Aallotar review: collaboration, commitment, courage

Finnish-American chamber folk duo blends classical influences and traditional dance music to create original compositions


At Aallotar’s July 29 concert at the beautifully austere Nordia House, the Finland/Minnesota duo played with an intensely graceful stage presence against a lovely backdrop, through plate glass windows, of the Nordic culture center’s patio garden. There and at the band’s next show at Cottage Grove’s Axe and Fiddle, the reception was positive and enthusiastic, the performances quite relaxed, with atmospheric arrangements and earthbound tempos.


Yet even though many in the Nordia House audience appeared to be veteran Scandinavian dance music fans, Aallotar didn’t really play traditional dance music. Granted, the roots of Aallotar’s music lie with pelimanni, the Finnish version of traditional Nordic dance music. Think of the music your Lutheran grand-relatives danced schottisches, polkas, mazurkas, and hambos to.

But with Aallotar, the dance forms are transformed, expanded, and updated (although, on both nights, they indulged their audiences by slipping into a straight-up polska or two). More familiar with the up-tempo, rollicking dance tunes of popular Finnish pelimanni folk bands such as Frigg, JPP, and the more obscure Pinnin Pojat, I was challenged by the pair’s interpretations. Throughout the concerts, enchanted by clear, precise vocal technique and intelligent arrangements, I wondered, “How did these women arrive at this music?”