1977 was the year of the Queen's Silver Jubilee, of Punk Rock and the birth of Apple Computers. In Orkney a small group of people came together to start an Arts Festival and the rest is history...

One of them, a young composer who had moved to the island of Hoy a few years earlier, was Sir Peter Maxwell Davies.

From small beginnings in this remote location, it has grown to become one of the UK's best respected Arts Festivals.


Over the years, numerous distinguished artists have appeared at the Festival - including Vladimir Ashkenazy, Nicola Benedetti, Julian Bream, Christine Brewer, Natalie Clein, Imogen Cooper, Evelyn Glennie, John Harle, Steven Isserlis, John Lill, Joanna MacGregor, Georgy Pauk, Andre Previn and Isaac Stern. (below)

Picture Gunnie Moberg courtesy Gunnie Moberg Archive

Visiting orchestras and ensembles have included the BBC Symphony Orchestra, the Royal Philharmonic, the BBC Philharmonic, the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, the Scottish Chamber Orchestra, the Royal Scottish National Orchestra, London Sinfonietta, the Hebrides Ensemble, Nash Ensemble, Scottish Ensemble, and Psappha.

New Work

The Festival has commissioned works from composers including Sally Beamish, Sir Richard Rodney Bennett, Arne Gieshoff, Simon Holt, David Horne, James MacMillan, John Maxwell, Edward McGuire, Gordon McPherson, Thea Musgrave, Alasdair Nicolson, William Sweeney and Judith Weir. Many important premieres have been given of new works by Sir Peter Maxwell Davies.

Community Participation

Over the years, numerous children's operas, music-theatre pieces and song cycles by Sir Peter Maxwell Davies have been premiered by Orkney schoolchildren. In 2014 the Festival celebrated these in a special concert ahead of his 80th birthday.

Picture Leslie Burgher

Young Orkney musicians have frequently appeared alongside visiting professionals, such as in the 'Side by Side' Concert with the BBC Symphony Orchestra in 2013 or with the Trondheim Soloists in 2012 and 2014.

Works performed by the 130-strong St Magnus Festival Chorus in recent years include Walton's Belshazzar's Feast with the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra in 2013, Stravinsky's Symphony of Psalms with the BBC Symphony Orchestra in 2013, Michael Tippett's oratorio, A Child of Our Time, with the Royal Scottish National Orchestra in 2012 and Mozart's Requiem with the Scottish Chamber Orchestra in 2011.

Community drama productions feature frequently. In 2013 the Festival commissioned a large scale production about the explorer, John Rae entitled Long Strides and written by OWC director Pamela Besant. In 2003 an Orkney production of As You Like It toured to Gotland, Sweden, after its Festival performances in Orkney. A trilogy of plays by the late Alan Plater was premiered at the Festival in 2000, 2002 and 2007  and subsequently performed at the Edinburgh Fringe.

Meet the Artist: Alasdair Nicolson

by SMIF Young Reporter Kristopher Leask One of our series from Young Reporters for the Year of Young People 2018 #yoyp18 As the Festival direc Full Story...

Meet the Artist: Festival Chorus

by SMIF Young Reporter Rachael Batty One of our series from Young Reporters for the Year of Young People 2018 #yoyp18 Rossini Petite Messe Solen Full Story...

Festival Founders



Archie Bevan


St Magnus International Festival, 13 Albert Street, Kirkwall, KW15 1HP

T: +44 (0)1856 871445


St Magnus Festival is a charity registered in Scotland. Scottish Charity No SC011666. Company Number SC073825.

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