced by our whole lives. So in many ways ‘When Waves Whisper’ is a story about the same, just from another point of view. In contrast to Seavaigers the music is angular and rhythmical, featuring the percussionist James MacIntosh alongside the harp and (in this case) viola. Christie himself will also perform as part of this piece.

We are extremely proud to present the world premiere of the orchestrated version of our piece ‘Glen Shee’ which was original duo music we composed for a project for St Margaret’s in Braemar. Catriona and I had been frequently visiting and spending time at the Spittal of Glenshee. To say that landscape got underneath our skin would be an understatement. The landscape is huge and majestic, yet full and brimming with subtleties, both visually and in its very own unique sound world. We have drawn inspiration from the landscape and the nature to create these images in our music. In stark contrast to the vulnerability you feel at sea then there’s a certain feeling that up in Glen Shee you are being cradled by the mountains, feeling a sort of isolation at the same time.

We are really excited to be performing this music as it is our latest work together, a genuine exploration in music and appreciation for all that Glenshee brings.

What is next on the cards for you?

Immediately after the SCO concert we will fly to Tromø in north Norway to perform with our great friend, singer Marthe Valle. Tromø is incredible ... especially at this time of year.

In February/March we will likely record When Waves Whisper and Glen Shee.

Then in April we will tour Australia for 3 weeks for some festivals as well as concerts at the Melbourne Recital Centre and Sydney Opera House. This trip will end with a week-long residency and concert in Adelaide with the world renowned accordionist James Crabb.

We cant think beyond that…hahaha!

The few days around Burns Night are clearly a busy time for you. Aside from the music, how do you celebrate it?

Burns Night is great. We are so proud that we can celebrate the work of an amazing human being and just wear our Scottishness on our sleeves for a night. If we are not performing then it’s the best excuse ever to have a dram or twa…Catriona’s favourite is Bunnahabhain. Chris would find it hard to choose between a Scapa and an Old Poultney.

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