St Magnus Festival is one of the UK’s leading arts festivals and is held for six days in midsummer in Orkney. It was founded in 1977 by Orkney-based composer, the Queen’s musician, Sir Peter Maxwell Davies. The inaugural festival featured his opera, The Martyrdom of St Magnus, based on the novel, Magnus, by the late Orcadian writer George Mackay Brown. The festival continues to commission new work from established and young composers.
International orchestras and soloists, theatre and dance companies, poets and authors, bands and visual artists perform, as do community participants who also perform new work to a high standard. Visiting artists hold materclasses in schools, conducting and composing courses are open to audiences and the Festival Chorus of 100 singers perform major work. The late Alan Plater wrote plays for and attended two festivals while many top musicians have taken part including André Previn, Julian Bream and Evelyn Glennie.
The festival’s venues range from the large space of St Magnus Cathedral to the tiny Italian Chapel, from the Pickaquoy Centre transformed into a large concert hall, to parish halls. Productions premiered in Orkney at St Magnus festival have gone on to tour elsewhere including at the Edinburgh Fringe. And Orkney has its own festival fringe, the Magfest, which offers a range of exciting events from drama to circus to cabaret and music. The festival club is a brilliant end to the day with music and the chance for artists, visitors and locals to relax together.