Collaborative concert between Scottish Ensemble and two musicians from the non-classical world, Aidan O’Rourke (on fiddle) and Kit Downes (on piano and harmonium)

Features programme of contemporary classical works inspired by Scotland's landscapes and the forces of our elemental natural world

Centres around world premiere of new SE commission by Aidan and Kit, inspired by Edwin Morgan’s 1984 poem Slate and performed by SE, Aidan and Kit

Elemental will tour to Aberdeen (9 Nov), Dundee (10 Nov), Glasgow (12 Nov) and Edinburgh (13 Nov)

First time Aidan and Kit have been commissioned to compose a piece together

The concert is part of SE’s 50th Anniversary Season, a series of events weaving together elements from SE’s past and present identities

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The idea behind Elemental

Elemental is a concert evoking the elements of Scotland’s landscape, from its rocks, sea and air to the changes and processes that have shaped its land and its people.

The concert centres around Aidan O’Rourke and Kit Downes’ There is no beginning, written for harmonium, piano, fiddle and string orchestra and commissioned by Scottish Ensemble for this concert. The piece takes its inspiration from  Edwin Morgan’s 1984 poem Slate. Written in the wake of the 1979 Scottish referendum, it is generally accepted as a love letter to a politically- and environmentally-battered Scotland.

Through their composition, Aidan and Kit explore not only the poem’s intrinsic musicality but its themes of time, change and transformation, particularly in relation to the current political and environmental landscape of Scotland and the world. Bringing together their separate influences, the piece fuses the visceral energy and haunting beauty of Aidan’s traditional roots with elements of jazz, folk and modern classical.

Alongside this, Scottish Ensemble will also perform a clutch of contemporary works inspired by all things elemental – space, silence, waves and air – intertwined with melodies which echo an ancient Scotland. Pieces will include Dave Fennessy’s Hirta Rounds, inspired by one of the islands of remote Scottish archipelago St. Kilda, and György Ligeti’s Ramifications, which conjures an awe-inspiring impression of raw, wild natural elements through its construction. Kit Downes will also perform his track Obsidian, from the 2018 album of the same name, and Aidan will perform pieces from 365: Volume 2.

About the artists

London-based keyboard player Kit Downes is a composer and multi-keyboardist, performing on the piano, harmonium and organ in bands including ENEMY and Troyka as well as recording his own solo albums on ECM Records – for which he has won a BBC Jazz Award, a British Jazz Award and been nominated for the Mercury Music Prize.

Aidan O’Rourke is a pioneering and highly-acclaimed musician and composer who, particularly through his solo projects and many collaborations, is finding new ways to present and reframe the traditional music of his roots. Aidan is well-known as a member of politically-charged Scottish folk act Lau (who have won Best Group at the BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards an unprecedented four times) as well as for other projects including Blazin’ Fiddles, Kan and The Atlantic Arc Orchestra.

Aidan and Kit as a duo

Aidan and Kit recently worked together on Aidan’s 365 solo project. Inspired by Scottish author James Robertson’s short story collection 365: Stories, for which the writer composed a story a day over the course of a year, Aidan spent a year writing daily musical responses to each of Robertson’s stories.

Having started a duo with Kit around the same time, Aidan sent some rough recordings to which Kit supplied harmonies – in Aidan’s words, “informed by jazz, Ravel, and the church organ repertoire he grew up playing” – and they decided to explore further together. After making a demo and embarking on a low-key tour of rural Scottish gigs, the duo have since recorded two double albums, 365: Volume 1 (released May 2018) and 365: Volume 2, both on the Reveal Records imprint. The tunes, stories and audio recordings form a touring installation designed by inventor Yann Seznec in collaboration with design team Old School Fabrications. The installation launched in August 2019 at Edinburgh International Book Festival and now embarks on a tour to Linlithgow Palace, Scottish International Storytelling Festival, Shetland Word Play Festival, Orkney Library, Celtic Connections and Huntingtower.

There is no beginning is their first joint commission as composers.

Celebrating a 50 year anniversary

Elemental is the third tour of SE’s 50th Anniversary Season, a series of events exploring SE’s rich past at the same time as celebrating the distinctive adventurous spirit of the group today.

Elemental celebrates SE’s history of collaboration with artists from other musical traditions, a drive which helps to break down barriers between different musical forms and present classical music in a new way, widening its potential audience and rethinking its place in contemporary life.

SE’s first collaboration with a musician from the folk tradition was in 1995 with celebrated Scottish fiddler Aly Bain on his Follow The Moonstone album. SE has since formed a long-term partnership with Celtic-inspired duo Chris Stout and Catriona McKay, which began in 2013 with Sally Beamish’s evocative work Seavaigers and has since continued through various concerts, projects and workshops together, including multiple performances at Celtic Connections festival.

In recent years, SE has collaborated with artists from the worlds of electronica (composer/producer Anna Meredith and DJ/producer Alex Smoke) and reggae/dub (Ghetto Priest) as well as other musical traditions from across the world (Persian classical music, with Keyvan & Bijan Chemirani).

As well as attracting new audiences through the choice of collaborator, by performing in non-traditional venues for classical music – such as Glasgow’s SWG3 and Edinburgh’s Assembly Roxy – SE continues its mission to widen and diversify the audience for classical music in Scotland. This follows success with previous events hosted in multi-arts venues and previously-derelict spaces, which have attracted a different and wider audience than traditional concert halls, helping to create an open and welcoming experience for a larger number of people.

Full programme

Aidan O’Rourke and Kit Downes – There is no beginning

Tansy Davies – The Beginning of the World

Dave Fennessy – Hirta Rounds

György Ligeti – Ramifications

Ruth Crawford Seeger – Andante for Strings

Kit Downes – Obsidian

Plus pieces from Aidan O’Rourke’s recently released 365: Volume 2