Irish musical ensemble Celtic Woman first performed in 2004 at the Helix in Dublin, Ireland, where the concert was taped for PBS television. The brainchild of Irish musical director and composer David Downes, Celtic Woman was meant to be a one-night event (akin to a singing version of Riverdance) but soon after the show aired in March 2005, the ensemble’s eponymous debut hit number one on Billboard’s World Music Chart. Nine years and eight consecutive chart-topping discs later, Celtic Woman plays sold-out shows from the US and Europe to Asia and South Africa.
Though the lineup has changed throughout the years—veteran soloist Lisa Kelly, of Riverdance fame, left before 2012’s Believe tour—original members Chloë Agnew and fiddler Máiréad Nesbitt remain with the group. One characteristic of the latest lineup, including Lisa Lambe who joined in 2011 and the newest member, Susan McFadden, is versatility. While all the members can sing in Gaelic, Agnew, who is the youngest at 23, is multilingual with an angelic, classically-trained voice, which is also suited to contemporary numbers.
McFadden has a background in musical theater and singer/actress Lambe, who most resembles the Celtic Woman icon, sings traditional and contemporary songs. Nesbitt, the sprite-like, award-winning fiddler who manages to gracefully move and dance around the stage without missing a note, is both classically and traditionally trained and has worked with the likes of Van Morrison, Sinead O’Connor and Emmylou Harris.
“It helps the group to be versatile,” says Nesbitt, who enjoys listening to rock, jazz, world and classical music. “When we turn up somewhere we can tune our voices or our fiddles to different things and it helps us develop as a group. It’s a good thing for any musician to be versatile because it helps you communicate with the audience, which is the reason we’re doing it.”
This ensemble doesn’t have any problem communicating with its audience as Celtic Woman’s signature sound transcends language and cultural barriers. A typical show covers everything from classical to traditional Irish and pop music, which appeals to different age groups.
“We’re continually amazed at the power our music has,” Agnew says. “Irish music is very connected to its ancestors and its history. So a lot of the music we perform comes from great stories that have been passed down from generation to generation. The variety of music we perform in our shows allows everyone to enjoy something. It’s amazing to see children with their parents and their grandparents.”
Fresh off the heels of a sold-out Christmas Celebration tour, Celtic Woman recently embarked on a four-month tour with a six-piece band, a choir, bagpiper Anthony Byrne and Irish dancer Craig Ashurst. In addition to the dramatic sets and lighting, each girl will be wearing three gowns designed by an award-winning Irish fashion designer. But this is not a continuation of 2012’s Believe tour.
“We’re mixing up the set list,” says Nesbitt. “We’ve incorporated more of people’s favorites into the show and we’ve also done some new arrangements and some new songs as well. It’s nice to get different feedback from people so that’s what we’re doing and I think it’ll be an exciting show.”
As veterans, Agnew and Nesbitt, who has relatives on Long Island, look forward to playing at Tilles Center for the Performing Arts. “We have performed in nearly every state and city in America so to be visiting a place for the first time is very rare for us,” reveals Agnew. “It’s no secret that New York is one of our top three favorite places to perform in the US. For Irish citizens, it’s always special because it was the first place that opened its doors to the Irish and you can’t help but feel that every time you visit. The audiences always make us feel right at home.”
Celtic Woman Live
March 23, 3pm and 8pm