Monday, April 11, 2011

A Celtic Celebration or Cape Breton Ceilidh

Cape Breton Island (
My TSO week rounded out with a Pops concert on April 5 featuring guest conductor John Morris Russell (JMR for short, and newly named conductor of the Cincinnati Pops) and guest artists the Barra MacNeils!  When first announced it was titled A Celtic Celebration, which somehow in the weeks leading up to the performance was renamed to Cape Breton Ceilidh.  Maybe they were hoping to capture more interest and sell more seats, since there were lots empty on Tuesday evening.  I always find it disappointing to look around the hall and see sections with only half a dozen people (the right Parterre for example).  The TSO is a phenomenal group, and true Pops concerts draw a different crowd, but that crowd is suppose to just be different not fewer.  Hopefully the Wed. performance produced closer to a full house.

The set up for the orchestra was different.  There was a piano between the violins and the conductor and a fewer number of strings in general.  This made for salutes from JMR towards concertmaster Mark Skazinetsky in recognition of the orchestra rather than the traditional handshake.  I had trouble getting into this concert.  The opening "Fantasy on Scottish Melodies" didn't have enough lively melodies to get me instantly engaged.  It was well played but didn't radiate energy to me via the music.  JMR was a bundle of energy throughout the evening and it got better at the end of the first half.

Two of the Barra MacNeils added their vocals to the more upbeat "An Irish Party in 3rd Class" from Titanic.  The classic "Londonderry Air" or with a twist of French as JMR's son apparently calls it "London Derriere" (also commonly known as "O Danny Boy") was played beautifully, but is another slow, soothing piece.  Maybe to try and inject some life into the audience (or maybe just me), the "Irish Medley Sing Along" featuring "MacNamara's Band", "My Wild Irish Rose", "Sweet Rosie O'Grady", "Harrigan", and "When Irish Eyes are Smiling", came next.  The singing wasn't very audible from my seat.  Maybe the other attendees were like me and didn't know most of the tunes, or had forgotten them since St. Patrick's Day.  One does wonder if this concert could have been programmed a bit closer to that day to cash in a bit more on the theme.  The highlight for me in the medley was "The Irish Washerwoman" instrumental.  JMR descended the podium, danced a wild jig that made me worry for his balance, and this theme and energy got me involved.

A re-orchestrated version of "Simple Gifts: A Celtic Dance" making it's world premiere, followed and featured the Gilchrist Canavan Irish Dancers.  Made famous by Michael Flatley and Lord of the Dance this was a good closing to the shorter than normal first half.

The second half featured the Barra MacNeils.  There is no doubt they are a very talented family covering  the piano, fiddle, accordion, guitar, flute, some sort of small bagpipe type thing, percussion, and throwing in vocals and even step dancing for good measure!  Again it seemed to take a while for the audience to be drawn in.  The first attempts at having them clap along fizzled shortly after it started.  Maybe it was the laid back Cape Breton personality and introductions to pieces that weren't terribly engaging that took a while for the audience to connect with.  Although the the one that involved one of the brothers practicing his Gaelic and having someone reply in kind was entertaining.  Highlights of their set for me were "Longest Day" written by one of the MacNeils about the summer solstice, "Caledonia" beautifully sung by Lucy, "Puirt-a-beul" (aka: Mouth Music) and the final "Step Dance Medley" where 4 of the siblings got in on the dancing action along with a reprise by the Irish Dancers.  Even JMR was featured in that piece, playing the spoons :)  By the end they had the audience, and me, with them.

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