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Irish choir comes to IC on U.S. tour

BY SAMANTHA GENTRY | OCTOBER 20, 2011 7:20 AM

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While on tour in the United States, Alan Leech, a tenor in the National Chamber Choir of Ireland, looks forward to visiting Iowa so he can try the corn and catch a glimpse of the Corn Palace.

And as a musician and lecturer, he said he's also interested in the techniques in music departments at various universities.

The choir will showcase their traditional Irish songs at 7:30 p.m. today in St. Mary's Catholic Church, 228 E. Jefferson St. Admission is $10 for students, $22.50 for youth, $40.50 for seniors, and $45 for the general public.

The National Chamber Choir has made a significant contribution to the growth of music in its country, and it has also toured extensively in Europe, Asia, and South America.

Besides a St. Patrick's Day performance at the White House, this is the group's first tour around the United States. It will be joined by multi-award-winning choral conductor Paul Hillier for the special performance.

Jacob Yarrow, the Hancher programming director, is glad the venue is able to host the special performance.

"The National Chamber Choir of Ireland is one of the great choral ensembles in the world," Yarrow said. "Hancher is proud to present it in its first tour of the United States."

The choir recently released its new album, Acallam na Senórach, which tells the story of St. Patrick and how he met two great warriors of Irish mythology. In Ireland, children learn about these characters while in school, but they don't necessarily know all the details, Leech said.

"The music is very beautiful and at times deeply evocative, particularly the guitar part," he said. "I think Tarik O'Regan's music brings these tales to the 21st century with a fresh and individual voice."

Members of the choir want to see how an Iowa City audience will react to their performance compared with audiences in other countries.

The first half will include pieces by Bach, Brahms, and a brand-new piece by Irish composer Siobhán Cleary, which includes many tongue twisters that have provoked laughter from audiences.

"Some people have been really moved by this music, others exhilarated," Leech said. "I think audiences will be impressed by the sheer scope of the concert, both vocally and emotionally."

Elizabeth Hillard, a soprano in the choir who has been with the group since 2004, said it's always great to perform for new people. She hopes that the Iowa audiences will not only enjoy the music but that they will take away something from it as well.

"The title of our new album translates as a conversation between wise old people of early Celtic Ireland and the early Christians," she said. "There is really an overwhelming sense of peace between the two cultures. Both sides are happy to explore what the other has to offer."

This show will be the second time for her to perform in the United States since 1998. She remembers the friendliness of the people and their willingness to give directions or advice on where was the best place for a meal or drink.

"I am looking forward to coming to Iowa, because this is toward the end of our trip," Hillard said. "It will be great to see so many different parts [of the country]."


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