Composer pays homage to Rinns of Islay in new symphony

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Islay inspired a new 20-minute symphony by Perth composer Helen MacKinnon, which was performed by the Royal Scottish National Orchestra.

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

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

The 20-minute piece for symphony orchestra was recorded at the Glasgow Royal Concert Hall, with US company PARMA Recordings and GRAMMY-winning producer Brad Michel.

Helen, who grew up in Lochgilphead, explained: “It was a privilege to record with the National Orchestra of Scotland.

“The musicians and conductor David Watkin have breathed glorious life into the work, which takes us on a musical journey around the island.

“Due to Covid, we had a transatlantic recording team, with technology linking a producer in Boston to a team on the ground in Glasgow. It was a fascinating experience.

The new orchestral work was inspired by the beautiful natural surroundings of Islay, known for its rich terrain and peated whisky.

Five themed short movements celebrate Islay’s sunrises and coastal shores, while playfully nodding to the island’s thriving whiskey industry.

Helen added: “The work centers around The Rinns – a beautiful peninsula overlooking the Atlantic Ocean.

“My father spoke of the Rinns of Islay and as a child I started creating stories and soundscapes related to the island.

“The work offers a visual, almost cinematic listening experience, with atmospheres and cues that inspire the visual imagination.”

The work features on a new album Legends and Light Vol. 2, with works by seven composers.

While many pieces are arranged for orchestral ensembles, listeners will also find Highland bagpipes and Irish Uilleann pipes on the album.

Helen is delighted with the feedback so far: “I’m delighted with the public’s reaction to the music.

“Listeners tuned in from across the UK, the US and as far afield as New Zealand, keeping Scotland on the international map for new music.”

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