A Celtic Celebration: Natalie MacMaster and The Vancouver Symphony Orchestra
London Drugs Symphony Pops Series

Venue: Orpheum Theatre Date: 15 February at 20.00

Guest Conductor: Rosemary Thomson Featured Performer: Natalie MacMaster, Fiddle Musicians: Matt McIsaac, Bagpipes ; Brad Davidge, Guitar; John Chaisson, Bass; Allan Dewar, Keyboards; Miche Pouliet, Drums

Reviewer: John Jane

The audience at this sold-out concert at The Orpheum on Saturday evening were treated to a toe-tapping, knee-slapping musical synergism when Natalie MacMaster and her five-piece band, and the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra joined forces to celebrate traditional Celtic music. Ms MacMaster and her cousin Ashley McIsaac are the latest exponents from a long line of brilliant fiddle players from the Isle of Cape Breton.

Guest conductor Rosemary Thomson and the VSO started the evening in appropriate fashion with Aaron Copeland's dance episode "Hoe-Down" from the Rodeo Suite. The auburn-haired Ms Thomson, looked like she might have been just as at ease in MacMaster's band as on the podium. She certainly seemed to enjoy her turn later as back-up singer in the band's ‘honky-tonk’ version of Eric Clapton's classic "Lay Down Sally."

From the moment Natalie MacMaster arrived on stage wearing a black top and tailored charcoal trousers, she held the audience spellbound with her dazzling fiddle playing and flashing feet. Jigs and reels were interspersed with pipe marches, country songs, and jazz standards. The petite Ms MacMaster made full use of stage floor left available in performing every dance from the hornpipe to the moonwalk.

There were many talented musicians on stage during the evening, but at times they seemed almost transparent playing behind MacMaster's band. This really was a pity! Miche Pouliet's drums were especially overbearing. The drum kit was set up mid-stage, screened with a clumsy perspex acoustic barrier. In many of the selections I would have preferred the VSO's percussion section over Pouliet's amped-up drums.

The virtuoso fiddler was generous in sharing centre stage with other musicians. Matt McIsaac, Brad Davidge and John Chaisson all recording artists in their own right offered interesting solo performances. Chaisson was given the opportunity to indulge his own arrangement of "Autumn Leaves," which turned out to be quite pleasant with an obvious influence of Sting in his vocal style. Perhaps the most piquant display of musicianship was from first violinist Akira Nagai, who amused the audience with some musical "morphosis" starting with Vivaldi, then transposing it into a lively reel.

Natalie MacMaster doesn't just play the music. She connects it with the audience. It was impossible to say just how many transplanted Nova Scotians came to The Orpheum on Saturday night to hear one of their own play the music from their roots. There were many of us who for just a couple of hours were happily affiliated with them.

© 2003, John Jane