By MIKE CHAIKEN
When violinist Eileen Ivers takes the stage with the Hartford Symphony on Saturday, April 21, she will play musical tour guide for audiences as she shows them the journey taken by Celtic music over the centuries.
She will draw the connections between the sounds of Irish immigrants with other folk traditions such as bluegrass and Cajun music as well as the folk melodies found in classical compositions.
Ivers, in a phone interview, said her exploration of the journey of Celtic music through other forms of folk music is partially a response to her upbringing.
Ivers, who also was the original music star of “Riverdance,” was the daughter of Irish immigrants, who grew up in the Bronx. She began playing Irish music at a young age, and she often traveled back to Ireland with her parents to participate in Irish music competitions.
Her journey of musical connections also was fostered by her chosen instrument, which lent itself to finding a home in many different musical traditions such as classical, folk, world music, Cajun, and even rock and roll (she toured with Hall and Oates and other pop artists).
She dived deeply into her exploration of the permeation of Irish music in other traditions when she recorded her album, “Beyond the Bog Road.” For that effort, she wrote music that touched upon the musical kin of Irish music. For instance, she explained, the album includes some “very heartbreaking cathartic” traditional-style Irish songs along side more jubilant bluegrass sounds.
As the different strains of folk music filtered through Ivers’ musical filter on “Beyond the Bog Road,” the similarities between traditions began to come into focus for listeners.
Ivers’s partnership with symphonies for what she calls “The Celtic Spirit featuring Eileen Ivers” began shortly after she left “Riverdance.” Through the years, the show has evolved. And along the way, she has been able to perform with ensembles such as the Cleveland Orchestra, the National Symphony Orchestra in Washington D.C., and the Long Beach Symphony (in which she performed before 3,300 people).
“I’ve been blown away by audience reactions,” said Ivers, who said she has put her “heart and soul into the show.”
The melding of orchestra and traditional roots music often requires creative thinking, said Ivers. Orchestras tend to have a more settled approach to music. Irish music is more improvisational, said Ivers. “It’s a very lively artform and anything can happen.”
The mix of the two provides an “on the edge” musical environment for performers and audiences, said Ivers.
For these shows, Ivers said, the orchestra is broken away from its traditional purpose. Instead, through “thoughtful orchestral arrangements,” it is used in “unique ways.”
At the end of the performances, Ivers said she often takes time to meet with audiences in the lobby. During their conversations, invariably, people would say prior to that evening they knew little about Irish music, other than “Danny Boy.” But her performances with the symphonies helped these members of the audience learn how deeply felt Irish music is and how much emotion permeates it, said Ivers. Audiences also learn how virtuosic the instrumentation is and how “cathartic and joyful” Irish music is.
The Hartford Symphony Orchestra will present “The Celtic Spirit featuring Eileen Ivers” on Saturday, April 21 at 7:30 p.m. in Mortensen Hall at The Bushnell, 166 Capitol Ave., Hartford. Ticket prices start at $23. For tickets, call (860) 987-5900 or visit www.HartfordSymphony.org