Thursday, February 03, 2011

Scott-Land at Celtic Connections

Ivanhoe, Lady of the Lake, Rob Roy, The Bride of Lammermoor -- even if you’ve never read any of these, they have very likely influenced your view of Scotland and its history. Sir Walter Scott wrote all of them. His cinematic descriptions of Scottish landscapes have caused him to be called Scotland’s first travel writer. His novels, poems and plays were wildly popular when they were written in the early nineteenth century -- at one point during that time his novels were said to be the most read books in the United States. They are still read today.

Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park is the landscape Scott drew on for Lady of the Lake. As part of the park’s celebration of the two hundredth anniversary of the poem, composer Phil Cunningham wrote a new instrumental work, The Trossachs Suite.

 scottland cocnert at celtic connections copyright kerry dexterIt’s always a challenge to write instrumental music about something, to create music that is neither too literal nor too abstract. Cunningham did this very well, drawing on his deep connection with traditional music as well as touches of classical influence. As the program had its first performance at the Glasgow Royal Concert Hall during Celtic Connections, the six sections of music were interspersed with readings from Scott’s work by actor Bill Paterson. Cunningham, on accordion, was well assisted by band members including Michael McGoldrick on flutes and whistles, Kathleen Boyle on piano and keyboards, Ian Carr and John Doyle on guitar, Martin O’Neill on bodhran, and Fiona Johnson and John McCusker on fiddle.

The Trossachs Suite was the first half of the evening in Glasgow. For the second half, singers Karen Matheson and Eddi Reader joined in to offer songs written by Scott, and ones, as Cunningham said, “we think he would have liked, and ones that we like!”

scottland cocnert at celtic connections copyright kerry dexterIt proved a stellar selection and a varied one as well, with Reader starting things off with with Jock O’ Hazeldean, and Matheson continuing with McGregor’s Gathering. The two then joined together for what at first might seem an unexpected choice, Schubert’s setting for the hymn Ave Maria. It was, in fact, Schubert’s reading about the song in Lady of the Lake which inspired the composition, and two of the best voices in Scotland had the audience in cheers and in tears as they ended the piece. Wild Mountainsde, a contemporary piece on homecoming and choices and a Reader favourite, was also on the program, and Matheson brought her Gaelic background with Ailein Duinn. The two singers joined forces for a lively set of Puirt a Buel to conclude the music -- almost.. Things finished off with an encore of all on stage and in the audience joining in singing Loch Lomond.

scottland cocnert at celtic connections copyright kerry dexterYou have to think that Walter Scott would’ve enjoyed the evening.

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you may also wish to see

If you like the idea of books which inspire travel, check out what’s happening over at A Traveler’s Library. We’ve been suggesting music ideas to go along with the Library’s choices for book and film on The Great American Road Trip -- there are still a few states to go -- and you will find books and film ideas for places from Iraq to South Dakota to Normandy, and thought provoking conversations about them, at A Traveler’s Library as well.

Music Road: Music for St Andrew's Day: music of Scotland
Music Road: Eddi Reader, Emily Smith, Robert Burns

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posted by Kerry Dexter at


Anonymous Roxanne said...

The depth of insights and knowledge you have on your chosen topic astounds me. Honestly, I don't know how you keep it all in your head. If it's hard, you make it seem easy ... so congrats on that.

And, while I'm writing a note, let me say you have my BEST, best wishes in the 2011 Bloggies competition.

I was so happy to see you among the Top 5 Finalists in the Best Music Blog category.

I've already voted. I hope others will too.

11:34 AM  
Blogger Anjuli said...

Your blog updates always amaze me. I learn something new each and every time I read what you write.

Vote? Am I too late to do so? I'll follow the link to find out where to vote.

8:36 PM  

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