Scottish fiddle great Alasdair Fraser leads the San Francisco Scottish Fiddlers in a celebration of traditional music from Scotland and beyond in a series of three high-energy, exciting concerts in the Bay Area and Carmel. One hundred-plus players on stage give full orchestral life to the irresistibly melodic and rhythmic dance tunes, marches, and slow airs of the Highlands. The repertoire features age-old works and newly written ones, all rooted in the traditions not only of Scotland but also Cape Breton, France, Spain, and Scandinavia. It’s a fun and mighty musical experience that has audiences dancing in their seats (and possibly in the aisles).
Alasdair Fraser is one of the greatest exemplars of the Scottish fiddle music tradition, whose warmly expressive playing, mastery of his instrument, and deep understanding of the genre has inspired generations of musicians on both sides of the Atlantic.
Born in Clackmannan in 1955, Alasdair began taking classical violin lessons at the age of eight, enduring much teasing from schoolmates at a time when carrying a fiddle case around was considered far from cool. Driven by the love of the instrument and the tunes he heard at home, he persevered, and the musical journey was underway.
In his teens, Alasdair played with dance bands and began gathering the compositions of great fiddling forebears including Niel and Nathaniel Gow, William Marshall, and James Scott Skinner. He went on to win – twice – the Scottish National Fiddle Championship and continued playing even as his studies led to work as a petrophysicist with British Petroleum, which took him to California in 1981.
A few years later, Alasdair realized that he was in the wrong job and went on to follow his passion for music. The journey led him to teaching as well as performing. He is the founder and director of the Valley of the Moon fiddle camp, fiddle courses on the Isle of Skye and in Spain, and Sierra Fiddle Camp, near his home in California.
Alasdair’s musical partnerships include duos with pianist Paul Machlis and guitarist Tony McManus, and his acclaimed band Skyedance. He has also guested with The Chieftains, The Waterboys, Itzhak Perlman, and the Los Angeles Master Chorale, and appeared on innumerable television broadcasts. He and his fiddle have also been featured in numerous movie and television productions, from Ken Burns documentaries to Titanic, The Last of the Mohicans, and Treasure Planet.
Since 2003 Alasdair has partnered with cellist Natalie Haas, restoring to contemporary prominence “the wee fiddle and big fiddle” partnership that flourished in 18th-century Scotland. Their debut album, Fire and Grace, was voted Album of the Year at the Scots Trad Music Awards 2004.
The San Francisco Scottish Fiddlers formed in 1986 around a nucleus of musicians passionate to learn the joyous and moving traditional music of Scotland and now has a membership numbering more than 200. It is a decisively inclusive group with members who play not only fiddle but cello, bass, guitar, percussion, and piano–and the occasional flute, harmonica, and, in one case, the musical saw.
A core group of members has remained from the beginning, while new players, often in their teens or younger, join every year. The “fiddle club,” as longtime members call it, offers instrumentalists of all levels and every age to play with and learn from each other. A significant number of young players have gone on to study at Juilliard, Berklee, and other renowned music conservatories, and have established themselves in professional careers. But they always consider the Fiddlers to be their musical family.
The San Francisco Scottish Fiddlers meet monthly to play their favorite tunes and learn new ones. Their repertoire over the years has expanded to include the music of Brittany, Galicia, Scandinavia, and America while remaining firmly anchored in the Scottish fiddle forms of dance, pipe tunes, and song.
The highlight of the Fiddlers’ year comes each spring when, under Alasdair Fraser’s direction, the group rehearses for and presents a three-concert series in the greater Bay Area.
Friday, May 19, 8 pm
Freight & Salvage
2020 Addison St. Berkeley 94704
Tickets, $24-$28: thefreight.org
Saturday, May 20, 7 pm
Spangenberg Theater in Palo Alto
780 Arastradero Road Palo Alto CA 94306
Tickets $25-$28: https://www.brownpapertickets.com/browse.html
Sunday, May 21, 3 pm
Carmel Center for the Performing Arts at Carmel High School
3600 Ocean Ave Carmel-By-The-Sea CA 93923
Tickets $27-$32: https://www.brownpapertickets.com/browse.html