Scottish composer pays tribute to Islay in new work

A new orchestral work, written by Perth-based composer Helen MacKinnon and performed by the Royal Scottish National Orchestra, has opened a new album of contemporary orchestral music, released worldwide this week.

The Rinns of Islay presents a musical journey around the Inner Hebridean island, which was home to the composer’s grandparents and generations before.

Inspired by stories of Islay in her youth, Helen began sketching the work during her composition studies at the University of Glasgow and returned to complete the work nearly 15 years later.

The 20-minute piece for symphony orchestra was recorded last spring in Glasgow Royal Concert Hall with American-based PARMA Recordings and GRAMMY-winning producer Brad Michel.

Helen explained: ‘It was a privilege to record with Scotland’s national orchestra. The musicians and
conductor, David Watkin, breathed glorious life into the work, which takes us on a musical journey around the island.

‘Due to COVID, we had a cross-Atlantic recording team, with technology connecting a producer in Boston with a team on the ground in Glasgow. It was a fascinating experience.’

The new orchestral work was inspired by Islay’s stunning natural environment, known for its rich terrain, complex climate and peaty whisky. Five short thematic movements celebrate Islay’s sunrises and coastal shores, while giving a playful nod to the island’s abundant whisky industry.

Helen added: ‘The work centres around The Rinns – a beautiful peninsula overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. My father used to talk about The Rinns, and as a child, I started to create stories and soundscapes linked to the island.

‘The work offers a visual, almost cinematic listening experience, with atmospheres and landmarks inspiring the visual imagination.’

The work features on a new album Legends and Light Vol. 2. Seven composers offer their insights into the components of our world through music, with works highlighting cultures, locations, forces of nature, and human life.

While many of the pieces are arranged for orchestral ensembles, listeners will also find Scottish Great Highland bagpipes and Irish Uilleann pipes featured on the album, offering a deeply rewarding listening experience.

Helen’s choral music is enjoyed by choirs across the UK, Europe and Asia. In 2015, Helen was awarded for her choral music by film composer Maestro Ennio Morricone. With a wide international reach, Helen’s work has enjoyed premieres in Italy, the Philippines, Czech Republic and Serbia, and features annually in Florence Choral Festivals.

For further details on the new work, visit HERE.