One of the new generation of Irish traditional musicians, harpist Laoise Kelly was born in 1973 in the town of Westport in County Mayo on the west coast of Ireland. She studied music at Maynooth College and University College Cork and picked up first prize in the All Ireland Harp Competition. Later, having completed her studies, Laoise began to tour extensively, traveling to places as diverse as Africa, the UK, USA, Canada, Holland, Germany and Switzerland.
Laoise has collaborated on projects such as Mícheál ? S?illeabh?in’s Lumen, which was performed at the 1995 Eurovision Song Contest, “Africa I Remember”, the title track on the River of Sound series for BBC/RTE and on the orchestral piece Famine Suite, composed by Charlie Lennon to commemorate the Great Famine of the 1840s. Ireland Europe
Emer Kenny started playing harp at the age of nine. While still in her teens, she won an Alfred Byte Scholarship to study composition and harp at the College of Music, Dublin and Trinity College of Music London. While firmly rooted in the myriad traditions of her Irish homeland, Ms. Kenny has cultivated a unique style all her own, calling on many genres of influences.
Her critically and commercially successful first album Emer Kenny (1997) showcased her original haunting vocal style and songwriting talents. Emer’s celebrated cover of The Stranglers’ ‘Golden Brown’ was re-mixed by Junior Vasquez and brought Emer to the attention of a broader audience while the track ‘Heaven’ was used in commercials, television and film on both sides of the Atlantic. The video for ‘Heaven’ garnered airplay on MTV, M2 and other video channels. Her second album Fades into Day(2000) found Emer stretching into more of a pop direction.
Emer’s 2005, Parting Glass, was an album full of tradition, modernity and passion. While the rich traditions of Ireland were celebrated in such airs as ‘She Moved Through The Fair’, ‘Sally Garden’ and the title track, innovation abounds. There are Moorish and Spanish influences, readily apparent on ‘Moll Dubh’ (pronounced ‘moll dove’) and in the handclap rhythms of ‘Breton Dance’. Along the way, listeners were treated to Emer’s take on English folk (‘Scarborough Fair’), the music of Brittany (‘An Hini a Garan’), and ‘Rambling Boys Of Pleasure’, a lost Irish ballad rediscovered in the United States in the 1800s and sent back home – all recast with touches of jazz, African and European flourishes.
A native of Belfast (born October 21, 1935), Derek Bell was The Chieftains’ virtuoso harpist who originally performed with the Belfast Symphony Orchestra. He also played piano, oboe and tiompán (a stringed instrument with 120-130 strings dating from fourth-century Ireland, similar to a hammered dulcimer). Bell first played with The Chieftains in 1972 as a regular guest and joined the band as a full-fledged member in 1974. His first recording with the band was The Chieftains 4 (1974).
A child prodigy, Bell started his musical career on piano at the age of nine and he composed his first concerto at 11. He became a regular on the BBC radio program Children’s Hour, often composing new material for the show. He later earned a scholarship to study composition at London’s Royal College of Music and then studied piano in Colorado. He went on to be a soloist appearing with symphony orchestras in Berlin, Moscow, Budapest, Dublin and London.
While he studied harp in Salzburg, Austria, he did not begin playing it seriously until he was 30 and managing the Belfast Symphony Orchestra. Prior to his Chieftains tenure, he recorded five solo albums, four on harp and one on piano.
Derek Bell died on October 17, 2002 in Phoenix, Arizona.
Rodrigo Romaní Trío – Fios de ouro no ár (Altafonte, 2018)
Spanish musician Rodrigo Romaní is one of the leading harp players in Galicia. He’s one of the pioneers of contemporary Galician folk music, who co-founded the seminal band Milladoiro. On this occasion, he appears with a trio that includes fellow harp player Beatriz Martinez and Xulia Feixoo on percussion.
The album Fios de ouro no ár (Golden strings in the air) features original pieces and traditional songs as well. It’s a superb melodic album where folk harp meets classical music and contemporary acoustic music.
The exquisite chamber string quartet Cuarteto Novecento appears on two of the musical pieces.
Although the majority of the album is instrumental, two guest vocalists appear on two tracks: Inés Lorenzo and Guillerme Ignacio Costa.
Fios de ouro no ár is beautifully-constructed recording by one of leading composers in the Galician folk music scene.
Alan Stivell is an innovator of the Breton-Celtic harp. For more than three decades, he has been at the forefront of a cultural and musical revival that honors the centuries-old Celtic traditions of the French province of Brittany, called Breizh by its native inhabitants, while mesmerizing audiences around the globe with his charismatic virtuosity and wide ranging repertoire .
Alan Stivell was born Alan Cochevelou. His family, the Cochevelous, came from Gourin in central west Brittany. Like many of other Breton families, the Cochevelous left Brittany. Thus Alan Cochevelou was born in Riom on January 6, 1944. Shortly after, the family settled in Paris. Alan’s father, George Cochevelou, was an artist and translator. He made paintings, furniture and musical instruments. His dream was to reintroduce the Celtic harp from Brittany. It had disappeared at the end of the Middle Ages. The first Celtic harp prototype featured nylon cords and was decorated with Celtic motifs. Young Alan Cochevelou fell in love with the instrument. He took lessons from Denise Mégevand, a traditional harp player.
There was no Breton repertory for the harp so Alan made new arrangements of traditional Breton, Irish, Welsh and Scottish folk tunes. He played his first concert at the age of 9. Alan joined a traditional Breton group called Scouts Bleimor. A few years later, in 1959, Alan Cochevelou recorded his first single, titled Musique Gaëlique. Alan was so passionate about Celtic music that he learned how to play bombards and bagpipes. In 1961 he became the lead Penn-Soner of Bagad Bleimor with which he won many awards.
In 1966, Alan Cochevelou became Alan Stivell. He recovered an ancient form of his family name before it was adapted to French.
Alan Stivell’s first major recordings, Renaissance of the Celtic Harp and Live At The Olympia, both released in 1972, gained him worldwide notice, and subsequent years found him gaining a large following for albums that fused Celtic music with folk, rock, pop, electronic and world music.
Stivell released several ground-breaking albums including Again (1994), which features collaborations with Kate Bush; the captivating Brian Boru (1995); 1 Earth – 1 Douar (1998) with John Cale, Youssou N’Dour, Khaled, Simple Minds vocalist Jim Kerr and Paddy Maloney; and Back to Breizh (2000), a work that reaffirmed his Breton roots and passion for tilting tradition toward the future.
To celebrate his 50th year as a performer on the Celtic harp, Alan Stivell recorded Beyond Words, an all-instrumental album.
Stivell states that the music on Beyond Words “is simply a journey through my life and dreams. I want to highlight, first and foremost, my passion for Celtic and neo-Celtic harps, these legendary instruments which came into my life as by magic..”
Catrin Finch and Seckou Keita – Soar (bendigedig, 2018)
Two exceptional musician representing distinct traditions and harps celebrate the magnificent osprey bird on their album titled Soar.
Welsh musician Catrin Finch plays the Welsh harp and contributes the Celtic and western classical traditions. Senegalese kora player contributes the musical influences of West Africa and his world music collaborations. The result is a superb set of musical pieces where the two forms of harps engage in a beautiful genre-defying dialog.
Colombian musical prodigy Edmar Castañeda was born March 31, 1978 in Bogotá, Colombia. He began playing the difficult and exotic Colombian harp at the early age of 13.
Although he only completed his formal music education in 2003, he has achieved critical acclaim. He has appeared as an invited guest with Paquito D’Rivera at NJPAC, NY’s Beacon Theatre, Lincoln Center and the Tilles Center for the Performing Arts. He has also performed with Lila Downs, Romero Lubambo, Dave Samuels, Dave Valentin, Richard Bona and John Benitez.
In 2017, Japanese pianist Hiromi and Edmar Castaneda performed live at the 2017 Montreal International Jazz Festival. The concert was recorded and Live in Montreal was released in late in 2017. “We both clearly remember the first few minutes of playing together in soundcheck,” Hiromi recalled. “It was really magical and effortless. It felt like all the musical notes that we created were happy to be together. It was like dancing.”
William Jackson, of Glasgow has been at the forefront of Scottish traditional music for more than three decades. One of the leading harpers and multi-instrumentalists in Scotland, William has also gained an international reputation as a composer. William was a founding member and primary composer of Ossian, one of Scotland’s best-loved traditional bands and an influence on a generation of musicians. In addition to harp he also plays tin whistle and bouzouki.
As a composer William has steadily combined Celtic influences with classical instrumentation in a style uniquely his own. He has an impressive list of commissioned works and subsequent recordings. He has released many CDs featuring his own compositions as well as traditional pieces, and composed and performed music for film and television.
St. Kilda Wedding with Ossian (1978)
Seal Song, with Ossian (198)
Dove Across the Water, with Ossian (1981)
Borders, with Ossian (1983)
The Wellpark Suite (1985)
Light on a Distant Shore, with Ossian (1986)
Heart Music (1987)
St Mungo: A Celtic Suite For Glasgow (1990)
Celtic Tranquility (1992)
The Best of Ossian, with Ossian (1993) Inchcolm (1995) The Ancient Harp of Scotland (1998)
A Scottish Island (1998) Celtic Experience vol. 1: Haunting Themes From Scotland and Ireland (1997)
The Carrying Stream, with Ossian (1997)
Celtic Experience vol. 2: Haunting Themes From Scotland and Ireland (1998)
Celtic Experience vol. 3: Haunting Themes From Scotland and Ireland (1999)
Celtic Experience: Haunting Themes From Scotland and Ireland (2) (box set of the Celtic Experience albums) The Celtic Suites (1999)
Land of Light (1999)
Notes From A Hebridean Island (2001)
Duan Albanach (2003)
The New Harp (2008)
Music from Ireland and Scotland with Grainne Hambly (2009)
Siân James is the most important folk singer in Wales. Coming from a small village in heart of Wales Siân James was brought up in a Welsh speaking family steeped in the traditions of music and poetry. She sings and accompanies herself on her harp and is passionate about the unique and gentle nature of Welsh songs. Siân feels that it is time for Welsh musicians to get the same audience and recognition as the musicians from the other Celtic nations and regions.
Siân performed and competed in eisteddfodau from the age of three started to play the piano at six and the harp at eleven. She gave solo concerts starting at age eighteen and during her university years performed with a folk rock band Bwchadanas which continued to be popular in Wales for over ten years.
The first of Siân’s albums Cysgodion Karma (1990) is a mixture of traditional and original songs. It was followed by Distaw in 1993 showcasing more of her songwriting ability. Gweini Tymorwas released in 1996 and the culmination of twenty years of Siân’s interest in traditional music. The fourth CD Di-gwsg is made up of original music in Celtic style with a slightly more contemporary sound. Birdman her fifth album was commissioned as a soundtrack for a BBC miniseries of the same name. Album number six was released in 2000.
Siân has toured in other Celtic countries playing festivals in Brittany Ireland and Scotland and further afield for festivals and concerts in Spain, Italy, Japan and the United States. When Wales opened their new National Assembly, Siân was one of the musicians invited to celebrate the occasion at Voices of a Nation concert.
In 1996 she sang on the film score for The Englishman Who Went Up a Hill and Came Down a Mountain and the CD of the soundtrack was released by Miramax. Siân has considerable experience as an actress on Welsh language television and in 1998 she was given a six part series where she performed with her own band and presented guests such as Capercaille, The Saw Doctors, Frances Black and Alan Stivell.
Cysgodion Karma [Karma Shadows] (Sain, 1990)
Distaw [Silent] (Sain, 1993) Gweini Tymor [Serving a Term] (Sain, 1996)
Di-Gwsg [Sleepless] (Sain, 2153)
Birdman (BBC Records, 2000) Pur [Pure] (Bos Records, 2000)
Y Ferch o Bedlam [The Girl from Bedlam] (Bos, 2005) Cymun [Communion] (Recordiau Bos, 2012)
Savourna Stevenson has been a leading figure in the renaissance of the Celtic harp in Scotland. An outstanding virtuoso and inspiring performer, she has pushed the boundaries of the harp. In her music she identifies strongly with her Scottish roots while breaking through stylistic barriers between world music, traditional, jazz and classical. Her prolific output shows versatility writing for theatre (Royal Lyceum Edinburgh Dundee Repertory Manchester Library Theatre) for film TV and dance.
Savourna has several CDs.Touch Me Like the Sun includes her acclaimed harp quintet (premiered at Celtic Connections Millenium Festival) and licensed for use in the popular American TV series Sex and the City. As a songwriter, she has collaborated with lyric writers including Liz Lochhead and Michael Marra writing songs for artists including Eddi Reader and June Tabor.
Stevenson is also becoming a rising star in the Scottish contemporary classical music world since the resounding success of her symphonic premiere Misterstourworm & The Kelpie’s Gift for Children’s Classic Concerts in 2003. This exciting orchestral tale for children based on Scottish myth and legend was the result of a Scottish Arts Council Creative Scotland Award in 2001 which not only honored her inspired project but acknowledged her already outstanding contribution to Scottish music.
Her CD Persian Knight Celtic Dawn unites many facets of Savourna’s remarkable career in collaboration with Iranian percussion ensemble The Chemiranis. It features her striking new settings of texts by the Lebanese-born poet and artist Kahil Gibran author of The Prophet and a leading figure in New York’s 1920s avant-garde.