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Commissioned by St Magnus Festival and the Nash Ensemble with subsidy from the Scottish Arts Council. This work was composed in 2003 and first performed on 22 June 2004 at the St Magnus Festival, Orkney, by the Nash Ensemble, conducted by Ian Brown. First recording: MaxOpus Music (custom CD or download) by the Nash Ensemble, conducted by Paul Watkins.

Duration: 18 minutes

Composer’s Note:

Seven Skies of Winter is dedicated to the memory of Ian McInnes, the late Stromness painter who captured so wonderfully Orkney’s landscapes and its amazingly active skies. As in ‘real’ Orkney skies, there is hardly any hard-edged division between sections of the work, which is in one continuous movement. One of several pieces written around the Pentecostal Mass I wrote for Westminster Cathedral, it is based on the plainsong ‘Dum Complerentur Dies Pentecostes’, dealing with the descent of the Holy Spirit, in tongues of fire, among the disciples.

Sometimes the overwhelming nature of the experience of flaming winter skies – as when a low white sun irradiates fulminant cloud or simply when under a canopy of northern lights – suggests to me an echo of the intensity of the primal Pentecostal experience. Written for seven members of the Nash Ensemble, I have tried to give each player rewarding solos, and to devise harmonic patterns at times taking on a luminosity, as it were, from deep inside the group.

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