The concert featured a galaxy of well-known local performers – Maggie Adamson, Abby Hayward, Chris Stout and Alice Mullay – all former Senior Young Musicians of theYear – as well as music clubs, bands and choirs. The event, all done by voluntary effort since the council pulled its funding, formed a prelude to the schools programme, in which more than 1,000 pupils will vie for awards, with 200 entries in 34 classes.
Compere Davie Gardner introduced Sunday’s concert by saying that even a world war had not prevented the music festival’s inception in 1944. And guests and performers he interviewed on stage all emphasised the importance of music, and music festivals, to the isles.
Renowned fiddler Maggie Adamson, all grown-up in red satin and now studying performance violin at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, played a fiendishly difficult piece impeccably, accompanied by pianist Deidre Hayward.
Adamson said that the music festival is “so important” in giving a performance opportunity, and gives contestants a goal – she admitted to being “quite competitive”.
So did cellist Abby Hayward, who is now teaching in Glasgow. Hayward, who was accompanied on piano by her mother, said voluntary music groups are “incredibly important” as a way of meeting other musicians and inspiring effort – she would not be where she is without them. And music festivals are “huge” in developing “courage and creativity”.
Star fiddler Chris Stout, who has recently been working with the London Symphony Orchestra on a Disney soundtrack, said the opportunities offered in Shetland made musicians mature in experience even before going to college.
In one of the highlights of the concert, Stout played the classical double violin concerto with Adamson, with a heavily pregnant Alice Mullay on piano standing in for the rest of the orchestra.
Mullay, who works as a music therapist and lectures the HNC course at Mareel, also praised the opportunities for music in Shetland.
These members of Shetland’s musical royalty all had to start somewhere, and, as Mr Gardner said when introducing the first act, the Saturday Morning Music Club, “dedication is the name of the game”.
This club’s members come from as far afield as Mossbank and Dunrossness to play under the tutelage of Alan Gifford, helped by Feri Bartai, outwith school hours.
The strings and flute group, of 30-plus young people but only two or three boys, played “something old and something new” – a 17th century Corelli piece and a selection of Irish airs, with a full, satisfying sound.
Musical numbers were interspersed with speeches, and chairwoman of the festival’s working group Lesley Simpson said: “What better way to promote Shetland than to have young people singing and playing”, and emphasised the importance of music in pupils’ development, confidence being gained by simply getting up on stage.
She thanked North Isles music teacher Julie Johnson for organising the night’s sell-out concert, the proceeds of which will go to next year’s event.
The lack of funding was echoed by former Anderson High School head teacher George Jamieson, who pleaded for “match funding” and asked: “What priority are we placing on music?”
He hoped the opportunities would not revert to the limited ones of the past, and said: “Education is not confined to the classroom.” Taking part in the music festival, he said, developed discipline and commitment, social integration and satisfaction.
This was shown in the Shetland Youth Wind Band – with a few more boys this time – who produced an impressive wall of sound with numbers from Les Miserables, and soloists, plus singers from the choir Veev.
Other group acts included the Shetland Wide Choir around 70-strong (appropriately for the 70th anniversary), but boys were conspicuous by their absence. The choir had been put together at short notice and coped admirably with Rhythm of Life. “Imagine what they’d do if they really rehearsed”, said Mr Gardner.
There was also a band of teachers, unsurprisingly named Staff Band, with an enjoyable rendition of numbers popular at the inception of the festival, and now, such as Stormy Weather.
The night ended on a high of a fiddle-accordion “stramash”, jaunty numbers accompanied by Margaret Scollay on piano. It was a traditional sound that Mr Gardner said “underpins our heritage”, and which, judging by the numbers on stage, is in good hands.
The festival, a history of which was shown by working group member Samantha Wishart, also seems to be thriving. The lack of boys was noticeable, however, and special guest Elizabeth Morewood, who participated in the 1944 festival, said she hoped more solo performers would emerge from Shetland, particularly as there are more opportunities than ever.
This year’s festival, which ends on Thursday, is focusing on primary entries. It is being adjudicated by Andrew Adamson who attended the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama where he studied piano and oboe.
The competition for senior and junior young musicians of the year is on Wednesday night, and the festival culminates on Thursday with a gala concert. See this week’s Shetland Times for coverage of Wednesday’s competition.
There are also daytime classes and performances on Monday and Tuesday evenings are free. All are taking place at Mareel.