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Celtic Fantasy: From the Emerald Lands of Mist and Myth

March 12, 2021 March 14, 2021

From the emerald lands of mist and myth comes the music of Celtic traditions.

Maestro Wes Kenney and the Fort Collins Symphony invite you to enjoy the virtual on-demand concert Celtic Fantasy.  Featuring a variety of traditional and contemporary Celtic music for harp, strings, winds, piano, and percussion this concert will highlight the broad symphonic traditions of Ireland, Scotland, Wales, Cornwall, Brittany, and Galicia.  A wealth of Celtic folk songs, jigs, reels, hornpipes, and airs emigrated to Appalachia where this unique genre has influenced American music for more than 300 years.


Celtic Fantasy Square

This concert includes:

  • Joan Trimble’s Irish Suite for Strings,
  • Jay Unger’s Ashokan Farewell (from Ken Burn’s award-winning documentary The Civil War),
  • Gaelic Storm’s An Irish Party in Third Class (from the movie Titanic),
  • Jennifer Margaret Barker’s Suilean a’Chloinne (Children’s Eyes),
  • Arthur Duff’s Irish Suite for Strings,
  • Victor Herbert’s Yesterthoughts,
  • and Gwyneth Walker’s Light of Three Mornings.
  • Finally, Herbert’s Punchinello for Cello and Strings, while not exactly Celtic, is a chipper and cheerful concert bonus (think mischief-making leprechauns!).

View this concert at your convenience anytime from 7:00 pm on March 12 to 10:00 pm on March 14, 2021.

Tickets available at LCTix.com: $25 per device (most internet-compatible devices will work including laptop and desktop computers, iPhones, iPads, other Smart devices, and Smart TVs).

Access instructions will be sent close to the concert opening date.  A concert program, composer biographies, and symphonic notes are available below.


Program Notes by Dr. K. Dawn Grapes

Suite for Strings, Joan Trimble

Joan Trimble
Suite for Strings
Date of Composition: 1951
Duration: 13 minutes

Composers have three choices when creating folk-inspired music: to quote tunes as literally as possible, to adapt them to established forms, or to compose newly imagined music that evokes a particular culture. Suite for Strings by Joan Trimble (1915–2000) falls into this last category. Across three ambiguously titled movements, Trimble captures the rugged beauty, national pride, and strong resilience of the people of her native Ireland.

With degrees from Trinity College, Dublin and the Royal Conservatory of Music in London, Trimble’s musical talents came naturally. Her father was an avid folk song collector and her mother a trained musician. Her own compositions often combine the inspiration of a long tradition of Celtic song and the concert appropriateness she learned while studying with teachers such as Ralph Vaughan-Williams, Herbert Howells, and Gordon Jacob. Trimble’s first professional successes resulted from the two-piano recitals she presented with her sister Valerie. The concerts featured many of her own compositions, bringing recognition to her early works. During World War II, she worked full time for the Red Cross while maintaining a busy performance schedule, including regular radio recording sessions for the BBC. Over her long career, Trimble composed for many types of instruments, voices, and ensembles. In 1957, she became the first woman to compose a made-for-TV opera, a commission from the BBC. Regarding her musical style, Trimble remarked, “I have always written music ‘subject to neither schools nor period.’ … I am free to be myself, regardless of fashion.”

Ashokan Farewell, Jay Ungar / Calvin Custer, arr.

Jay Ungar / Calvin Custer, arr.
Ashokan Farewell
Date of Composition/Arrangement: 1982/1990
Duration: 4 minutes

The sun is sinking low in the sky above Ashokan,
The pines and the willows know soon we will part.
There’s a whisper in the wind of promises unspoken,
And a love that will always remain in my heart.

So begin the lyrics associated with Ashokan Farewell, a striking ballad by American composer Jay Ungar (b. 1946) that has grown in meaning over time. Ungar composed his most famous piece at the close of a season of the annual Ashokan Fiddle and Dance Camps, a summer music retreat in the Catskills, started and run by Ungar and his wife Molly Mason in the 1980s and still in operation today. The final lines of the third stanza capture the composer’s wistfulness upon the ending of another season of music making: “They wonder if you and I will be keeping the magic and music, or leave them behind.” Mason suggested the composition’s title, inspired by the camp’s location. Ashokan is the name of one of twelve towns that were covered when the Ashokan Reservoir was filled between 1913 and 1915 to provide drinking water for the New York City metropolis. Though the origin of the town’s name is uncertain, it may have been derived from the language of the area’s indigenous peoples, meaning “to cross the creek” or “outlet of a stream.”

Ungar’s tune gained lasting fame in 1990 when it was used as the title theme song for Ken Burn’s The Civil War PBS documentary series. The tune has been a favorite of arrangers ever since. Ungar describes the piece as “a Scottish lament written by a Jewish guy from the Bronx.”

“An Irish Party in Third Class” from Titanic, Traditional / Gaelic Storm and Larry Moore, arr.

Traditional / Gaelic Storm and Larry Moore, arr.
“An Irish Party in Third Class” from Titanic
Date of Arrangement: 1997
Duration: 2 minutes

When James Cameron’s Titanic opened in movie theaters in December 1997, it ranked as the most expensive movie ever made to date. Accolades were swift, and the feature film, which dramatizes the ill-fated voyage of the eponymous ocean liner, became the first to earn over one billion dollars. Much of the charm of composer James Horner’s massive score results from the use of Celtic-sounding themes and traditional melodies to mark key moments in the movie. In one scene, Leonardo DiCaprio’s working-class character Jack whisks Kate Winslet’s upper-class Rose down to steerage, where a celebration is taking place in one of the lower-class common areas. The two join the revelers and are soon caught up in the drinking, frivolity, and dancing that ensues. For the scene, Horner solicited California Celtic Rock band Gaelic Storm to recreate their arrangements of several traditional Irish tunes, including the jig “Blarney Pilgrim” and “John Ryan’s Polka.” Later these two dances were combined into An Irish Party in Third Class, a medley designed for toe-tapping enjoyment.

On the actual 1912 voyage, there were over 700 third-class passengers who paid £7 each for housing on below-sea-level decks. Most were Irish, British, and Scandinavian immigrants seeking a better life in America. Of these, just 178 survived.

Suilean a’Chloinne, Jennifer Margaret Barker

Jennifer Margaret Barker
Suilean a’Chloinne
Date of Composition: 2010
Duration: 7 minutes

In 2006, a familiar figure to the Fort Collins Symphony, conductor and violinist Leslie Stewart, approached Scottish-born composer Jennifer Margaret Barker (b. 1965) with a special commission. At the time, Stewart served as director of the Virginia-based Bay Valley Youth Orchestras. In this role, she requested a piece for her young string-playing musicians to perform at the infamous Edinburgh Fringe Festival. The result?  Barker’s Suilean a’Chloinne. The title of the work translates to “Children’s Eyes,” cluing in the listener to the composer’s thought process as she tried “to capture in music the beauty, innocence, wonder and joy that are so evident in the eyes of young children.”

Barker is currently Professor of Music Theory/Composition at the University of Delaware, though she still manages to spend a good deal of time back across the Atlantic in her beloved Scotland. It is from this homeland that she gains much of her inspiration. Many of Barker’s works have readily apparent Scottish associations, either through their Scottish-Gaelic titles, their programmatic themes, or a dedicated nod to the mysterious music of the highlands.

Irish Suite for Strings, Arthur Duff

Arthur Duff
Irish Suite for Strings
Date of Composition: 1940
Duration: 12 minutes

A quick look through a list of Arthur Duff’s composition titles reveals his musical philosophy: Irish stories are best told with Irish-sounding music. The composer’s career path was not quite as clear, taking him in many directions. Dublin-born, Duff (1899–1956) received all of his musical training in the city, first at the Christ Church Cathedral, and then the Royal Irish Academy of Music and Trinity College. At age fifteen he became assistant organist at the Cathedral, which could have led to a pursuit of church music, but that was not the life Duff wanted. He later served as the first native-born bandmaster at the Irish Army School of Music in Cork, but disliked military life. He eventually took on the roles of theatre reviewer, playwright, radio producer, and sometime conductor, but he never gave up composing. His compositional output is relatively small. And while his music exudes a certain conservatism, it is always sprinkled with Irish charm.

Irish Suite for Strings conjures up visions of Duff’s homeland in a bit of a musico-literary pastiche. The composer provides programmatic clues to each of the five movements in their subtitles, placing listeners in locations both familiar and unusual. The first movement, “Midir’s song for Étain,” recalls an Irish myth in which King Midir falls in love with Étain, upon whom his first wife casts multiple spells of revenge. His new love escapes to a slightly later chronological time, in which she no longer remembers Midir. He tries, unsuccessfully, to woo her back. Both “Windy Gap” and the final movement, “On the Bridge at Clash,” musically depict locations, perhaps those of importance to the composer. The fourth movement, “Dance of Daemar,” is somewhat of an enigma, but the middle movement, “Fishamble Street—Dublin 1742,” references a place and time well-known to music aficionados, bringing together past and present on the spot where Handel’s Messiah premiered.

The Light of Three Mornings: Sketches of Braintree Hill, Gweneth Walker

Gwyneth Walker
The Light of Three Mornings: Sketches of Braintree Hill
Date of Composition: 1987, rev. 2001
Duration: 17 minutes

As if to remind us that Ireland and Scotland are not the only places with rolling, green hills and breathtaking views, Gwyneth Walker’s The Light of Three Mornings captures the beauty of the composer’s then residence, a Braintree, Vermont farm. Early in her career, Walker (b. 1947) followed the usual composer’s path of college teaching, at Oberlin and the Hartt School of Music, but in 1982 she took the bold step of leaving academia to compose full-time. Perhaps due to her removed location and appreciation of nature, her music is grounded in accessibility, both in terms of subject matter and audience appeal.

The Light of Three Mornings is an excellent example of Walker’s ability to sonically depict the natural world. The first movement, “When the Stars Begin to Fall,” will sound familiar, as it presents an original take on the American spiritual “My Lord What a Morning.” The movement is filled with musical effects that transport listeners to that magical time when the sun first breaks into a new day. Listen carefully and you may even hear the stars begin to fall. “First Light” and “Hints and Trappings” continue the journey, first presenting the wonder that is creation all around and then sending us a dancing on our way. While Walker’s composition heralds the promise of a new day, in a more personal way, this piece also points to our hopes for the future, as woodwinds and brass are safely welcomed back to the FCS indoor stage.

Yesterthoughts / Punchinello, Victor Herbert

Victor Herbert
Yesterthoughts / Punchinello
Date of Composition: 1900
Duration: 6 minutes

Irish-born American composer Victor Herbert (1859–1924) was quite prolific. He wrote many piano pieces, songs, choral works, orchestral suites, concertos, and chamber compositions, but is best remembered for his stage works. His operettas, such as Babes in Toyland and Naughty Marietta, made him the most successful man on Broadway in the early decades of the 1900s. Herbert, though born in Dublin, spent his formative years in London and Germany. He began his professional music career playing cello with the Stuttgart Orchestra. In the 1880s, he emigrated to the United States with his wife Therese to perform with the Metropolitan Opera, she on stage and he in the orchestra pit. Herbert moved into the conductor’s chair in the 1890s, taking leadership of the 22nd Regiment Band and then the Pittsburgh Symphony, before founding his own pops ensemble, the Victor Herbert Orchestra.

The two delightful works on this program were first written as piano character pieces and published as opus numbers 37 and 38. Their original titles give some indication of the mood Herbert hoped to achieve: Yesterthoughts: Meditation and Punchinello: Characteristic.


Concert Sponsors:

Friends of the symphony logo

The Fort Collins Symphony Association is deeply grateful to our Friends of the Symphony whose financial support helped make it possible for us to present The Celtic Fantasy concert.  With appreciation, we acknowledge the following Friends of the Symphony donors:

Oren & Jennifer Anderson, Karel Applebee, Kathleen Batterton, David & Alison Dennis Fund*, Paul & Katherine Dudzinski Fund*, Kay & Larry Edwards, K. Dawn & David Grapes, Howard & Phyllis Hay, Charlene & David Jones, in honor of David and Alison Dennis, Mary & Paul Kopco, Barbara & Albert Leung, Kathleen McKeown & Gary Betow, Robert C.  Michael, Sharyn & Larry Salmen, in memory of Jerry Applebee and Leabelle Schwartz, Carolyn & Stephan Stack, Jane Sullivan, in memory of Doug Sullivan, Lee & Ken Thielen, Margaret Webber, in honor of Kay Edwards, Eleanor & Paul Wiebe, A-Young & Robert Woody.

*Community Foundation of Northern Colorado

Signature Concert Sponsors: