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2005-10-28 Tenors scale the heights

by Lucy Purdy


Fresh off their photo shoot in New York, The Celtic Tenors have embarked on a coast-to-coast tour of Canada, and will perform in Barrie on Nov. 5, just days after their appearance on CTVs Canada AM.


With their new album just released, the singers are eager for the North American exposure that will elevate them to the 'rock star' status to which they are accustomed in Europe.


Their debut album climbed the charts in the U.K., only to be held off the top by Russell Watson. It went to number one in Ireland, and in Germany it achieved double-platinum status and won the German equivalent of the Grammy award for Best Classical Crossover Album in 2002.


Their television special, A Great Irish Evening, was shown on 260 PBS channels across the United States.


The Advance spoke with Matthew Gilsenan, one-third of the popular Irish trio, completed by Niall Morris, and James Nelson. All three singers have extensive training and formal education in music.


And while Morris and Nelson immediately set their sights for the sound stage, Gilsenan came into his position from a different angle.


Having grown up in the little town of Kells (famous for the Book of Kells), 70 kilometres north of Dublin, Gilsenan ventured out into the world of engineering. After several years of a successful career in the field, he decided to take a chance on singing.


While studying at university, he had also attended the College of Music. So armed with hope, and blessed with a remarkable voice, Gilsenan decided it would be a bigger risk not to take a risk.


"I wanted to just do it and fail, because I knew it was going to be a tough sort of thing, but at the end of six months I ended up signed with the guys to a worldwide record deal with EMI," Gilsenan said. 


The singers were near completion of a run of 130 shows in Ireland when a well-known manager happened into hear them. The tenors were sceptical at first. But an impromptu audition five years ago at the EMI cafeteria, during coffee break, proved fruitful. It all seemed to happen very quickly after that.


"It's been a roller-coaster ride, really," Gilsenan said, adding that with their current success and tour of North America, all the right people seem to be in the right place at the right time.


Remember Me, the group's newest album, features an eclectic mix of popular songs, operatic classics, classic-crossover and Irish favourites.


The Celtic Tenors have taken the old Air Supply song, "I'm All Out of Love", incorporated their own flexible styles, harmonies and textures to make it their own. They also sing with Samantha Mumba and Brian Kennedy.


The concept of blending the sounds of popular and classical music has taken off across Europe and the response has been incredible. Gilsenan recalled performing at a recent star-studded evening at Royal Albert Hall in London, England.

"There were about 6,000 people and they really enjoyed it. They went mental. It was like a rock concert."


Joining the Celtic Tenors on Barrie's Gryphon Theatre stage will be special guest Donna Malone. At the age of 18, the young Irish soprano is already making strides. "She's got the most amazing voice you've ever heard," Gilsenan said.

"It's going to be a very high-octane show. There's some operatic stuff, some more laid-back contemporary pop. There's funny Irish stuff, fast Irish songs and slow Irish songs that will make you cry."


Gilsenan also promises the trio will sing their signature piece, Danny Boy, which happens to have a claim to fame as former U.S. President Bill Clinton's favourite version.