21 March 2015

Yla Steven – SFO Soloist


Yla Steven was born in Edinburgh.

Her unusual Christian name is simply the old spelling of Glen Isla in Perthshire, where she had a home in early years.

Learning the violin

She began learning the violin in Edinburgh, at the age of seven, continued her studies in Blairgowrie, Perthshire, and later graduated from the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama.

A strong interest in Scottish traditional fiddle music developed at an early age, and she entertained at many events during her teenage years.

In Blairgowrie, she was taught by Harry C. Ogilvie, whose father had taught Ian Powrie. Another link with Ian is that they both attended Bendochy Primary School and were both present at a school reunion in 1998.

Competition successes

In the early 1970s, Yla began competing at all the major Fiddle Festivals in Scotland, winning Championship Awards at Kirriemuir, Banchory, and Aberdeen .

In 1976 she was the first ever winner of the Daily Record’s Golden Fiddle Award in Glasgow.

En route to these successes she had mentoring from Sandy Milne of Banchory and many other great fiddlers like Hector McAndrew and Tom Anderson.

Yla’s main area of expertise is the playing of slow airs and this has won her many accolades.

Teaching and performing in Edinburgh

In 1977 Yla played – as part of “An Edinburgh Fancy” in the King’s Theatre, Edinburgh – at a Silver Jubilee Concert for the Queen and Prince Philip. There have been other “Royal” performances for Princess Ann, and Prince Philip. Yla has also played for violin greats such as Yehudi Menuhin, Max Rostal and Yfrah Neamen.

For almost forty years she taught violin, viola and cello for the City of Edinburgh Council.

Here she founded the Lothian Schools Strathspey and Reel Society and passed on her skills to countless youngsters for more than thirty years. This group quickly became one of the best Strathspey & Reel Societies in Scotland, winning the orchestra competition at Kirriemuir Fiddle Festival nine times and playing all over the country – from Aberdeen International Festival to Earl’s Court in London, and from Dundee to Prestwick Airport. They toured to Germany, Argentina and to Canada and the United States.

Some of the former pupils joined her in a group known as the Festival City Players. This group enjoyed success at the Edinburgh Festival in a production of “An Edinburgh Edition” in 1978 marking the bicentenary of Robert Burns’ Edinburgh edition of his poems. They also played for several years for the Royal Scottish Country Dance Society’s demonstration team. This Group toured in Holland and The Soviet Union.

Life “in retirement”

Now retired, Yla lives in Blackford, Perthshire.

She is now Musical Director of the Edinburgh Highland Reel and Strathspey Society, which has recently benefited by an influx of young blood – Yla’s former pupils from the Lothian Schools Strathspey and Reel Society.

The Edinburgh Society has now incorporated the ex-Lothian members as its Junior Section and they have now also won Kirriemuir Festival twice.

Yla’s expertise is constantly in demand as a fiddle tutor and as an adjudicator at fiddle festivals.

Yla and the SFO

In 1980, Yla was a founder member of the Scottish Fiddle Orchestra and was delighted when John Mason invited her to become its principal soloist.

With the SFO, Yla has had the opportunity to perform all over Britain, from Lerwick in Shetland to the Royal Albert Hall, London.

She has toured with the SFO across Canada (three times) and to Ireland and China.

Yla has performed in most of the great concert halls throughout Britain.

She has also performed on radio and television and has numerous recordings to her credit.

[This article first appeared in the programme for the SFO’s Perth Concert on 21 February¬†2015].