Published December 6, 2007
The 2007 gala 15th anniversary Atlanta Celtic Christmas Concert will feature the talents of three Grammy Award-winners including Irish sean-nós singer Moya Brennan, virtuoso Celtic banjoist Alison Brown and the composer of Riverdance, Bill Whelan. Back by popular demand from last year’s concert, these and the regular line-up of top regional performers promise to provide what the Atlanta Journal Constitution describes as “a rollicking yet reverent time.”
Performances are Saturday, Dec. 15, at 8 p.m. and Sunday, Dec. 16, at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. at the Schwartz Center for the Performing Arts.
Tickets are $25; $20 for faculty, staff and discount category members; and $10 for all students and children.
Moya Brennan, known as “the voice of Clannad,” is one of Ireland’s best-known and accomplished singers. A native Irish speaker from Donegal, she comes from a family of traditional musicians. Her family group, Clannad, is recognized as one of the most distinctive and innovative groups in the field of Irish music, and their artistry has graced film soundtracks, television serials, recordings and the concert stages of the world. Brennan’s latest project, a recording titled “An Irish Christmas,” brings her to Atlanta with a range of ancient and modern Christmas classics. As in last year’s Celtic Christmas Concert, she will be joined by Irish harper Cormac De Barra, guitarist Fionan De Barra and fiddler Sinead Madden.
The Alison Brown Trio has won acclaim at previous Celtic Christmas Concerts for their stunning versatility and musicianship. Brown is one of the most respected five-stringed banjo players in the world, noted for her jazz and bluegrass inflected Celtic compositions, including “The Wonderful Voyage of St. Brendan,” which will again be interpreted by the Lisa Cregan O’Brien School of Irish Dance. Returning with Brown are her husband, Garry West, on bass and bluegrass fiddler and mandolin player Joe Craven, both of Atlanta.
Bill Whelan is the third Grammy Award-winner whose work will be featured in the concert with “Quis Est Deus?/Who is God?” A choral piece with soprano soloist, the work is based on a seventh-century Irish poem in which a fairy questions St. Patrick about the nature of the Christian god he is bringing to Ireland. One of the signature pieces of the concert, the poem reflects a fundamental theme of Celtic spirituality, namely that, in the words of best-selling author Thomas Cahill, “it was relatively easy for St. Patrick to convert the Irish to Christianity because, through their Druidic nature beliefs, they already understood that the world was holy—all the world not just parts.” This and four other choral pieces in the show, ranging from “Maria Matrem,” a 14th-century Irish motet, to “Light of the Stable,” a rocking contemporary interpretation of an Appalachian Gospel hymn, will be performed by the 20-voice Emory Celtic Chorus.
Other longtime Celtic Christmas favorites who will be returning are the Buddy O’Reilly Band, Celtic harper Kelly Stewart, the Gospel harmonies of the Rosin Sisters, and Irish balladeer and guitarist John Doyle. The fresh and vibrant interpretations of Southern Gospel songs, blues, spirituals, old-time favorites and Celtic ballads by Risin’ Appalachia and the Elders have, in the words of one audience member, helped to make the concert “an evening of non-stop wonderful performances of pure joy.”
Colorfully costumed Irish and Scottish dancers ranging in age from winsome 6-year-olds to accomplished professionals, Scottish pipers and masked performers from the Emory Dance Company add to the theatrically festive mix.
Also featured in the show is the internationally known Irish tenor, storyteller and producer James Flannery. Flannery, Winship Professor of the Arts and Humanities at Emory University, is a noted Yeats scholar who in 2002 was given a Governor’s Honor Award in the Humanities for his work promoting the cultural connections between the Celtic lands and the American South. For Flannery, the principal appeal of the concert to people of all ages and religious affiliations lies in the way it expresses the quest for spiritual renewal at the heart of the Christmas season.
“People tell us that they return to the Atlanta Celtic Christmas Concert year after year because they find there a sense of community missing in the more hectic commercialized activity of the holiday season,” said Flannery.
According to Flannery, “The communal feeling of the concert is captured most directly in the toe-tapping jigs and reels, the wild swirl of the pipers coming down the aisles of the Schwartz Center, and the flying feet of the Irish, Scottish and Southern clog dancers who get everybody’s blood beating.”
Flannery added, “After all these years, the people in the cast have begun to think of themselves as a kind of family gathered to share the blessings of the Christmas season with their guests. For those of us on stage as well as in the audience, the concert is both a reflection and a celebration. No one has expressed this better than a neighbor of mine who sent a lovely note after attending the concert a couple of years ago: ‘The musicians, the spoken word, the informality, the audience participation, the spirit and the overall thematic idea that God is everywhere—in all of us and in everything we do—created a wonderful evening’s entertainment.’ The fact that my neighbor is Jewish made his comment all the more meaningful.”
Tickets for Emory’s Celtic Christmas Concert are available at the Arts at Emory box office. For more information, call (404) 727-5050 or visit www.arts.emory.edu.