Fiddling start to a new year: Fiddler's Feast at Strathmore

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Entertainment,Music,Nancy Dunham

Take fiddles and a cello, occasionally sprinkle in other instruments including piano and banjo, and you have the makings for A Fiddler's Feast, a one-of-a-kind musical celebration.

A concert that showcases the fiddle in American roots, Scottish, Celtic, Cajun, Appalachian and traditional music, is the brainchild of five internationally known string artists: Alasdair Fraser, Natalie Haas, Dirk Powell, Jay Ungar and Molly Mason. Although the concert will, of course, revolve around fiddle music, banjo, guitar, cello and other instrumentation will play key roles in the set.

Onstage
A Fiddler's Feast
When: 8 p.m. Friday
Where: The Music Center at Strathmore, 5301 Tuckerman Lane, North Bethesda
Info: $18 to $42; 301-581-5100; strathmore.org

"The idea is to shine the light on the fiddle itself," said Fraser, who is consistently regarded as one of Scotland's premier fiddlers. "We have never toured before and likely never will again. This is a rare celebration."

The idea came about as a way to celebrate the new year with songs as only can be played on the fiddle, he said. Although Fraser was mum about most specifics in the set, he did expect that tunes would span from the earliest traditional songs to the musicians' original material.

In a way, fiddlers and fiddle fans might want to consider this concert, part of Strathmore's series Storied Strings: The Violin in America, a graduate course in fiddle playing and appreciation. The repertoire will include all the musicians playing together as well as various solo turns. What's arguably most exciting is the players' mixing and matching of formats.

Consider Fraser, who teamed with cellist Haas more than a decade ago. Together, the duo returned the cello to the rhythmic heart of Scottish dance music recording together and tour together, often playing at high-profile events including the Smithsonian Folklife Festival.

The music of duo Ungar and Mason is likely familiar to fans of Ken Burns' "The Civil War" on PBS. Ungar's composition "Ashokan Farewell" was a musical centerpiece of that production. Together Ungar and Mason, also well-known from "A Prairie Home Companion," draw from a wide range of American music, from 19th-century classics to Appalachian, Cajun and Celtic fiddle tunes and more contemporary country and swing songs plus their own compositions.

Powell, who comes from a deeply rooted Appalachian musical heritage, has recorded and performed with such iconic contemporary singers and musicians as Loretta Lynn, Sting, Jack White, Levon Helm, Jewel, T-Bone Burnett, Ralph Stanley and Linda Ronstadt. Powell and his wife, Christine Balfa, founded the Cajun group Balfa Toujours, and he is artistic director of the Festival of American Fiddle Tunes.

"We do what we do individually and then come together on common ground," said Powell. "[The music sparks] great conversation, with great styles and a great celebration. We're beginning the new year with another feast."

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