In the 20 years since the annual January Celtic Connections festival in Glasgow launched, Highland piping has generally been in the background, especially when compared with its August counterpart in Piping Live! But this year’s Celtic Connection program, when one takes a closer look, has a surprising amount of both solo and ensemble performances that feature Scotland’s national instrument.
The festival will even kick off with Highland pipers Lorne MacDougall and Steven Blake welcoming guests at the opening night show on Thursday, January 16th, at the Glasgow Royal Concert Hall.
No fewer than 14 events will feature Highland piping, either as the main attraction or combined with other musicians, but the three primary events for those
pipers and drummers looking for more familiar fare will certainly be the annual Piping Concert, this year featuring the National Youth Pipe Band of Scotland, supported by Highland pipers Angus MacColl and Ross Ainslie, with Calum MacCrimmon’s “Boraraig” on January 25th, also at the Glasgow Royal Concert Hall; the Gordon Duncan Memorial Recital featuring Ali Hutton, Emmett Conway and Sylvain Hamon, January 26th at the National Piping Centre; and a show with the aforementioned Lorne MacDougall also on January 26th at the Mitchell Library.
Other Celtic Connections acts that feature Highland piping include the Olllam and Ross Ainslie (Jan. 18), Skipinnish (January 24), Salsa Celtica and RURA (Jan. 24), and “The Cauld Wind Blaws Big” featuring Finlay MacDonald.
When asked if Celtic Connections had been impacted at all by Piping Live!, spokesperson Hannah Matheson of Glasgow Life, which helps to coordinate the event, said, “I don’t think so; Piping Live! is a hugely successful festival in its own right.”
While Piping Live! has a ready-made international audience as a result of the influx of pipers and drummers to the World Pipe Band Championships, Celtic Connections stands up on its own as an 18-day event that takes over much of Glasgow City Centre.
The well-known Canadian piper and composer Michael Grey has made the journey to Celtic Connections for several years. “I don’t go to Celtic Connections for the piping,” he said. “I have enough of that throughout the rest of the year. Celtic Connections is about catching some good tunes and, if I’m lucky, get inspired by music played a good distance from any competition platform. In many ways Glasgow in January – or Scotland in January – beats August: the light is low, the tourists are few and the watercolours by J.M.W. Turner are hanging in Edinburgh’s National Gallery.”
Celtic Connections begins on Thursday, January 16th, and runs until Sunday, February 2nd.