The Donald MacDonald Cuach piobaireachd competition, now in its 32nd year, will bring together five renowned pipers from across Scotland on 15 June, and will be livestreamed on their facebook page for the first time. The following day introduces a major new competition for Senior Clàrsach, where four leading harpists will compete for the Princess Margaret of the Isles Memorial Prize.
The performances will take place in the Stables Café at Armadale Castle and are open to the public. They will also be live streamed for those unable to attend in person.
The competitions are a key part of Clan Donald Lands Trust’s ongoing commitment to supporting Gaelic performing arts and are made possible through generous support from the Glencoe Foundation, USA.
Donald MacDonald Cuach, Friday 15 June at 7.30pm
Named in honour of the 18th-century piping pioneer, the Donald MacDonald Cuach is a flagship cultural competition for Clan Donald Lands Trust. The five pipers invited to take part this year are Callum Beaumont (last year’s winner), Glenn Brown, Alasdair Henderson, Iain Speirs and Craig Sutherland. (See below for tunes and brief biographies.) The event will also include singing by Christine Primrose, Head of Gaelic Song at Sabhal Mòr Ostaig, Scotland’s Gaelic College on the Isle of Skye.
The competition will be opened by talented young local piper Malin Lewis from Bernisdale, north Skye, who is studying at the National Centre of Excellence in Traditional Music in Plockton. Malin will study Piping at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland in September. There will also be contributions from pupils from Bun-sgoil Shlèite (Sleat Primary School).
The competition will be adjudicated by acclaimed piper Allan MacDonald. Allan taught at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland for 17 years and has recorded several CDs of pipe music.
Convenor Dr Angus MacDonald said: ‘This year we have some of the top performers in the country and I look forward to a very entertaining evening’.
Princess Margaret of the Isles Memorial Prize for Senior Clàrsach – Saturday 16 June at 2pm
The following day sees the inaugural Princess Margaret of the Isles Memorial Prize for Senior Clàrsach. Candidates in this new open competition were required to prepare a 25 minute recital including a variety of Scottish styles, traditional and contemporary, and a new composition of their own.
Four finallists have been selected to perform at the competition recital: Màiri Chaimbeul, Fraya Thomsen, Karen Marshalsay and Riko Matsuoka. (See below for brief biographies.)
The adjudicator is acclaimed Scottish-born harpist and composer Savourna Stevenson, who has performed and recorded with artists as diverse as Eddi Reader, the Bhundu Boys and Catrin Finch and has written prolifically for clàrsach and pedal harp. The event will be convened by Professor Boyd Robertson, retiring Principle of Sabhal Mòr Ostaig.
Skye-based clàrsair and tutor Mary M. Strachan, who chaired the shortlisting panel, said: ‘We were delighted with the interest in this new competition, and were blown away by the high technical standards and innovative playing of the chosen finalists. It should make for a very interesting afternoon of music.’
The prize is named after for Princess Margaret of Scotland, the daughter of King Robert II and the wife of John, Lord of the Isles. Princess Margaret was a great patron of the arts, and the through this prize for senior clàrsach playing, CDLT seeks to perpetuate and honour that reputation.
Sue Geale, Armadale Castle’s Museum Manager and member of the Management Committee, commented: ‘The ancient Clan Donald Lords of the Isles were great patrons of the arts and saw it as their responsibility to encourage and develop Gaelic culture in all its forms. The Trust is pleased to carry on this important responsibility. For many years we have supported both piping and clàrsach – the latter through the loan of instruments to schools and an annual junior competition. We are delighted to enhance this through the launch of this new senior clàrsach competition, and through a number of traditional music competitions that we also support worldwide.’
Biographies of the players
• Callum Beaumont is a piping instructor at Dollar Academy, Clackmannanshire. His solo achievements include winning both Gold Medals and the 2017 Donald MacDonald Cuach. Aside from solo piping, he is a member of the Inveraray & District Pipe Band.
• Glenn Brown is a native of Milton, Ontario, Canada. His first teacher was his mother, Gail Brown, who was a successful solo piper. Some prizes of note in Piobaireachd are the Canadian Gold Medal, the Dunvegan Medal and The Northern Meeting Gold Medal.
• Alasdair Henderson is from Dunoon. He studied at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama and now works at Fettes College in Edinburgh as a piping instructor. He is regular demand as a recitalist and won the Gold Medal at Inverness in 2017.
• Iain Speirs lives in Edinburgh. He has won both Gold medals and numerous other prizes in competition. He is currently a member of the Spirit of Scotland Pipe Band, which was formed to compete at the World Pipe Band Championships in 2008.
• Craig Sutherland hails from Crieff, Perthshire. After many years as Pipe Sergeant of the Vale of Atholl Pipe Band he now plays for the Simon Fraser University Pipe Band in Vancouver, Canada. Last year he won the Gold Medal at the Argyllshire Gathering.
• Màiri Chaimbeul is a Boston, Massachusetts-based harp player and composer from the Isle of Skye, who tours regularly in the UK, Europe and North America. She joins the faculty at Berklee College of Music this year as their lever harp instructor.
• Fraya Thomsen is an internationally renowned clàrsair, vocalist and composer. Her Scottish harp and song duo The Duplets have released two acclaimed albums. Fraya was musician in residence at Feis Rois in 2011/12 and published three harp tuition books.
• Karen Marshalsay was formerly clàrsach tutor at the National Centre of Excellence in Traditional Music at Plockton and now teaches at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland. Karen has performed across the UK, Europe, America and Australia.
• Riko Matsuoka was born in Osaka prefecture, Japan. She moved to Edinburgh to study the Clàrsach and traditional Scottish music in 2016. She is currently studying for a Masters at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland.
Event listings and ticket information
Friday 15 June
Stables Cafe, Armadale Castle, Gardens & Museum, Skye: Donald MacDonald Cuach Piobaireachd Competition, 7.30 pm. Five pipers perform in the annual competition, now in its 32nd year. Tickets £8 (£4 concession), including buffet; call 01471 844305 or buy on the door. Further information: www.armadalecastle.com
Saturday 16 June
Stables Cafe, Armadale Castle, Gardens & Museum, Skye: Clàrsach (Scottish Harp) recital and competition judging. Performance by four finalists for the Princess Margaret of the Isles Memorial Prize for Senior Clàrsach, 2pm. Free, all welcome. www.armadalecastle.com