As our readers may remember, in the Homegrown Plus series, we present Homegrown concerts that also had accompanying oral history interviews, placing both together in an easy-to-find blog post. (Find the whole series here!) We’re continuing the series with the duo of Alasdair Fraser and Natalie Haas, who perform their own unusual arrangements of traditional and original Scottish and American folk music on fiddle and cello.
For our Homegrown 2020 series, we adjusted to the COVID-19 pandemic by eliminating live concerts in our beloved Jefferson Building, and instead asking the artists to produce concert videos. Alasdair and Natalie were unusual in that they were maintaining social distance from each other, and don’t even live close enough together to visit so they could play outdoors and 10 feet apart. But they still wanted to give us music from their exciting and award-winning duo. They settled on performing some music solo and some using studio technology to join up separate performances, but creating most of it from never-before-released concert footage from their archive of pre-pandemic performances.
To fill you in on who they are, Alasdair Fraser has a concert and recording career spanning over 30 years, with a long list of awards, accolades, radio and television credits, and feature performances on top movie soundtracks, including Last of the Mohicans and Titanic. In 2011, he was inducted into the Scottish Traditional Music Hall of Fame. Natalie Haas, a graduate of the Juilliard School of Music, is one of the most sought after cellists in traditional music today, and has performed and recorded with Mark O’Connor, Natalie MacMaster, Irish supergroups Solas and Altan, Liz Carroll, Dirk Powell, Brittany Haas, Darol Anger, Laura Cortese, and many more.
Together, the duo of Fraser & Haas has helped reconstruct and revive a longstanding Scottish tradition of playing dance music on violin and cello. They incorporate driving rhythms and improvisation into their interpretation of Scottish melodies. They have toured together internationally for over 20 years, to great acclaim at festivals and concerts worldwide. They have released six critically acclaimed and award winning albums. Though they were physically separated at the time of their concert, they played together through the magic of technology. See the concert in the player below!
In the oral history interview, I began talking to Alasdair Fraser about his upbringing in Clackmannan, Scotland, his early musical experiences, and his participation in (and observation of) the Scottish folk revival going on around him. We talked about his decision to move to the U.S. to work as a geologist in the oil industry, some of his previous musical work with pianist Paul Machlis and multi-instrumentalist Jody Stecher, and his founding of the duo with Natalie. Natalie and I discussed her very different musical experiences, including her training as a classical cellist, her exposure to folk music, and the unusual challenges, but also freedoms, of being a cellist in folk music. We also discussed the history and evolution of the Fraser-Haas duo, the vision behind their playing, and the recording of their album Syzygy. See our conversation in the player below.
Thanks for watching, listening, and reading! The American Folklife Center’s Homegrown Concert Series brings music, dance, and spoken arts from across the country, and some from further afield, to the Library of Congress. For information on current concerts, visit the Folklife Concerts page at Concerts from the Library of Congress. For past concerts, including links to webcasts and other information, visit the Homegrown Concerts Online Archive.