The Scotsman Sessions #249: Sarah-Jane Summers & Juhani Silvola

Welcome to the award-winning Scotsman Sessions. With performing arts activity curtailed for the foreseeable future, we are commissioning a series of short video performances from artists all around the country and releasing them on, with introductions from our critics. Here, Sarah-Jane Summers & Juhani Silvola perform the ancient Gaelic ballad, Dàn Fhraoich

The limpid tones of Norwegian-based Highland fiddler Sarah-Jane Summers sound the tune of an ancient Gaelic heroic ballad, Dàn Fhraoich, over piano accompaniment from her Finnish husband, Juhani Silvola. Between them they seem to make time stand still on their Scotsman Session, improvising on an air so old it may have been chanted before it was ever sung or played.

Better known as a guitarist and composer of electro-acoustic music, Silvola hadn’t previously used piano in their musical partnership: “It had never even crossed our minds that he might play it in a duo setting so it was quite a surprise when he sat down and it just flowed out of him,” says Summers from their home on the Nesodden peninsula, 25-minutes’ ferry trip from Oslo, an area popular with musicians and other artists.

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Summers initially planned to visit Norway for two years to study the country’s distinctive Hardanger fiddle tradition. That was more than a decade ago but, as Dàn Fraoich and other Gaelic tunes from their recent album, The Smoky Smirr o’ Rain, suggest, she hasn’t left behind her love of Highland music: “That’s absolutely my first musical language and always will be.”

She also nurses a certain predisposition towards her native weather – her 2017 solo album, Virr, featured improvisations inspired by Scots weather terms derived from Old Norse, while that wonderfully alliterative Smoky Smirr o’ Rain is titled from a highly evocative poem by George Campbell Hay.

There’s a happy cultural convergence there, as Summers points out. As well as English, Scots and Gaelic, Hay also wrote in Norwegian, so when she and Silvola were looking for an album title, “it felt kind of natural that we should use one from someone who had written in Norwegian as well as Scots and Gaelic, which sort of reflected my life.”

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