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Hamptons Life

Dec 2, 2009 12:55 PMPublication: The East Hampton Press & The Southampton Press

Celtic Tenors promise "a great night's entertainment"

Dec 2, 2009 12:55 PM

On the first of November, The Celtic Tenors were in Abu Dhabi. A week later they were in Holland, then Belgium. After that, it was back home to Ireland for a brief stop before crossing the ocean to tour in Canada and the U.S., where a concert in Southampton is on the agenda.

“We’ve been pretty busy,” confirmed Daryl Simpson who, with fellow tenors Matthew Gilsenan and James Nelson, will take the stage at Southampton High School on December 8 at 7 p.m. in a benefit show for the First Presbyterian Church of Southampton.

Speaking recently by phone from Europe, Mr. Simpson promised that the concert that night will be nothing less than “a great night’s entertainment,” a guarantee delivered with such good-humored assurance and in such charming Celtic cadences that it would have been unthinkable to challenge it.

Indeed, anyone familiar with this group of trained and talented tenors, who pride themselves on their showmanship, musical flexibility and wit as well as their musicianship, will know that it is no idle boast. The Celtic Tenors have received rave reviews from critics around the globe for delighting audiences with shows “overflowing with vitality and variety from start to finish.”

The group has been credited with breaking the traditional stuffy tenor mold with programs that expand the repertoire to include classical, folk, Irish and pop songs, and praised for engaging audiences with their humor and personal charm.

Certainly, the classical genre has not been neglected. After all, at one time, the three men, who have known each other “for years,” according to Mr. Simpson, were all members of Opera Ireland together and an audience sing-along version of “Nessun Donna” from Puccini’s “Turandot” has proved to be a particular crowd-pleaser. But then, so have Irish staples like “Whiskey in the Jar” and pop tunes by the likes of Bob Dylan, Roy Orbison and Paul McCartney.

A bit younger than the others, Mr. Simpson was at university when The Celtic Tenors formed, but was invit-

ed to join the group later when one member dropped out.

“I was singing in the Zurich Opera House when I was contacted,” said Mr. Simpson, now a seasoned three-year veteran of the trio.

The three years he has spent with the group have found him performing at a whirlwind pace with the others, playing festivals and more intimate venues, in concert with some of the world’s leading orchestras, and recently on television in a PBS special for U.S. audiences. The group has also been recording albums that consistently hit the top of the charts, with their most recent, “Hard Times,” focusing on American songwriters past and present.

Liner notes explain that previous tours across North America were occasions for immersion in this music, to which all three were powerfully drawn.

“It was kind of nice for us to discover the similarities between Irish folk and American folk,” said Mr. Simpson. “The Irish music very much fed into the American and then the American took on its own character,” he added. “It was a bit like making gumbo with a little bit of everything thrown in.”

Mr. Simpson dismissed the notion that an album titled “Hard Times” is particularly timely, insisting that rather than referring to the world’s current troubles, the concept was really “a very positive thing.” He noted that Stephen Foster’s full title for the song was “Hard Times Are Gonna Come No More.”

In fact, limiting the emotional or stylistic content of their selections would be out of character for the tenors, whose inclination is always to mix things up. The Celtic and classical may be their “cornerstone,” as the tenors declare in their album notes, but even an all-American gumbo calls for a wide range of ingredients to be thrown in the pot.

There are old-time folk favorites like the title song, sung in poignant but non-treacly arrangements. In this category, the tenors’ version of “Shenandoah” was described by one critic as “hushed and intense, capable of bringing tears to the eyes of listeners.” Between these bookends of old Americana are, among others, Eric Clapton’s “Lay Down Sally,” Randy Newman’s “Marie” and two songs by Bob Dylan: “You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere” and “Wanted Man.”

“We think of him as one of our own,” said Mr. Simpson of Dylan. “The way he writes, his humor, his seriousness, and he is an incredible poet. Ireland, you know, is renowned as the land of scholars and poets.” Add to that Dylan’s 
acknowledged debt to the Clancy Brothers and others from their corner of the world and the claim makes perfect sense.

Mr. Simpson speculated that some people might be “a little hesitant” to embrace the concept of three tenors singing American folk songs, though, in fact, he said, it was “a very natural progression.”

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