Landscape to Light: Compositions inspired by the beauty and lore of the north of Scotland

Landscape to Light, the latest album by critically acclaimed Scottish pianist and composer James Ross, weaves Scotland’s musical traditions, landscape, folklore, literature and history into evocative, atmospheric compositions that conjure the power of the sea and the unique landscape of the north of Scotland. Presented by Phenotypic Recordings, who have chosen to donate streaming revenue from the album to the Scottish Wildlife Trust, the work brings to life James Ross’ roots in and connection to this remote part Scotland. Here James shares his inspiration for Landscape to Light.

From James:
I grew up in the coastal town of Wick, the most northern point on the Scottish mainland. My parents live close to the harbour and the sea cliffs that form its coast. My Dad worked as a fisherman and growing up he always shared his love of the sea with stories and folktales from the local area. I now live in Glasgow, but I am always drawn back to the coast and the open skies of the North of Scotland.

My new album Landscape to Light is a series of compositions for piano and string quartet, performed with the Maxwell Quartet. The album brings full circle my interest in melding classical music together with the Scottish traditional music of my upbringing. Landscape to Light celebrates the remarkable landscape of the North of Scotland. I draw inspiration from childhood memories, the landscape depicted by Scottish novelist Neil Gunn, the legends of fairy mischief passed down through generations, the power of the sea and the natural beauty of the Flow Country.

© Joe Cornish 2020VISION

Several tracks on the album are inspired by the grandeur of the Caithness coast and the spectacular but fearsome power of the sea. I composed The Swilkie to refer to the most dangerous whirlpool on the North Coast, which is well-known for the strength of its tidal currents. The Grey Coast evokes the sublime, rugged beauty of Caithness’ coastline and the laments Black Saturday and Seafarers Hymn remember the hundreds of lives lost off Scotland’s north coast over the centuries.

The Flow Country is the largest blanket peatland in Europe, the huge bog straddles the counties of Caithness and Sutherland. Complex and colourful, it is home to rare plants and birds, and is also a vast carbon store that contributes to the global fight against climate change. It is currently being considered for designation as a UNESCO World Heritage Site to emphasise its global importance.

When writing the music for Landscape to Light I visited the Flow Country at various times of the year, with the landscape being transformed by changing seasons and weather. I composed two pieces: a slow air inspired by and named for the stark and natural beauty of the Flow Country and a piece for the Sundew – a carnivorous plant, which survives in the Flow Country and flowers in summer. It produces a sticky dew that traps insects so the plant can eat them.

The album’s namesake track, Landscape to Light, is inspired by Scottish novelist Neil Gunn’s evocative descriptions and vivid pictures of land, sea and nature in his collection of essays of the same title. The track is accompanied by a video by Scottish-Finnish cinematographer Minttu Mäntynen that captures the wild beauty of Northern Scotland.

“Landscape to Light evokes the unique land and seascapes of the north of Scotland and the important role that they have played in communities there for centuries. We hope that listeners around the world enjoy being transported to this remote part of the country through James Ross’ compositions. As Scotland’s leading nature conservation charity, we are delighted that Landscape to Light shines a spotlight on the beauty, enormous importance and fragility of the biodiverse ecosystems there, and, by extension, the need to protect them. We are very grateful to be the beneficiary of album streaming revenue”
– Jo Pike, Chief Executive, Scottish Wildlife Trust

Lanscape to Light album cover featuring artwork by Magi Sinclair

As James wrote and as is woven into the Landscape to Light compositions, the sea and peatlands are vitally important to communities in the north of Scotland today and have been throughout history. They also characterise the rugged, unique beauty of this part of the country. Peatlands are home to highly specialised, rare and threatened species, and are the largest, natural land-based carbon store on the planet. In addition to this, they slow the flow of water, reducing flood risk, limiting the spread of wildfires and providing fresh drinking water. Over 94% of the UK’s raised peatbogs have been lost in the last 200 years and we must act now to restore and protect our peatlands. You can read more about the significance of Scotland’s peatlands here.

Scotland’s coasts and waters support a diverse array of wildlife and habitats that provide a wealth of benefits to society, from food and jobs to education and inspiration. The pressures of modern society have led to a decline in the health of our seas. The Scottish Wildlife Trust is working at community and national levels to recognise and rectify the negative impact society has had on our seas and to implement effective and sustainable management of them. You can read more about our Living Seas programme here.

© Mark Hamblin 2020VISION

Phenotypic Recordings is a new record label whose mission is to bring to light new and timeless music by world-class musicians, the unpublished recordings of innovative composers, and music that highlights the most important issues facing the world today. The record label embraces “music with a mission”, giving special support to new compositions that tell stories from unique perspectives or shine light on timely issues.

“Phenotypic Recordings is proud to present James Ross’ Landscape to Light, a gorgeous and important contribution that expands the horizons of classical music, as well as serves as a gateway to viscerally experience the beauty and uniqueness of Scottish traditions and land. Both are integral parts of the global cultural fabric and ecological system, and we hope this album inspires all of us to further appreciate, preserve and nurture them. We are honoured to donate our proceeds from streaming and digital downloads from the album to the Scottish Wildlife Trust.”
– Stephen Prutsman, Creative Director, Phenotypic Recordings

You can stream Landscape to Light now on all major streaming services.

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Landscape to Light, the latest album by critically acclaimed Scottish pianist and composer James Ross, weaves Scotland’s musical traditions, landscape, folklore, literature and history into evocative, atmospheric compositions that conjure …

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