When Alasdair Fraser and Natalie Haas take the stage at First Church of Christ Scientist this Saturday (March 10), it won’t be the first time they’ve entertained a Victoria audience, but it is the first time their Ports of Call has landed on local shores.
Fittingly named for a journey over water, the new album from the string duo will make a few Island stops before dropping anchor in Victoria.
“It’s beautiful and it’s also seen changes over the years,” Fraser says of the capital city. “As a Scot, there’s an affinity with Canada because of a lot of cultural familiarities, which I think is great.”
And if Canada has given Fraser a familiar feel, it’s because the fiddle transcends geographical borders: “There isn’t a culture on this planet that doesn’t celebrate its voice by means of a fiddle or something like it,” he says.
The bowed string instrument has been “an amazing vehicle to explore life through” Fraser says, having used music to experiment and pose important questions about identity and what it means to play traditional music.
“As a Scot, I questioned what it means to play Scottish music,” he explains. “What does it mean for any culture to play their traditional music?”
Though he now calls the Sierra Nevada mountains home, Fraser has travelled, worked and played stages the world over. In Australia, California, Scotland and Spain the “Michael Jordan of Scottish fiddling,” as he’s been called, founded fiddle camps and schools for young string players.
It was in one of those camps where an 11-year-old Natalie Haas showed “a heat and an enthusiasm” that was in sympatico with his own playing style. “She was hungry and joyously capable and inquiring,” he remembers.
Fraser now refers to Haas as the go-to person for avant-garde cello. “She’s making amazing statements, she’s incredibly versatile and has these roots in the tradition but can also use that instrument in ways that people are amazed at.”
Two decades later, their whirlwind life on the road touches back down in Victoria, where they remain dedicated to keeping the tradition alive in a new generation. Coastline, a string ensemble of some of B.C.’s top musicians aged 15 to 21 will open the show, under the direction of internationally acclaimed fiddler Ivonne Hernandez, a Berklee College of Music alum.
“It’s been really great to work with them,” Hernandez says of the duo. “They’re super amazing people and really supportive of youth fiddle players and cello players.”
Here at home, Hernandez says it’s been rewarding to see the resurgence in a different style of music that isn’t always in the media or often played on the radio.
“Because it’s an oral tradition, you want to keep passing it along,” she says, noting that with so much access to the Internet and YouTube, the level of playing has become very high for young musicians.
Putting a modern spin on traditional tunes is the commonality Coastline maintains with Alasdair and Natalie, with whom they’ve been known to join onstage to collaborate on a song or two.
“Traditional music has to evolve,” Fraser explains. “The day it becomes a curated, static thing, then you’ve lost something.”
What the show will capture, however, is a high-energy performance that cuts to the rhythmic heart of Scottish dance music, where its roots lie.
“Music just touches everything,” Fraser says. “It gets into healing and motivation and emotional communication. Gathering people, changing a room, celebrating life. It’s pretty amazing stuff.”
The Victoria Fiddle Society presents Alasdair Fraser and Natalie Haas with special guests, Coastline, at First Church of Christ Scientist, Saturday, March 10 at 7:30 p.m. For more information visit VFS online or call 250-415-3898; tickets will be available at the door.