February 27, 2019
Celtic Sojourn maestro Brian O’Donovan on the job. WGBH photo
Ireland’s Friel Sisters, Cape Breton/Scottish fiddle-piano duo Katie McNally and Neil Pearlman, and Quebecois mainstays Yann Falquet and Pascal Gemme, along with New England guitarist-vocalist Keith Murphy, are the featured acts at this year’s 12th annual St. Patrick’s Day Celtic Sojourn.
Also joining this year’s cast will be a quartet of dancers from the Liam Harney Academy of Irish Dance in Walpole.
The show, created and hosted by WGBH radio host Brian O’Donovan, will take place on March 16 at 3 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. in Cambridge’s Sanders Theatre, and on March 17 at 3 p.m. in the Cabot Theatre in Beverly.
The Friel Sisters – Anna (flute), Sheila (uilleann pipes), and Clare (fiddle) – are traditional musicians born in Glasgow but with family roots firmly entrenched in the Donegal Gaeltacht. Their unison singing style, song repertoire, and instrumental playing are all for the most part redolent of Donegal or elsewhere in Ulster, embracing tradition even while interpolating their own impressions and ideas – some from within their family, some inspired by the likes of Planxty and The Bothy Band. The sisters have toured extensively, appearing with acts such as Altan, The Chieftains, Lúnasa, Sharon Shannon, The Máirtín O’Connor Trio, and Cherish the Ladies, and their two albums – the second of which, “Before the Sun,” released last year – have drawn critical acclaim.
Boston-area native McNally has emerged as one of the newest bright lights in Cape Breton/Scottish-style fiddling. She’s performed in the all-fiddle ensemble Childsplay and as a member of the quartet Long Time Courting, and is part of the recently formed Fársan. In recent years, McNally has teamed with Pearlman, a cross-genre pianist with a firm grasp of jazz, world, and other musical styles and influences. Pearlman – who also plays with McNally in Fársan – is co-founder of the bands Soulsha and Alba’s Edge, which blends Celtic music with African, Caribbean, Latin, and other sounds.
Falquet and Gemme are two-thirds of the popular Quebecois trio Genticorum, but their experience as a duo goes back some two decades. Falquet, who studied jazz in college, draws on guitar accompaniment from a variety of cultures – Brittany, North America, Scandinavia, and Ireland – and has become a welcome addition to the Boston folk/acoustic music scene since moving to the area a few years ago (his most recent collaborations include playing with Katie McNally, and in a trio with flutist Shannon Heaton and fiddler George Keith). As a fiddler, Gemme is renowned as a composer as well as an interpreter of traditional tunes, and has received considerable praise for his singing, and his overall attention to collecting and preserving the music of Quebec.
Murphy, who has been the show’s music director since 2012, is a celebrated figure in the New England traditional music domain - for his prowess as an accompanist on guitar and piano, such as with the groundbreaking contra dance trio Nightingale and Childsplay, and with artists like fiddler Hanneke Cassel, and his wife, Becky Tracy, also an accomplished fiddler, and as a dynamic singer with a repertoire rooted in his native Newfoundland as well as Irish, French, and American traditions.
One member of the Harney Academy of Irish Dance contingent, Michaelann White, will not only be making her first appearance at “St. Patrick’s Day Celtic Sojourn,” but she is also working with Harney to devise the choreography.
A senior at Walpole High School, White is no stranger to the “Celtic Sojourn” franchise: She has performed in “A Christmas Celtic Sojourn” – also created and produced by O’Donovan – for the past decade. White, who began dancing when she was five and has a 2017 New England regional championship to her credit, cherishes the performance aspect of Irish dance, especially in “Celtic Sojourn.”
“I’ve loved going back every year to work with the musicians taking part in the show,” she says. “It’s never entirely the same people, of course, but that’s what makes it so good: To be able to dance to their incredible music is such a pleasure. So I’m really looking forward to meeting a whole new cast of performers in ‘St. Patrick’s Day Celtic Sojourn.’”
For information and tickets, go to wgbh.org/celtic.