In June I was lucky enough to be invited to experience the St Magnus International Festival, Orkney's midsummer celebration of the arts which was celebrating its 40th anniversary this year. This was my first time attending the festival and my first visit to Orkney, needless to say I had a very busy but amazing time, managing to fit in four very different performances during my trip. I have written this little guide with some tips for those planning their own first visit to The St Magnus Festival.
Where does the St Magnus Festival take place?
The festival takes place at various venues across Orkney although the majority of the events take place in the town of Kirkwall on Mainland, so this is a good place to base yourself if you plan to take in a few shows. This year performances were held in an eclectic mix of venues from the stunning St Magnus Cathedral to the unusual backdrop of the Mess Hall at Ness Battery.
When does it takes place?
It takes place in midsummer, which is a very magical time to visit Orkney as it never gets truly dark, a period known as simmer dim. It is normally held is normally held over 6 days but his year the festival ran with an extended programme of events from the 16th until 26th of June to celebrate its 40th year.
Who is this festival suitable for?
An eclectic mix of performances ensure most visitors will find something to their taste and will be made to feel very welcome.
Why should I visit?
This is a great chance to mix with the community and experience life as a local for a while as the events are very popular with Orcadians who are known for their love of music and arts.
The festival has grown to become highly regarded as one of the UK's leading arts festivals featuring top class performances which mainly revolve around music although you will also find drama, dance, literature and visual arts. You are just as likely to find talented local acts as you are esteemed international performers and the range of interesting venues used as backdrops means that you get to see a different side to Orkney.
Traditional music is strongly featured and every year a full scale orchestra is also brought to the festival, add to that new talent, specially commissioned pieces and world premieres and you will understand why the festival has grown to be a big feature on the Orkney events calendar.
What type of performances can I see?
Music features strongly on the programme, particularly traditional and classical. Each year Magfest adds a 'Fringe' element to the lie-up with drama, circus and cabaret acts. This year it included a life-sized puppet circus style show!
To give you an idea of the variety on offer, these are the four very different shows I attended this year.
The Biggest Marionette Circus in the World - Certainly a show with a difference complete with a life-sized elephant, giraffe and lion. I think I was a little old to appreciate this show but the children there seemed to enjoy it!
The Orkney Traditional Music Project - The project was founded in 1998 to revive the teaching of traditional music in Orkney and I found it very inspirational to watch the next generation of Orkney fiddlers and accordionists showing off their skills.
Saltfishforty - The highlight show for me was by local act Saltfishforty who were joined by several guest musicians, both established and up and coming. Their performance of traditional and original tunes from Orkney had everyone tapping their toes in the stunning venue of St Magnus Cathedral. The video below will give you a little taster of their fantastic show.
Meditations by Orkney Camerata - My final show of the festival was a night of mystical and spiritual music, again within the beautiful backdrop of St Magnus Cathedral. Orkney is a magical place and this seemed a fitting finale for my final night on the island.
How do I find out what shows are on?
Keep an eye on the St Magnus International Festival website nearer festival time as they publish a full online programme.
How much do tickets cost?
Most events have a three tier pricing system, although beware that lower priced tickets may have a restricted view or even no view! Tickets range from below £10 for smaller shows to over £20 for the main shows. Concessions are available
How do I buy tickets?
Online booking for the next festival will open in May 2017
How do I get there?
Ferry - Northlink Ferries operate two crossings, one from Aberdeen to Kirkwall and one from Scrabster to Stromness.
Fly - You can fly to Kirkwall from Edinburgh, Glasgow, Inverness, Aberdeen and London.
Where should I stay?
Orkney has accommodation to suit all budgets, I always recommend using TripAdvisor as a great guide for hotel reviews. On my trip I stayed at The Shore Hotel in Kirkwall which was conveniently located within walking distance of many of the venues.
What should I wear?
Casual for daytime events is the norm and smart casual for the evening.
Where is the best place to soak up the festival atmosphere?
The Festival Club starts at 10pm each night and is the place that artists, locals and visitors can enjoy a few drinks and some chat together.
What else can I do in Orkney?
There is a huge amount to do in Orkney, check out my 3 day travel itinerary for some ideas.
Where can I find out more?
Check out the festival website at www.stmagnusfestival.com/
I was invited to experience the St Magnus Festival during my stay in Orkney, however as always all opinions are my own
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