IT’S a shining light in the dark days of winter, a celebration of music to warm the heart and bringing together performers from across the globe.

Last night the line-up for Celtic Connections 2020 was unveiled, and it does not disappoint.

From January 16 to February 2, musicians from across the world will take part in more than 300 events in venues throughout Glasgow for the UK’s premier celebration of Celtic music.

The 18 days of entertainment will brighten up the dreich nights with a mixture of concerts that include a host of one-off musical collaborations alongside talks, workshops, film screenings, theatre productions, ceilidhs, exhibitions, free events and late-night sessions.

Celtic Connections 2020 will be the 27th incarnation of a festival that began in 1994, when it offered 66 events at one venue. Since then it’s grown more adventurous, experimental and diverse each year and now offers thousands of events in locations across Glasgow.

Europe’s largest winter music festival will strike a rousing note when it opens with the world premiere of a new orchestral symphony inspired by the Declaration of Arbroath. Composed of six brand new pieces by leading Scottish composers, it was commissioned for Celtic Connections 2020 with backing from the Scottish Government’s Festival Expo Fund to mark next year’s 700th anniversary of the 1320 declaration of Scottish independence.

The Arbroath document famously states that “it is in truth not for glory, nor riches, nor honours that we are fighting, but for freedom”. True to that libertarian spirit, each composer was given artistic licence to respond to the declaration in their own way. All six pieces will be performed at the opening concert of Celtic Connections 2020 by the Grit Orchestra, a now-legendary ensemble of 80 folk, jazz and classical musicians led by conductor/arranger Greg Lawson.

The Grit Orchestra was founded to continue the legacy of the late Scots-Canadian musician Martyn Bennett, who pioneered a genre-defying fusion of Scottish and international folk edged with techno dance beats.

“That cross-cultural, interdisciplinary spirit is at the heart of Celtic Connections,” says Celtic Connections creative producer Donald Shaw. “Celtic Connections has always valued cultural ‘connections’, as well as ‘Celtic’ influences, and at this time of UK and global turmoil, it has never been more important to create work with an outward-looking approach. This year’s line-up is rich in cross-cultural collaboration and international, as well as local, talent and the Declaration composition epitomises that.

“By enabling Grit Orchestra musicians to create these brand-new pieces, the Expo funding is allowing Celtic Connections to nurture talented composers and create original and enduring Scottish music of an international calibre rooted in our own folk tradition.”

Lawson said the new work would interpret the concept of freedom expressed in the declaration within a modern context. “To be really free we need to be equal, we need to be diverse, we need to be open, we need to care. You could say we are taking the declaration and turning it into an appeal: for tolerance, diversity, openness, respect. That’s what freedom actually means.”

The six commissioned Grit Orchestra composers, who will each frame their own response to the notion of freedom, represent a wide range of musical genres and disciplines.

Commissioned composers include Fraser Fifield, a pioneer of the Scottish jazz-folk scene, alongside Scotland-based South-African-born cellist Rudi de Groote. Clarsach composer Catriona McKay, saxophonist Paul Towndrow and fiddlers Patsy Reid and Chris Stout complete the sextet.

This year’s programme promises an array of traditional folk, roots, Americana, jazz, soul and world music.

A Celebration of Women in Piping will be a cross-cultural first that will showcase female stars of this most Scottish of instruments. Those pipers include Louise Mulcahy, Alana MacInnes, Síle Friel, Máire Ní Ghráda, Marion McCarthy, Enora Morice and Robyn Ada McKay.

For the Auld Lang Syne Burns celebration on January 23, the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra will share the main stage in the Glasgow Royal Concert Hall with Eddi Reader, Karen Matheson, Jarlath Henderson and Shona Donaldson.

From Celtic Connections home turf come major shows for Salsa Celtica, Blazin’ Fiddles, Mànran, Lau, Rura, Kinnaris, RANT, Hamish Napier, Sarah-Jane Summers and many others, who together will weave a unique tapestry of Scotland’s music.

The National: Mànran will be among the hundreds of performers next yearMànran will be among the hundreds of performers next year

As always, Americana will feature large, with Iris De Ment, Sturgill Simpson, Anais Mitchell, The Lone Bellow, Frazey Ford, Della Mae and The Felice Brothers all headlining.

A quarter of a century on since the original Transatlantic Sessions programme was aired, the firm festival favourite returns with an all-star line-up. Australian-American Guitar virtuoso and singer-songwriter Tommy Emmanuel will take to the Transatlantic stage alongside Tennessee native and former child prodigy Sierra Hull. Also representing stateside is singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentals Cahalen Morrison. Dervish lead vocalist Cathy Jordan will represent the Irish contingent while Scottish singer-songwriter Rachel Sermanni will also join the line-up.

Meanwhile, the spirit of Bruce Springsteen will pervade the Glasgow Royal Concert Hall on January 26, as the ever-popular Roaming Roots Revue returns for the eighth time, this year presenting Born To Run – a celebratory 70th-birthday tribute to The Boss.

THE Big Fling: Dance Band Extravaganza will feature Tom Orr’s Mega Ceilidh Dance Band, Marie Fielding, Robert Black Scottish Dance Band, Gary Innes Highland Dance Band, Manus McGuire’s Copperplate Sessions and Ellie McLaren and Callum Cruickshank

Many international stars began their careers at Celtic Connections, as the festival continues to showcase up and coming and emerging artists.

Multi-award-winning Scottish folk band Breabach won the Danny Kyle Open Stage event for new talent in 2005, and this January they’ll command prime billing in the Glasgow Royal Concert Hall’s main auditorium, along with Seamus Egan Project.

The festival will also celebrate 20 years since the inaugural Young Scottish Traditional Musician Award in Glasgow Royal Concert Hall. The now titled BBC Radio Scotland Young Traditional Musician of the Year will celebrate this special birthday with a concert showcasing a plethora of talent in the form of its 19 winners who all hold their own in today’s Scottish trad music scene. The festival will then end on a youthful flourish on Sunday, February 2, with the 20th final of the BBC Radio Scotland Young Traditional Musician of The Year Award broadcast live from Glasgow City Halls.

Celtic Connections is all about collaboration, and the 2020 event promises an exhilarating link-up between Quebecois folk sensation Le Vent Du Nord and the Celtic Blues Orchestra.

There will also be Scandinavian flavour to this year’s festival. Each year since 2000, Celtic Connections has partnered with a different country to create new international links and advance opportunities for their musicians. For 2020, that international partner will be Finland, and in Glasgow this winter, both leading and emerging Finnish artists will feature in association with Music Finland.

Expanding those international connections still further, the 2020 line-up, meanwhile, positively fizzes with global stars, with headline acts including Malian singer-songwriter Fatoumata Diawara, Simon Thacker’s Svara-Kanti with Afsana Khan, Portuguese Fado singer Ana Moura, British Indian musician Nitin Sawhney and Les Amazones d’Afrique.

In 2020, Scotland celebrates its coasts and waters with a year-long programme of events and activities which will shine a spotlight on these vital elements of our landscape. Celtic Connections will put on a special coastal-themed event at the Glasgow Royal Concert Hall on January 18, funded through EventScotland’s International Programme supporting Scotland’s Year of Coasts and Waters 2020. More information on this special event will be released in the coming weeks.

Alan Morrison, head of music at Creative Scotland, said: “Whether it’s the 700th anniversary of the Declaration of Arbroath or the 70th birthday of Bruce Springsteen, Celtic Connections has upped its scale for a rousing 2020 edition. The very best of Scotland’s traditional music sits at the beating heart of a truly international festival that welcomes, collaborates and connects with cultures from all over the world.

“It’s particularly encouraging to see Scotland’s female pipers take centre stage and to hear the talent of the future make their mark on the Danny Kyle Open Stage. Yet again, Celtic Connections is the musical ray of sunshine that lights up the winter months.”

CULTURE Secretary Fiona Hyslop said: “The focus this year on cross-cultural collaboration is perfect for Scotland, an open-hearted, creative nation that warmly receives people from all backgrounds.”

To add to the mix and encourage the next generation of trad fans, more than 11,000 children across Scotland will take part in the Celtic Connections Education Programme through five free morning concerts and school workshops led by leading musicians.

The award-winning Education Programme is now in its 22nd year and has reached more than 200,000 children across the country since it began in 1999. This programme is supported directly by the festival’s Celtic Rover patron’s scheme, the membership programme during the festival that offers discounted rates on bookings and exclusive experiences during the festival.

And to add to the opportunities for inclusion for all, the ever-popular programme of public workshops will once again give people of all ages and abilities the chance during the festival to learn new musical skills.

As the nights draw in, Celtic Connections 2020 offers a glowing programme to which everyone can warm.

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