Published: 25/01/2013 14:30 - Updated: 24/01/2013 14:36

Duncan's dream come true

Duncan Chisholm's Kelvingrove concert marks the fulfilment of a six year dream.
Duncan Chisholm's Kelvingrove concert marks the fulfilment of a six year dream.

DUNCAN Chisholm made a little bit of Scottish musical history back in January 1992.

That was the year Glasgow took the bold step of staging a music festival in January, and the first act to be heard at the new Celtic Connections Festival was the Kirkhill fiddler’s band Wolfstone.

"(Festival director) Donald Shaw assures me that I was the very first person on stage at the first Celtic Connections. I wish I could remember, it’s that long ago!" Chisholm laughed.

20 years on, Celtic Connections is one of the world’s leading folk and roots festivals, yet back in 1992, such success was far from guaranteed,

"When it was first talked about, people didn’t think it would work because it was after the festive season and who wants to go to a festival in Glasgow in January? How wrong could they be — it’s become probably the foremost Celtic or folk festival in the world," Chisholm said.

The festival has also become known for its special commissions and opportunities for musicians to do something a little bit different.

So 20 years after he opened the festival, it seems only fair that Chisholm should be one of these.

Tomorrow will be enlisting a 20 strong orchestra and his own team of picked musicians to play music from his acclaimed solo albums "Farrar", "Canaich" and "Affric" — the "Strathglass" trilogy — at the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum.

"Celtic Connections is a hotbed for new music and exciting collaborations and every year it gives huge opportunities to people like myself to bring new ideas to fruition," Chisholm said.

"When I approached Donald about this, he was absolutely on board and said we must do it. We’re in the main concourse at the Kelvingrove and it’s just such a beautiful venue to be playing in. It has a capacity of 600, so it’s a big stage and a big venue, but not one that has been overly used for music.

"To my mind that makes it more of an event than just a concert."

The idea of using orchestral backing dates back to the very beginning of the "Strathglass" trilogy, Chisholm revealed.

"I’d always aspired to play my music with an orchestral arrangement. As the years have gone by, that aspiration turned from having an orchestral arrangement to taking the music and giving it a wide cinematic flavour without losing the heart and soul of the music," he said.

"It’s absolutely a dream come true, the culmination of the six years I’ve been working on the ‘Strathglass’ trilogy."

To achieve that effect, Chisholm will be playing with a core band of six experienced collaborators in Matheu Watson, Allan Henderson, Jarlath Henderson, Ross Hamilton and Martin O’Neill, along with brass and strings arranged by Stephen Adam of Scottish Opera.

The concert is not just an appropriate choice for Celtic Connections in 2013 because it marks the festival’s 20th anniversary. 2013 has been designated the Year of Natural Scotland and the "Strathglass" trilogy is very much inspired by the natural environment of the Highlands.

"The ethos behind the year is to encourage people to get out and enjoy natural Scotland and I would take great satisfaction if my music serves as a catalyst for that. I have gained so much inspiration from that landscape," Chisholm said.

Which is why Chisholm hopes that the Glasgow concert will be followed by a repeat performance in the Highlands.

"It’s logistically challenging, but I would love to perform this in the Highlands," he said.

"That’s something we’ve been working towards and it would be great if we can."

The Kelvingrove Museum concert will not be the only chance to hear Chisholm play at Celtic Connections this year.

The following evening he will be guesting with singer Maggie Reilly and then on Monday he will be part of the tribute concert commemorating Dundee singer-songwriter Michael Marra.

However, he also has an interest in the BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards which will be announced at the Glasgow Royal Concert Hall on Wednesday 30th January, where he is nominated as Best Musician and for Best Traditional Track ("Unknown Air" from "Affric") having recently been awarded Instrumentalist of The Year title at the MG Alba Scots Trad Awards.

• Duncan Chisholm’s "Strathglass Suite" is at the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, Glasgow, on Saturday 26th January at 8pm.

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