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June 2019
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2007-01-24 The Celtic Tenors do try

Something for everyone, group says


Where: The Orpheum, Seymour Street at Smythe
When: Tonight at 8
Tickets: $15.50-$44.50 at Ticketmaster


James Nelson describes the Celtic Tenors as "classical crossover," but it's a long stretch from opera to ABBA.


Nonetheless, the Celtic Tenors do try.


The group, which is at the Orpheum tonight with guest soprano and fellow Celt, Dierdre Shannon, and the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra, has mixed its classical training with Irish folk songs and soft rock veering into pop. The nearest the trio has come to ABBA is "Anthem" from Chess, the post-ABBA musical written by Benny Anderson and Bjorn Ulvaeus. This is on the 2000 album, So Strong, and contributed to the Celtic Tenors' broad agenda. It wasn't going to be limited to Irish songs, even if the trio did start out in 1995 as the Irish Tenors. Nor was it going to sing only classical pieces, though that is the Tenors' background.

"It's kind of a democracy," explains Nelson. "It's different from other groups in that we try to do something for everyone."

Presumably, Nelson is referring to the Three Tenors or Il Divo, where classical music is the hub of what they do. Since forming with Paul Hennessy and Niall Morris, the Celtic Tenors have recorded four albums, the current lineup has coalesced as Nelson, Matthew Gilsenan and Daryl Simpson, and it has worked with The Dubliners and Air Supply.

"We don't want to appear silly, like doing disco songs," Nelson says, assessing their eclecticism. There are boundaries, after all. "The Irish songs are part of our heritage and we've all got classical training."

So you won't be seeing the Celtic Tenors in ABBA's satin pants and thigh-high boots.

"We kind of workshop," Nelson say, describing how they have built their repertoire. "In the early days, I would arrange the song. The three of us write our own harmonies. We also like to swap lines. So someone always gets the glory.

"We never want to have a lead singer," he continues. "We're a team. As someone said, there is no 'i' in team."

Nelson, however, usually does the heavier, more challenging material. He's performed in 60 operas in the past. The pop stuff widens the Celtic Tenors' appeal but it has to have a long life if it is to be in the company of the classics.

"A lot of modern pop is short-lived as well," Nelson agrees. "You have to go where your strengths are."

Looking back, as Nelson says, "It's been a real musical journey for us.

"I just want to sing. As long as I'm enjoying this classical crossover, I'll be a member of the Celtic Tenors."


copyright for this article:

Tom Harrison, The Province