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2002 The Celtic Tenors

from Celtic Connections
A magazine for the Irish Worldwide
by Colette Sheridan


The Celtic Tenors version of my favorite song, "Danny Boy", brought me to tears. They're the best Irish singing group I've ever heard," said Bill Clinton. Indeed, his wife, Hillary, bought the tenors' CDs for Bill when she was in Dublin recently. With this kind of approval, it would seem that the three young men, Niall Morris, James Nelson and Matthew Gilsenan, can do no wrong. In January of this year, they played the main 3,000 seater auditorium in Hamburg and the show was televised for the main TV network there. After the resulting Il0-minute program was screened at Easter, over 1,000 hits were logged on the Celtic Tenors' website. Now, the great news for these men is that they are on the cusp of breaking into the lucrative American market. An edited version of the television program was shown coast to coast on PBS in June to coincide with the launch there of their two albums, Celtic Tenors and So Strong.

"That will be great exposure. Only Charlotte Church and Andrea Bocelli have made it at that level in the States," says Gilsenan. Signed to EMI Classics in 2000, their first album reached #2 in the British Classical Album Charts in February last year and it went on to achieve platinum status in Ireland. So Strong was released in March and includes 16 tracks produced by Mike Moran who has worked with many of the world's superstars including Paul McCartney, Stevie Wonder, Eric Clapton, Paul Simon, George Harrison, Placido Domingo and Jose Carreras, to mention just a few. The three chose all the tracks on the album and many are personal favorites. "Love of my Life" is a tribute to Freddie Mercury and was selected for its references to Mercury's classical background. So Strong sees the band build on the Celtic origins of their first album to take on a more mainstream audience with tracks intended for the classical and crossover markets. The executive producer of the album is David Bryce, who began his music career in 1956 and toured with Bill Haley and the Comets as well as Buddy Holly.


The Celtic Tenors have been together now for five years. "We have a different style to most tenors. We tour with a band rather than an orchestra and we have a certain rock'n' roll feel. We use harmony more than say Pavarotti, Domingo or Carreras," says Morris. The men are more likely to wear leather jackets on stage rather than tuxedos. "We don't want to alienate our audience by being too formal," says Morris, who played keyboards for Enya in the early days of her career.


Niall Morris, who was born in Dublin, studied at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama and the National Opera Studio in London. He won many prestigious scholarships including the Wolfson Foundation prize and the OTC Young Singer's Bursary. Morris has sung in over 200 opera performances and enjoyed enormous success when he created the role of Davey in Jonathan Dove's opera, Sirat Song at the Almeida Festival. He returned the following year for the world premiere of contemporary composer Thomas Ades' debut opera, Powdeu Hw Face, which was subsequently recorded on EMI Classics.


A graduate of University College Dublin, James Nelson, from Sligo, has performed as a soloist throughout the UK and Ireland, Spain, Portugal, Italy, Switzerland, Russia, Israel, Singapore and the USA. As an oratorio soloist, James Nelson has performed from a repertoire of more than 60 works.


Matthew Gilsenan, from County Meath, is one of Ireland's most accomplished young tenors. His achievements include finalist in RTE's Singer of the Future competition in 1998, a hugely successful six month season at Clontarf Castle in Dublin. His oratorio performances include Beethoven's Mass in C, Symphony No 9, Handel's Messiah and Dvorak's Mass in D and Mozart's Masses.