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Music Review

Celtic Music Fest ends in fine form

Lindsay Page and Robert McOwen of Highland Dance Boston perform at the Boston Celtic Music Festival finale.

Matthew J. Lee/Globe Staff

Lindsay Page and Robert McOwen of Highland Dance Boston perform at the Boston Celtic Music Festival finale.

CAMBRIDGE — The Boston Celtic Music Fest’s finale concert Saturday night at the First Parish Church in Harvard Square wrapped up two days of demos, sessions, small concerts, and a cèilidh Friday night that drew more than 200 people. Hosted by Brian O’Donovan of WGBH-FM’s “A Celtic Sojourn,” and celebrating BCMFest’s 10th anniversary, the evening bore witness to the continuing achievement of local performers as it brought together the Irish, Scottish, and Cape Breton traditions of Celtic music in a homey, intimate affair that included a “happy birthday” singalong to Highland dancer Lindsay Page’s 5-year-old daughter, Nora, and a “Will Ye Go, Lassies, Go” singalong tribute to BCMFest’s founders, Laura Cortese and Shannon Heaton.

A Cape Breton trio of Emerald Rae on fiddle, Matt Phelps on Lowland pipes, and Janine Randall on piano started it off with a selection of strathspeys, hornpipes, airs, marches, jigs, rowdy reels, and even, with the help of a trio dubbed the Boston Scottish Gaelic Choir, some puirt à beul mouth music. The piano remains part of the Cape Breton tradition, and I was impressed with the way Randall integrated it into the trio, with sophisticated lines that were miles away from the banal banging I remember from Galway céilidhe bands of the 1960s.

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Scots native Jerry Bell made a few jokes about his kilt and then gave a powerful rendition of “The Anacreontic Song,” a late-18th-century Scottish drinking song whose tune Francis Scott Key borrowed for “The Star-Spangled Banner.” Highland Dance Boston followed, accompanied by Tom Childs on Highland pipes and smallpipes and, now and then, fiddler Hanneke Cassel. There was a pleasing lightness and grace to four students’ rendition of the broadsword dance, and also to Page and Highland Dance Boston founder Robert McOwen in “Blue Bonnets” and to Jen Schoonover and Abbie MacQuarrie in “Wee Man From Uidhist.”

After intermission, faculty and students from the Boston branch of Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann, a worldwide organization established to preserve Irish traditional music, offered a set commemorating one of the group’s cofounders, Larry Reynolds, who emigrated from Galway in 1953 and was a major figure on Boston’s Irish-music scene until his death this past October. A harp septet made a lively jig out of “The Huron Carol,” confirming leader Regina Delaney’s assertion that “you can Irishize anything.” “The Rocks of Bawn” and “Siúil a Rúin” were sung; John Coyne led a singalong of Dominic Behan’s “The Auld Triangle,” eliciting a whoop from the audience at the line “In the female prison.” Spirited playing from an ensemble that included George Keith on fiddle and Patrick Hutchinson on uilleann pipes culminated in an all-too-brief hardshoe number from guest dancer Nic Gareiss. The concert had lasted three hours, and it was over all too soon.

Jeffrey Gantz can be reached at jeffreymgantz@gmail.com.
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