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Irish ambassadors

Brandon Hollihan | Friday, January 28, 2005

A sold-out Leighton Concert Hall at the DeBartolo Performing Arts Center awaits another world-class performance from the Chieftains, some of the best-known ambassadors of Irish music.The Chieftains have been successful partly through bridging a gap between modern and traditional Celtic music and reaching out to both fan bases. The group plays traditional Celtic reels and ballads with the best, but branches out in performing with premier artists from many genres. Some artists have lost credibility through similar endeavors, but the Chieftains have succeeded in making many styles their own.The Chieftains were formed in Dublin in 1962 with the intent of performing traditional Celtic music. The group’s legacy bears a semblance to the English group the King’s Singers who performed at the Leighton Concert Hall in November. Paddy Moloney founded the original group and still performs today as its front man. Moloney performs on the Uilleann (pronounced “illian”) Pipes and tin whistle. Other musicians include Kevin Conneff on the Bodhran (an Irish drum pronounced “bough-rawn”) and vocals, Seán Keane on the fiddle and Matt Molloy on flute.The Chieftains have crossed over to rock music by performing with guest artists including Pete Townshed, Bob Dylan, Elvis Costello and fellow Irishman Van Morrison. On “Long Black Veil” the group performs with the Rolling Stones, Sting, and even Tom Jones. On “Down the Old Plank Road: The Nashville Sessions” the Chieftains also performed with bluegrass greats like Bela Fleck, Tim O’Brien and Allison Kraus.Since its creation, the group has enjoyed the luxury of an appreciative audience. The band first garnered acclaim in Ireland and England, when it maintained a semi-professional, part-time aspect to its work. The band broke out internationally with its scoring of the 1975 film “Barry Lyndon.” After a four-decade long career, the Chieftains have released 44 albums, with their next album, a tribute to departed member Derek Lowe, due in stores Feb. 22. The Chieftains also set several performance milestones for Western music, becoming the first Western music group to tour China in 1983 (a tour that included a performance on the Great Wall of China), and breaking worldwide concert records with a 1979 concert in Dublin before 1.35 million people including Pope John Paul II. The band’s current tour takes it throughout the United States up until late March, and includes performances at Orchestra Hall in Chicago and the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C.So great is the Chieftains’ reputation for traditional Irish music that in 1989 the Republic of Ireland appointed them the official music ambassadors for Ireland. Even so, the band has proved to not only be a driving force through Irish music, but through the popular music culture as a whole. Its work has received 10 Grammy nominations, and it won the award multiple times throughout the 1990s. Its “Barry Lyndon” scoring was awarded with an Oscar, and it has provided music for numerous film, television and stage productions. The Chieftains take the stage at the Leighton Concert Hall Sunday at 8 p.m.