PGSO Conductor Kevin Zakresky was in an exuberant mood anticipating this concert. He described it as a dream come true for the symphony to perform with the hugely popular Celtic band, Out of Alba.
To begin and literally to set the stage, the first half included renditions played of Zakreskys favourite Celtic pieces. The sweet and dreamlike melodies of Greensleeves nicely paired with Prairie Dawn in mood. Both delivered on the promise that melody is the dearest part of music. Clarinet and violin proved worthy making the musical interpretation of bird songs at sunrise,
Setting the audience up for something fast and fun Zakresky then brought the Old Time Fiddlers (a reference to their music style, not the age of the performers!) on stage to play lively reels. Claiming he was challenged to keep up with them in accompanying the fiddlers on the piano, his short break from conducting was pure fun. Fiddlers Jonah Borden, Brittany Iwanciwski, Gabrielle Jacob, Noah Jacob and Chloe Nakahara really shone when delivering Ill Tell My Ma - as each one registered the same bars in turn...as if tattling each ones version of a story. Easily, Big John McNeil was the most intricate and fastest moving.
The orchestra returned to deliver the sweet, soft and mournful longing sound of Danny Boy. Its the music which, like harp sounds, plucks at the heart and soul of anyone carrying Celtic genes. Followed by a gentle rendition of Lord of the Dance the audience was thoroughly primed for the second half.
Following intermission, the five Out of Alba members (Jim and Margaret Coyle, Carolyn Kelly, Alan OReilly and Jim Sayle), plus their backup guitarist, Ross Williams, took to the stage. Ross is more at home with heavy metal music, but was pressed into service in anticipation that his guitar rhythms might be needed. He made a smooth transition to an entirely different music genre - a measure of genuine musical ability.
Traditional fife and drum (bodhran) blended with guitars and backed by beautiful symphonic instruments resulted in a lively mix. At the start, Alan OReilly gave the audience permission to clap, shout and dance. There was some of that as they played frenzied Johnny Dont Go and then made the transition to a hauntingly beautiful ballad in She Moved Through The Fair.
The PGSO returned to the stage to play with Out of Alba on OReillys vocalization of Black Is The Colour with echo lyrics sung by Margaret Coyle. The rousing sound of The Bogles is strongly associated with Irish country life.
Perhaps the most beautiful of all was Margaret Coyles clear, controlled acapella voice at the beginning of Auld Lang Syne which was gently and gradually joined by the symphony. That traditional tender ballad builds to a heartwarming reverie deserving of its enduring popularity.
The finale involved the PGSO, Out of Alba and the Old Time Fiddlers all crowded onto the stage. The conductor and performers were enjoying every note - as was the sold-out audience. The evening closed to sustained, enthusiastic applause. It was all enough to make St. Patrick proud!