An Lanntair, Stornoway, Isle of Lewis

Katie Laing

five stars

IF THE Wee Frees have long been thought of as a dour lot who shun music in their worship, the world premiere of Ballantyne in Stornoway this weekend should give the lie to that.

For what Hollywood composer Craig Armstrong and his collaborator, Lewis musician and church elder Calum Martin, have created is a mind-blowing composition based around the beautifully harmonic tradition of Gaelic Psalm singing.

Ballantyne is a deeply spiritual and profoundly moving piece of music, crafted around the story of the Ascension of Christ – I can’t imagine ever hearing anything like it again.

Commissioned by An Lanntair on the Isle of Lewis and made possible by their Bealach Creative Places award funding, the premiere was held in the Stornoway arts centre and was was out of this world. A big piece of art, the kind that brought the massive religious paintings of the Renaissance into the realm of sound. And the fact there were two island ministers taking part is hugely significant.

The cast list is impressive. Four members of the Scottish Ensemble, including first cello Alison Lawrence, traditional musicians Duncan Chisholm and Neil Johnstone, and a host of 13 singers. Soloists were Isobel Ann Martin, Calum’s daughter, and Calum Iain Macleod, a Free Church Minister, whose operatic voice was incredibly moving.

The conductor was Cecilia Weston, who works frequently with Craig on his film scores, and painted this masterpiece to perfection.

A powerful and passionate work, this was the finale to an evening celebrating the spiritual music of the islands. It was a seminal moment for a community whose faith music used to only be heard being closed church doors. Now it needs a bigger audience.