Review: Celtic Celebration on 22nd October 2023

This review of the October Concert was published in the Townsville Bulletin on October 25th, 2023. Thank you to Trevor Keeling for this review.

Celtic music stirs your soul

Concert celebrates very deep roots

There is very little that can stir the soul like Celtic music. Or could it be that so many people in this part of the world have Celtic roots that our very being responds almost mystically to the memory of ancestry?

This was clearly the case on Sunday when a capacity audience relished every note of the Barrier Reef Orchestra’s Celtic Celebration where the folk music of Scotland, Ireland and Wales was celebrated.

There was tartan galore adorning the musicians while displayed overhead were the flags of the Celtic peoples – including Isle of Man, Cornwall and Brittany. The spectacle was replete with bagpipes, penny whistle, bodhran (Irish drum) and uillean pipes not to mention highland and Irish dancers and the 80-odd voices of the Townsville Choral Society lending considerable vocal scope to the night.

Under the genial guidance of kilt-clad conductor Patrick Pickett, this was not strictly speaking an orchestral performance. Instead, it was a concert where the Barrier Reef Orchestra was the conduit for what can only be described as a spectacle, celebrating that ethereal and distinctive sound of Celtic folk music – from the whimsy and fey to the bold and rousing. In fact, so successful was this format of traditional and contemporary music that the entire concert could quite easily have been televised.

Along with conductor Pickett, there were other special guests from Brisbane augmenting the orchestra.

Tenor Gregory Moore’s version of Kenneth McKellar’s Song of the Clyde and the traditional Danny Boy were popular highlights, while the otherworldly voice of soprano and musician Sarah Calderwood evoked the ethereal quality of Enya. Singing with the choir of the Townsville Choral Society, her Orphan Girl – a song about Irish girls sent to Australia during the potato famine of 1858 – was a thing of extraordinary, haunting beauty.

Piper Bruce Grice accompanied the orchestra (and dancers) for a number of Highland melodies including the eponymous Scotland the Brave. Playing the Irish wooden flute and the uillean pipes was Kevin Higgins, whose contributions contributed significantly to achieving that Celtic sound.

Of course, any presentation of Celtic music would not be complete without contributions from dancers, and the front strip of the stage was where the highland and Irish dancers strutted their stuff. They certainly added to the entertainment of the night, and of particular note and promise was the young male Irish dancer.

With 23 items on the program, the hugely appreciative audience was not only transported across the years to evoke familiar memories of old songs, but also brought into the contemporary with music such as from Lord of the Dance. From the eerie sounds of the opening Celtic Mist through to the emotive finale territory of You Raise Me Up and the traditional farewell song Parting Glass, the audience relished every moment with a standing ovation at the end.

This was certainly a departure from the normal fare offered by the orchestra, but nonetheless a hugely enjoyable stretch of repertoire for our 54-piece orchestra.