Celtic Connections review: GRIT Orchestra, Glasgow Royal Concert Hall

The Grit OrchestraThe Grit Orchestra
The Grit Orchestra
For the Opening Night of Celtic Connections 2020, the unstoppable force that is the Grit Orchestra, comprising 85 of Scotland’s most talented players across the classical, folk and jazz realms, returned to the scene of their debut triumph five years ago with their first brand new music – five commissions from six of their members and a new arrangement of an old song by festival director Donald Shaw, each inspired by the 700th anniversary of the Declaration of Arbroath.

Grit Orchestra: The Declaration, Glasgow Royal Concert Hall, Glasgow ****

Cellist Rudi de Groote’s spellbinding Declaration Opening kicked off with fat bassy brass and jazzy percussion before developing into a shimmering nugget of elegant exoticism.

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Fiddler Patsy Reid’s Suppliant Hearts was more in the groove tradition of the orchestra with funky fiddles taking the lead followed by an epic sweep of classical strings through to an ebullient final flourish.

Capercaillie’s Karen Matheson provided the first of the evening’s exquisite vocals on Shaw’s blithely orchestrated version of Oran do Loch Iall, while Chris Stout and Catriona McKay’s anthemic Ve Skerries made majestic use of a male voice choir as Liz Lochhead recited passages from the Declaration.

The contrasting balm of piper Fraser Fifield’s Secret Histories, featuring voiceover from Grit associate David Hayman, provided a moment for reflection, and the visceral exclamation of saxophonist Paul Towndrow’s Declaration Ending brilliantly showcased the diverse traditions of the orchestra. All of which bodes very well for future original compositions from this most exuberant outfit.

The second half was a collection of greatest hits paying orchestral tribute to Martyn Bennett, including the guttural Move, a singalong Nae Regrets, the spine-tingling Blackbird with folk and plainsong intertwined, the impish Aye, a new arrangement of Karrabach, dominated by a middle eastern-inspired bagpiping front, and the hell-for-leather party favourite Chanter. As ever, hard to top. Fiona Shepherd

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