, Newburyport, MA

April 11, 2013

Testing the waters

Scottish fidddler brings new songs to Port concert

By Jim Sullivan

---- — It has been 15 years since Scottish-American fiddler Hanneke Cassel came to Newburyport to play in a duo at Yankee Homecoming. On Saturday night, she will be making her return, this time as a headliner.

“I’m excited,” Cassel says of coming back to the city. “I haven’t played there in a long time, and it is its own community up there. I’m very excited to return.”

The Oregon native, who was named Junior National Scottish Fiddle Champ at the age of 14, came to the Boston area when she attended the Berklee College of Music in the late 1990s. She found she fit right in.

“Out of all the places I’ve traveled in the U.S., Boston has a really strong Irish scene and a really strong Scottish scene and a strong Cape Breton scene,” Cassel said. “They’re really distinct, and they also kind of mix with each other.”

Although she came East to open her musical horizons, it turns out she helped to open Berklee’s, as well, helping to start a strings department and set up fiddle camps in the area.

“When I was there, I was one of the only fiddle players playing Scottish music,” Cassel said. “So, I was playing traditional Scottish music and was in touch with that scene in Boston. But I was also improvising and all this other stuff. So, maybe my sound was sort of a newer thing within the Scottish community. Now, at Berklee, there is this whole department.”

In 1997, Cassel visited Newburyport with friends to play as a busker, or street performer, during the annual fall festival. She felt right at home.

“I loved it,” she said. “I’m from a town in Oregon on the coast, so I love being near the ocean. People just seemed to be having a really good time. And it was one of the first big festivals that I’ve played. I love performing and having an audience that wants to hear me perform. It was really exciting. It was really thrilling.”

Currently touring the West Coast, Cassel will be hitting the studio to record her fifth solo album in May and plans to break out some of those new songs for her Newburyport gig at St. Paul’s Church.

“In the last few months I’ve been playing a lot of the stuff that we’re going to put on the album,” Cassel said. “I’m testing the waters and testing out arrangements. It’s fun to play new material and we certainly hope the crowd likes it.”

Accompanying Cassel will be cellist Mike Block, who was a member of Yo Yo Ma’s Silk Road Project.

“He’s a great player, he plays all kinds of different styles,” Cassel said of Block. “He’s an incredible classical player, but he also plays all kinds of styles of folk music.”

Christopher Lewis will be joining in acoustic guitar.

“I’ve known him since I went to Berklee,” Cassel added. “He has more of a rock background but he plays acoustic. I think because the rhythm is so important, it’s good to have a rocker.”

While Cassel has been bringing Scottish fiddle music into the 21st century, she’s delighted to be playing in the 150-year-old Newburyport landmark.

“We plan to use it in a really distinctive way,” Cassel said. “It’s one of my favorite places to play, these kind of old buildings.”

The concert is presented through the Heptunes Celtic Heritage Series in association with the Newburyport Chamber Music Festival.

IF YOU GO What: Hanneke Cassel with cellist Mike Block and guitarist Christopher Lewis When: Saturday, 8 p.m. Where: St. Paul's Church, 166 High St., Newburyport Tickets: $28. To purchase,