The Scotsman - "A kelpie's gift takes children on new musical adventures"

SHE MAY be known as a cutting-edge clarsach player with eclectic interests, but these days harpist Savourna Stevenson is channelling her creative energies into orchestral composition. The spectacular results will be performed by the Orchestra of Scottish Opera (OSO) in East Lothian on Monday, to launch the CD of her "musical adventure" for children, Misterstourworm and the Kelpie's Gift. Meanwhile, another narrated orchestral work is already in the can.

Stevenson's long-standing ambition to compose a large orchestral work for children, based on Scottish folklore, was fulfilled in 2001 by a Creative Scotland Award, which enabled her to work on the project with the writer Stuart Paterson, with whom she has been collaborating in theatre since the 1980s. Misterstourworm, she reckons, may be the first new work combing narrative and orchestral music since Prokofiev's much-performed Peter and the Wolf.

On Monday afternoon, under the baton of Christopher Bell, it will be reprised before an invited audience, largely of schoolchildren, in the immense converted grain store at Skateraw, near Dunbar. There, as on the CD, the tale of a young hero vanquishing a sea monster will be narrated by the Glasgow actor Billy Boyd, no stranger to epic yarns, given his Lord of the Rings movie credentials.

The CD also features a non-narrated suite of the music, as well as three orchestral settings of songs by Les Barker, commissioned from Stevenson by the National Youth Choir of Scotland. "Having it recorded was the most awesome experience of my life," she says, revealing that Misterstourworm went down so well at its premieres that Children's Classic Concerts commissioned another piece from her. The result, also recorded with the OSO and likely to be released later this year, is Hansel and Gretel, this time narrated by Blythe Duff of Taggartfame.

Much has happened since Stevenson won a Creative Scotland award in 2001. For a start, the harpist, who has two older children, now 19 and 13, found she was pregnant - the CD is consequently dedicated to young Brendan, now six.

"The Creative Scotland criterion is that it should lead to other things, and it's been a happy story for me," she says. "I fell completely in love with Misterstourworm, then I was commissioned to write the three songs for NYCOS and decided to orchestrate them."

Previously, Stevenson's "classical" compositions had not extended beyond a delicate quintet for harp and strings from her Touch Me Like the Sun album which gained exposure in unexpected quarters, finding its way into episodes of Sex and the City. Composition, however, is in her genes: her father is composer Ronald Stevenson, whose recent 80th birthday was celebrated by concerts, including one in London at which she played her harp quintet with the Martinu Quartet.

Amassing the resources of a full-blown orchestra is something rather different, she says, and she has been studying long-distance with Ian Macpherson, a tutor at the Royal Academy of Music. "I hope you can hear some of my love of Ravel in there," she says of the vivid orchestral tones of Misterstourworm, also citing Katachurian as a favourite composer. "I'm not trying to part of the clever 'squeaky garden gate' brigade. I don't really want to write music that's difficult to listen to."

Narrative with orchestration she calls a neglected area of repertoire: "I hope people won't feel I'm talking down to children, but that I'm giving them very serious work. I will write some serious music for grown-ups, but they'd better not expect it to be too serious."

Jim Gilchrist

The Herald - "Modern myth still casting its magical spell Children cheer Misterstourworm, narrated by Billy Boyd"

Once upon a time, three talented people - a clarsach player, a writer and an actor - worked together on a Christmas show at Edinburgh's Royal Lyceum. When it ended, the three went their separate ways. The actor, Billy Boyd, starred on-screen in the Lord of the Rings trilogy. The writer, Stuart Paterson, continued to chalk up success after success with his plays for children. The clarsach player, composer Savourna Stevenson, played concerts and wrote music for dance, theatre and television before turning her hand to full-on orchestral works.

This afternoon, at Skateraw near Dunbar, the three friends come together again on another project aimed specifically at children.

Their live performance of Misterstourworm and the Kelpie's Gift - music by Stevenson, story by Paterson and narration by Boyd - marks the launch of a CD of the piece, and if you could bottle Stevenson's excitement, the corks would pop sky-high within seconds.

This whole project is her baby, or, to be accurate, her other baby. Back in 2001, a mere two months after she had received a Creative Scotland Award to support her studies in orchestration and the making of an orchestral work for young audiences, Stevenson woke up to another surprise. "I discovered I was pregnant," she explains.

"I had it in my mind that we really had no Scottish equivalent to Peter and the Wolf, bringing together our own folklore with classical orchestral music in a way that would work for children. So I asked Stuart to write me a story and he came back with all this wonderful material.

" Like some fairy story, everything fell magically into place. The premiere of Misterstourworm and the Kelpie's Gift in 2003 - with Boyd narrating and Christopher Bell conducting the RSNO - was such an acclaimed success that Children's Classic Concerts promptly commissioned a sequel. Hansel and Gretel (another Stevenson/Paterson collaboration, this time narrated by Blythe Duff) will be released on CD later this year.

Boyd, who clearly has a great affection for Misterstourworm, the tale of a young hero vanquishing a hoary, gory sea monster (with the help of a magical horse), will take to the stage again as narrator at Skateraw, though this time - as on the CD - the musicians will be the Orchestra of Scottish Opera. "And we're going to have visuals," says Stevenson. "All the beautiful illustrations Martin McKenna did for the CD book are going to be projected. So many people have been just so supportive."

Among them is her father, the veteran classical composer Ronald Stevenson. When she was a child, she composed pieces on the piano and her father notated them. "They were published, actually. But I didn't see myself following my father as a composer - and then the Creative Scotland Award allowed me to take time out and study orchestration, and now all this is happening. People are talking about this work as adding significantly to a neglected genre in Scottish music. How marvellous is that?"

Misterstourworm turns up again, after today's performance, at the Edinburgh Fringe in a stage version. The CD is available from Circular Records and there are all kinds of fun and games on-line at

Mary Brennan


Album Reviews...

The Scotsman - "Misterstourworm And The Kelpie's Gift ****"

As a performer, Scottish harpist Savourna Stevenson crosses many musical boundaries. As a composer, that eclecticism informs a delicious little "musical adventure" called Misterstourworm and the Kelpie's Gift, which she claims is the first such narrated piece since Prokefiev's Peter and the Wolf. That's debatable, but the bottom line is this: it is a delightful work, narrated here by actor Billy Boyd, sung by the National Youth Choir of Scotland Edinburgh branch and the RSNO Junior Chorus, with the Scottish Opera Orchestra under Christopher Bell's direction. Add to that some other songs by Stevenson and a colourfully illustrated booklet, and the package is just the ticket for young children who like a good tale well told.

Kenneth Walton

The Herald - "Misterstourworm And The Kelpie's Gift ****"

BILLING itself as the first narrated children's symphony since Prokofiev's Peter And The Wolf in 1936, this project is the result of a 2001 Creative Scotland award to Scottish harpist Savourna Stevenson. Also involved are playwright Stuart Paterson, the National Youth Choir of Scotland, the RSNO Junior Chorus, the Orchestra of Scottish Opera and Lord Of The Rings star Billy Boyd.

It's a myth set in the Western Isles featuring a brave young man called Coran, who sets out to rid his land of vicious sea monster Misterstourworm. Boyd narrates, the choirs sing and a seven-movement orchestral suite also fits into the bargain.

The 40-minute CD won't overtax the attention span of the average eight-year-old, but for a real thrill, there will be a live performance at the Skateraw Foundation, East Lothian, at 2.30pm tomorrow

The List - "Misterstourworm And The Kelpie's Gift "

Back in 2003, Billy Boyd was a well kent face in Scottish theatre but the world had yet to know his name. At that point, composer Savourna Stevenson and writer Stuart Paterson secured Boyd's services to narrate their new orchestral project, Misterstourworm and the Kelpie's Gift. A year later, Boyd's performance in Lord of the Rings raised his profile considerably. But his commitment to this magical, yet relatively small-scale, Scottish project was not diminished. Not only did Boyd agree to record the Misterstourworm CD, but he’ll also appear at the launch concert at Skateraw, Dunbar on 9 June.

'My only reservation was whether I could commit to the date,' says Boyd. 'Not for the recording, but the live show. To work your whole year around one day in June is difficult. But because I've been so involved in this from the start, I just thought I'm gonna do it, we'll work it out.' Beautifully packaged, with dramatic illustrations by Martin McKenna, the CD is a wonderful introduction to classical music for children of all ages. Based on the mythical tale of a brave young man who fights the vicious Stourworm, the story is bold and exciting.

'You've got to tip your hat to Stuart,' says Boyd. 'Whatever medium you work in, whether it's radio, film, whatever, if you've got the right words to say it becomes a lot easier. Good writing should always be your starting point and then you add to it what you can.' Stevenson's score is a sweeping, dramatic affair which plunges from gentle melodies into moments of fast-paced intensity. With Boyd's narration matching her music all the way.

'I just loved it,' says Boyd of his recording experience. 'I had my headphones on and was loving the music, and just got carried away with the story, it's so exciting.'

Kelly Aptor

Bachtrack - "Misterstourworm and the Kelpie's Gift - CD review"

For the past 70 years the most recent music and narrative composed specifically for children was Prokofiev's Peter and the Wolf in 1936 written for his own children. Finally there is something new and modern for children to listen to, which might just open the world of classical music for them. Misterstourworm and the Kelpie's Gift is a very exciting recording of a work composed by Savourna Stevenson in 2003 and performed once that year. It brings together the Orchestra of Scottish Opera with narrative by Stuart Paterson and offers a blend of sweetness and darkness that turn the best fairy tales into favourites. Flute and harp create a magical harmony evoking faeries and stardust, while the frightening power of the monster come through strongly through the deep brass instruments.

Actor Billy Boyd (Pippin in Lord of the Rings) narrates the tale beautifully, heightening the tension of the fight between good and evil. His words come across clearly, at just the right level to enable listeners to enjoy both the story and the music. The CD first offers the narrative version of the tale, then the music without the words. The little book, into which the CD is cleverly fitted, provides the story, beautifully illustrated, so children can read it for themselves while the music is playing.

There are a bonus three songs on the CD, including a lullaby, and a wonderful, powerful song “Bullies” which reworks the nursery rhyme “Mary, Mary” to tremendous effect.

When my 13 year old daughter heard Misterstourworm and the Kelpie's Gift for the first time, she was transfixed by the connection between narrative and music.

This is a treat for everyone to enjoy, and the most wonderful part is that the music grows on you, the more you hear it. The story also comes through more clearly when you get to know the music, so I recommend you listen to it several times over a few weeks, to turn it into a family favourite. It provides a glorious experience for children and grown ups alike.


Launch Reviews...

The Times - "Orchestra of Scottish Opera performs monster work by Savourna Stevenson and Stuart Paterson"

A new orchestral work with the grand title Misterstourworm and the Kelpie's Gift was always likely to make a name for itself. Add the unusual setting of a large barn in the East Lothian countryside and a narrative by a Hollywood star, and the cheering response of 400 schoolchildren was no surprise.

The one-off performance by the Orchestra of Scottish Opera and the actor Billy Boyd at Skateraw farm demonstrated that there may be life yet in classical music.

Misterstourworm is a collaboration between Savourna Stevenson, the harpist and composer, and Stuart Paterson, the Fife-based playwright who, for more than 20 years, has adapted children's myths and legends for the stage.

The work is the result of what Stevenson called a "life-changing" grant of £25,000 made by Creative Scotland in 2001.

It enabled the couple to create a tale set in a mythical Scotland in which a young hero embarks on a magical quest to free his people from a fearsome, fire-breathing sea monster, Misterstourworm.

Boyd, who played Peregrin "Pippin" Took in Peter Jackson's feature-film adaptation of the J.R.R. Tolkien novel Lord of the Rings, has long been a friend of Paterson. The playwright gave him his big break in Scottish theatre by casting him as Arthur in a Christmas production of The Sword in the Stone. He said that he had been "flattered and delighted" to be asked to narrate the performance.

Stevenson and Paterson said they had been keen to create a work in the mould of Peter and the Wolf, and originally turned to the Greek myths for inspiration. "We wanted a story where we felt there was something underneath - it's not all surface. But we also felt we had been given a grant to do something Scottish, we need to do something that felt like a real Scottish myth," Mr Paterson said.

They fell on the tale of the stoorworm, which was said to have been as long as Scotland, and whose humps became the islands off the West Coast after its death. They added Kelpies, alluring and magical but deadly creatures, and set events in the fictitious land of Tiree.

The two had first worked together in 1986 on the writer's reworking of Beauty and the Beast for the Royal Lyceum Theatre in Edinburgh. "I wanted proper music for that, not rink-a-dink panto music, and she was perfect - Savourna is a delightfully talented composer, and she played it live."

In that production, the music had been less important than the script, Ms Stevenson said. "Stuart always regarded the music as important to the show, but it inevitably gets squeezed out to the edge. In a piece of theatre it is secondary. Stuart and I always thought if I followed the story closely enough, we should be able to take the words away and the music would still hold up," she added.

The success of the project can be measured by yesterday's album release of the music, by Circular Records, a company established with assistance from the Scottish government's Scottish Music Futures Fund, to help to protect musicians' and composers' intellectual property rights.

Mr Paterson has recently completed a screenplay entitled Master of Lies for the film director Nic Roeg, and hopes that a film may attract funding. However, before his work finally hits the big screen, Hansel and Gretel, a second orchestral collaboration between Stevenson and Paterson, will be premiered this Christmas.

Mike Wade

The Scotsman - "Music review: Misterstourworm and the Kelpie's Gift ****"

MORE than 400 excited East Lothian schoolchildren packed the large barn at Skateraw, East Lothian, for a short concert to launch the CD of Misterstourworm and the Kelpie's Gift.

Composed by Savourna Stevenson to a text by playwright Stuart Paterson, this enchanting tale explores the heart of myth and legend as a young boy sets out to kill the terrifying monster, Misterstourworm, with the help of a Kelpie.

The story was told through a potent combination of music, from the Orchestra of Scottish Opera with conductor Derek Clark; lively narration by Lord of the Rings star Billy Boyd - who was cheered to the rafters by the children - and stunning projected illustrations by Martin McKenna.

Stevenson's musical language is simple but beautifully crafted, as she spins a magical sound world of grisly deep-voiced monsters and tinkling fairies in a dramatic, fast-moving score that could have easily been longer.

Comparisons with the children's much-loved classic, Prokofiev's Peter and the Wolf, are highly apt given that the youngsters were mesmerised by the performance. The short blast from the finale of Rossini's William Tell Overture, which opened the concert had them whooping noisily and there were smiles of recognition as the orchestra played John Williams's suite from Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone.

Johnny Watson's barn at Skateraw proved to be a fabulous venue, with the images of Beuys, Kantor and other artists from Richard Demarco's archive collection lining the walls to create a vivid backdrop.

Susan Nickalls

Evening News - "No myth... Billy Boyd's in the barn"

AN EAST Lothian barn was the unlikely venue for a high-profile orchestral concert celebrating a great Scottish myth.

The barn at the Skateraw Foundation, near Dunbar, played host to the Orchestra of the Scottish Opera Production of Misterstourworm and the Kelpie's Gift, which featured Hollywood sensation Billy Boyd as narrator.

The project, played out last night in front of 400 school children, featured the story of the monster as long as Scotland, whose humps created the west coast islands when he died.

Boyd, who starred in the film Lord of the Rings, said: "Misterstourworm and the Kelpie's Gift is a magical and exciting tale for kids of all ages."

East Lothian News - "Children to attend music launch"

Dunbar is set for a musical extravaganza on June 9 with the launch of a new classical orchestral work for youngsters.

Misterstourworm and the Kelpie's Gift will be presented to an audience of 400 East Lothian schoolchildren free-of-charge at the event, taking place in a huge barn at The Skateraw Foundation near the town.

Lord Of The Rings star Billy Boyd will narrate the 45-minute performance accompanied by the Orchestra of Scottish Opera.

He said: "Misterstourworm and the Kelpie's Gift is a magical and exciting tale for kids of all ages."

Avril Campbell



Keith Bruce (The Herald Arts Blog)

The recording of the Savourna Stevenson/Stuart Paterson composition Misterstourworm and the Kelpie’s Gift was given an early sales boost on Saturday thanks to the Edinburgh area choir of the National Youth Choir of Scotland and its director Mark Evans.

As Mary Brennan writes in Herald Arts (Monday June 8), the disc is launched today at Skateraw in East Lothian with Billy Boyd narrating Paterson's story, which Stevenson has scored. However the disc also features the girls of the Edinburgh NYCoS choir performing the three songs Stevenson wrote as one of ten composers invited to add to the NYCoS book for its tenth anniversary. One of the three, Waiting for the Silver-Sailed Moon, has already assumed classic status in the repertoire of youth choirs the length and breadth of the country, and the Edinburgh girls gave an un-programmed bonus performance of it at Saturday night's end-of-session concert in St Cuthbert's Church at the West End of Princes Street.

Although fighting for attention in a superb concert, it did have the bonus of being available for purchase at the interval, where an early supply of the discs joined the fund-raising tasty home-baking for sale. At the end of the concert there was but one solitary copy of Stevenson's Stourworm disc left on the NYCoS stall.