Tonight: Celtic Woman bring Irish traditions to Heinz Hall

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Many of the songs performed by Celtic Woman are as old as the rolling green hills of Ireland.

Still, there promises to be fresh magic in the moments as the all-Irish female ensemble returns to Pittsburgh tonight for a show at Heinz Hall, Downtown.

"It's different every night because the audience actually can take over sometimes. They can be quite dynamic and really shock you almost, in a good way," said Mairead Nesbitt, who has been playing her violin out front with the group since it was formed 10 years ago.

"I don't like things that are contrived or just too studied. I don't think it comes across very well. But while saying that, you do have to practice and you do have to be prepared and at the top of your craft. The X factor, which nobody can quite explain, is what takes place when all of that is done. That's as important as anything else.

"This year we decided to shake things up a bit. We've gotten a lot of feedback from people over the years, and we've gotten to know what their favorites are and also what they want to hear that's new as well. It's a great mix. We still have a wonderful band and choir, and we have a bagpiper and a male solo dancer who I get to do a tune with in the second half of the show. We're really looking forward to bringing our new arrangements and new set list to people."

The other faces of Celtic Woman are singers Chloe Agnew, Lisa Lambe and Susan McFadden. With Ms. Nesbitt, they give voice to classical Irish music, as well as more modern songs that slide smoothly into the traditional mix.

Ms. Nesbitt is the blonde sprite flitting across the stage, the lightness of her movements in contrast to the intensity with which she plays her violin. She smiles at the audience as she saws out a spirited lilt, then stops and takes the music on a somber turn. She bends forward, her eyes low, peering over the violin, her smile lost behind the instrument -- then bounces back into a whirlwind of a finish.

"Everything has to be natural," she said. "To me, the most important thing is the music and the audience."

The dancing is an added bonus.

"I did some Irish step dancing when I was younger," she said, "but I kept making up steps on stage, and I think my teachers were really rather annoyed. So I thought, 'I'll just do it myself.' A lot of dancers have come up to me and said, 'You're a great dancer.' And I have to tell them, 'Well, actually, I'm not a dancer at all, but thank you very much.'"

Ms. Nesbitt was a professional violinist with the RTE Concert Orchestra and had played with Michael Flatley's "Lord of the Dance," when she joined Celtic Woman for what she thought would be a one-time performance in 2004. After millions of CDs and numerous sold-out concerts, the group is in the midst of one of its longest international tours.

"It may seem like hard work, but never the playing," Ms. Nesbitt said. "The playing never seems like hard work because you're doing something that you love and that you're passionate about. We're lucky. We don't have to drag out and do something every day that we don't like. We're doing something that we're quite passionate about. That is a luxury and not everybody has that. What's not to love about that?"

Despite the schedule, she has made time for other priorities, both personal and professional. Among her projects have been recordings of other styles of music and solos on two "Tinkerbell" movies produced by Disney.

"It's fantastic," she said. "I'm a great believer in having a main project that is a success -- like Celtic Woman, which is amazing on an ongoing basis, it's so fresh and so popular -- and then doing other projects alongside. It does take a lot out of you, to be doing such projects alongside something that is such a mammoth project as Celtic Woman, but I think it's a good way to go and it's always been the way I've done things."

Tonight's show begins at 7:30 p.m. Tickets range in price from $42.25 to $102.25.

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If you have a suggestion for something to do some evening, let us know about it and we'll see if we can get some of our friends to join you. Contact Dan Majors at or 412-263-1456. This story originally appeared in The Pittsburgh Press. To log in or subscribe, go to:


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