credit: Bill Bailey for Coldsnap Festival, CC BY 2.0 _https___creativecommons.org_licenses_by_2.0_, via Wikimedia Commons

Celtic Connections 2023: Alasdair Fraser and Natalie Haas

By Elspeth Burdette

Troll Techno and more as the thriving duo play one of the headline weekend slots.

Celtic Connections is not just about honouring Scottish music. It is also about finding solidarity, and celebrating cultural and musical connections with musicians from across the globe. This concert was no exception.

The performance opened with a classically inspired Celtic, Norwegian, Finnish string ensemble, led by fiddler Sarah-Jane Summers and her husband, guitarist Juhani Sivola. While Summers grew up near Inverness, her husband is from Finland, and they now live in Norway. Their compositions encompass all of these musical languages, producing intricately arranged harmonies and intersecting melodic lines. Very fittingly for the wind and the rain of the Glasgow night, their performance was entitled How to Raise the Wind, named after a Scottish folktale, where untying knots in a length of string could raise favourable winds to send fishermen home. untie these knots too quickly, however, and risk raising a storm. The stormy theme was best evinced through the creation of a musical storm: the gathering wind whistled through hair-raising harmonics, the guitar and pizzicato strings mimicked the rain, and the bowed bass added an ominous rumble of thunder. The group also introduced a new (very Nordic) genre of music worth mentioning: Troll Techno. As Sivola explained, matter-of-factly, trolls only have acoustic instruments, but have figured out how to play a version of techno music on using these acoustic instruments, a technique that Summers and Sivola successfully sought to replicate. 

For the second part of the evening, the legendary fiddle and cello duo, Alasdair Fraser and Natalie Haas, took to the stage. For the past 20 years, Alasdair and Natalie have been at the forefront of Celtic music, rekindling the old relationship between the cello and the fiddle that was prevalent across Scotland throughout the 1700 and 1800s during the so-called golden age of Scottish music and dance. 

Their 20 years of playing together is immediately evident: the two are perfectly in sync, evoking a quiet confidence through their intrinsic ability to know the other’s musical subtleties. This performance reflected their latest album, Syzygy. Syzygy is an unfamiliar word to most, but derives from Greek and Latin to mean the conjunction or alignment of polarities: astronomy it means the alignment of three celestial bodies (such as the sun, moon, and earth during an eclipse). For Alasdair and Natalie, it represents their musical relationship: a pair of opposites that come together to create something as one, while maintaining their distinct identities. 

Although their latest album represents a shift from the more traditional Celtic tunes that made them famous, in doing so it embraces new, modern, unidentifiable styles. However, this choice to move away from the norm did not alienate listeners expecting a traditional Scottish show, because under every new experimental tune there remains an undercurrent of Scottishness, deep roots that firmly establish a sense of place. Through a mix of music, storytelling, and philosophical deliberations, Alasdair and Natalie captured the brief of Celtic connections perfectly, transcending borders and bringing alignment to polarities through the creation of a unique blend encompassing the traditions of the past and the modernity of the present. 


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