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Launch of Seven Hills Project starts countdown to 50th birthday of Scotland’s national music school

St Mary’s Music School is combining the literary genius of Alexander McCall Smith with the talents of a range of composers in a major two-year cultural project

The renowned author Alexander McCall Smith has written a collection of seven poems to reflect the character of the seven hills of Edinburgh, and seven composers – all with links to the St Mary’s Music School (SMMS) in Edinburgh – have been commissioned to each write a musical response to one of the hills and the corresponding poem.

This two-year project begins with the first of seven premiere performances on Friday 2 July and culminates with a birthday concert at the Usher Hall in June 2023.

The first commissioned work, inspired by Arthur’s Seat and McCall Smith’s accompanying poem, is entitled Theory of the Earth, and is by the young Scottish composer Jay Capperauld.  It will be premiered by senior pupils alongside professional percussionist Tom Hunter and will be broadcast as part of the school’s summer concert.

According to SMMS, ‘the young performers are extremely excited to be giving the first performance of a work that no one has heard before and they have enjoyed working with Jay to make sure that their presentation captures what he imagined.’

The remaining six commissioned hill works will be premiered across Edinburgh as part of SMMS’ end-of-term concerts, over the next two years. Recordings of these performances will be available to watch online. The composers and hills are:

  • Tom David Wilson: Blackford Hill
  • Neil Tòmas Smith: Calton Hill
  • Helen Grime: Braid Hills
  • Ailie Robertson: Craiglockhart Hill
  • Simon Smith: Corstorphine Hill
  • David Horne: Castle Rock

As part of the project, St Mary’s will take its celebration of new music composition and performance to primary and secondary schools across Scotland. Regional senior pupils will engage in composition workshops led by Jay Capperauld, who will help these pupils develop their ideas into musical compositions that take their inspiration from a local landmark and will be performed and recorded by young musicians from the School.

Dr Valerie Pearson, Head of Strings at St Mary’s Music School, who is leading the project, said, ‘Seven Hills is a unique project to promote new music in Scotland, to celebrate music and creativity and, ultimately, to use creativity as a way of engaging young people with new music.

‘It was inspired by the School’s desire to celebrate Edinburgh as the wonderful home of our music-making through the topography of its seven hills and the way they connect culture, community and heritage. Importantly, the project is also an opportunity to commission new music, something that the School hasn’t done in a while, and for our own students to perform these new pieces.

‘St Mary’s Music School has very clear connections with professional music organisations across Scotland but the bigger picture of our outreach work is engaging young people. If audiences can see our students performing this new music, what better inspiration for young musicians across Scotland?’