- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 28, 2002

Americans have a unique appreciation of traditional Irish and Celtic music, probably because it wound up in the Scotch-Irish hands of Appalachia's mountain gospel musicians.
Now, after decades of morphing and filtering, it's called country and bluegrass.
At the Kennedy Center this weekend, the National Symphony Orchestra Pops will present these haunting highland sounds in their original splendor for "A Celtic Evening."
Led by composer and conductor Marvin Hamlisch, the NSO Pops will back Irish vocalist Mary Black, Celtic violinist Eileen Ivers, uilleann piper Jerry O'Sullivan and several other performers.
"It's very rousing music" for both the listener and the musician, Mr. Hamlisch says by phone. "It's music that's wonderful for the orchestra to play."
After settling on a show's theme, Mr. Hamlisch says, he always tries to incorporate a visual element into the performance. With the wild success of the still-touring "Riverdance" production, it seemed natural to bring dancing into the mix.
Keeping specifics close to his chest, Mr. Hamlisch says, "I think the audience is going to be taken by some of the theatrics."
Some of the NSO Pops' theme-oriented shows are pegged to calendar holidays such as Valentine's Day, but this weekend's performance was scheduled around the availability of Miss Black and Miss Ivers, the program's marquis performers.
Miss Black, who sings both traditional and modern Irish folk music and has recorded more than 10 studio albums, was named Best Irish Female Artist this year in the Irish Recorded Music Awards Poll, the second year in a row she has been thus recognized.
Miss Black's graceful and lilting voice has won her international acclaim since she recorded her first solo album in 1982. On a selection from 1995's "Looking Back," she sang with esteemed folk icon Emmylou Harris. Some find her voice reminiscent of Miss Harris'.
She also appeared once with Washington's own Mary Chapin Carpenter at the Royal Albert Hall in London, where they performed a duet on a Carpenter song called "The Moon and St. Christopher."
Miss Black also has played several gigs at the Birchmere Music Hall in Alexandria and will return there in March.
"I've been coming across to America for 15 years," she says over the phone, adding that she's continually amazed by how Irish and Celtic music seems to "touch people's hearts."
Although its popularity in the States is due partly to the thousands of Scottish and Irish who settled here, she says, "You don't have to have any Irish in you to appreciate it. It has that full scope of emotions. People, regardless of where they're from, can relate to that."
This weekend's performances, in which she'll turn in three songs, will mark her first time singing with a full orchestra.
"It's very exciting and probably a little scary," she says.
Miss Ivers, born in a predominantly Irish community in New York City, is a seven-time All-Ireland fiddle champion and has played with pop artists including Paula Cole and Hall and Oates as well as the Chieftains, a celebrated traditional Celtic group.
Known for her fiery style the New York Times called her the "Jimi Hendrix of the violin" Miss Ivers also has performed with the London Symphony, the Atlanta Symphony, the Boston Pops and the original "Riverdance" production.
Other featured performers on the program include Tommy McDonnell, a harmonica player and vocalist; John Doyle on vocals and guitar; Bakithi Kumalo, bass and vocals; Emedin Rivera, a Latin percussionist and singer; Tarik Winston, a singer and tap dancer; and Richard Scott Blair, a highland piper.
"I'm very excited about the show," Mr. Hamlisch says, promising a moving sight-and-sound experience.
"I think it's very hopeful music."

WHAT: "NSO Pops: A Celtic Evening," Marvin Hamlisch conducting
John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, 2700 F St. NW
1:30 and 8 p.m. tomorrow, 8 p.m. Saturday.
$20 to $72
202/467-4600 (Kennedy Center box office) or 800/444-1324 (Instant Charge) for tickets and information

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