Fiddle players gather at Strathmore for musical celebration -- Gazette.Net


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The holiday season may be over, but musician Alasdair Fraser isn’t done celebrating.

An award-winning Scottish fiddler, Fraser is one of five instrumentalists playing at Strathmore’s “A Fiddler’s Feast” on Friday night.

“Just the word ‘feast’ gets me excited,” says Fraser. “I love the idea of beginning the year with a feast ...”

Fraser, who now lives in the Sierra Nevada Foothills of Northern California with his wife and two sons, has spent the last 13 years touring with cellist Natalie Haas. The pair joins fiddlers Dirk Powell, Jay Ungar and Molly Mason on Friday night for Strathmore’s celebration of the fiddle and American roots music.

“There’s hardly any culture that doesn’t use a [fiddle] in some way to express its soul,” says Fraser.

According to Fraser, the fiddle, along with the harp and bagpipes, is considered one of Scotland’s national instruments. In fact, both the fiddle and the cello date back to late 17th-century and early 18th-century Scotland.

“The fiddle is pretty indigenous to Scottish music,” says Fraser. “The cello, at that time, was a much more rhythmic kind of energized instrument than people’s sense of it [now] when people see it in the orchestra.”

It’s that traditional rhythmic and upbeat Scottish/Celtic sound that Fraser says he and Haas aim for in their performances.

“It’s a great honor to stand here dancing with the fiddle,” says Fraser. “It’s a major part of my life and my family’s and I often say it seems like a privilege to get to do that.”

While he’s released close to 15 solo albums, Fraser has also contributed to more than 50 albums as a guest artist, in addition to lending his talents to the soundtracks for movies like “The Last of the Mohicans” and “Titanic,” proving just how versatile the fiddle can be.

“[It speaks] in different ways,” says Fraser. “It’s a very multilingual instrument. It can kind of sit in the background ... or it can come in and take the lead ... “

Despite its versatility, Fraser says smoothly incorporating the fiddle’s sound is not always easy.

“It’s a challenge sometimes,” he says. “Sometimes I think you have to use the good advice, ‘less is more.’ I love that challenge of trying to fit in the voice.”

While the ‘less is more’ attitude may apply to his instrumentation, it certainly doesn’t dictate Fraser’s lifestyle. In addition to touring almost 12 months out of the year, Fraser also directs the 100-member San Francisco Scottish Fiddlers Orchestra and runs four fiddle camps throughout the year; two in California, one in Spain and one in Scotland.

“This is the 30th year of the camps and we’re really excited about that,” says Fraser.

Participants range from some of the best fiddle players in the country to musicians who are learning to play for the first time.

“It’s kind of great because they take care of each other,” says Fraser. “ ... People are not trying to outdo one another, they’re trying to be the best they can be ... What we do with the fiddle camps is we say, ‘Come in and learn and basically explore the idea of finding your own voice,’ which is really liberating for a lot of people.”

Though his tours take him all over the world, Fraser says there is a certain sense of community among fiddle players no matter where they live.

“It becomes a community gathering ... emanating from the fiddle,” says Fraser. “When I’m traveling, I’m checking in on the greater community.”

For Fraser, Friday’s concert is not simply a concert, but a gathering of friends.

“It’s that idea of ... just playing music with people who love the same sort of things,” says Fraser.

“It’s like going on a walk with someone you really hit it off with and having a great talk.”

chedgepeth@gazette.net