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Canada’s Celtic ambassadors mark their 25th anniversary with release of new symphonic recording

The Barra MacNeils with Symphony Nova Scotia (Live) –
In Stores April 10, 2012

For Immediate Release – Toronto, Canada

There is something special about a live Barra MacNeils’ performance. Over the past 25 years this group of siblings from Sydney Mines, Nova Scotia has built deep, almost indefinable, connections with fans around the world through their moving performances of Celtic music in all its forms. The rich, diverse and mystic beauty of this iconic group’s unique brand of Celtic music reaches new heights with the release of the Barra MacNeils first symphonic recording. Recorded at the Rebecca Cohn Auditorium, over a two concert run with Symphony Nova Scotia this new CD features a lush collection of traditional Celtic arrangements by Stewart MacNeil and long-time Barra MacNeils collaborators Chris Palmer and Eric Robertson. The Barra MacNeils with Symphony Nova Scotia (Live) is released in Canada by Fontana Records and hits stores, coast to coast, on April 10, 2012.

“This album is a dream come true,” says Stewart MacNeil. “The marriage of our Celtic traditions with classical settings has always been a natural, almost organically seamless marriage; but on this recording, the beauty of the arrangements combined with the great respect for the history of Celtic music which was shared amongst all the musicians on-stage enabled us to transcend the performance, and capture a moment in time that was truly magical”.

The relationship between the Barra MacNeils and Symphony Nova Scotia dates back to the group’s early days as a professional ensemble, and has continued with frequent guest performances. The 37-piece orchestra is based in Halifax and offers performances across the province, reaching more than 50,000 Nova Scotians of all ages each year with some of the most innovative concerts and educational offerings in the country. The Barra MacNeils have begun touring these symphonic arrangements, and recently performed with the Victoria Symphony in a performance the Martlet News called ‘a celebratory overview of Celtic music”…showcasing their abilities as talented instrumentalists, vocalists and performers”.

This CD release marks the Barra MacNeils’ 25th Anniversary year, and is notably the first commercial recording for Conductor Martin MacDonald. MacDonald, who was serving as Resident Conductor with Symphony Nova Scotia at the time of the recording, is a childhood friend of the Barra MacNeils. MacDonald acknowledges the overwhelming sense of pride felt by the orchestra when performing alongside the Barra MacNeils, who are widely regarded as Canada’s Celtic ambassadors. MacDonald also believes that the orchestra was equally inspired by the complexity of technique and emotion prevalent in both the Celtic and classical music traditions.

“The ancient style of Scottish fiddle playing that exists in Cape Breton shares a tradition of ornamentation and improvisation with that of Baroque performance practice. The Celtic tradition is in fact filled with the same kind of dynamics and subtle nuances that we see in classical music, it differs mostly in tempo and swing. The orchestra found this unique collaboration to be truly challenging and absolutely rewarding on every level.”

The authenticity and folk-traditions found on every Barra MacNeils recording resonates throughout the new CD, The Barra MacNeils with Symphony Nova Scotia (Live). The featured tracks include, The Longest Day, a reel that celebrates the summer solstice; an orchestral arrangement of John Sebastion’s Darlin’ Be Home Soon, a song that was a huge radio hit for the Barra MacNeils; Easter Snow, featuring Ryan MacNeil on uillean pipes in an arrangement by Chris Palmer; One Misty Moisty Morning a catchy song based on the exploits of Robin Hood; and Northern Light, a song written by the Oysterband, that provides a crisp setting for Lucy MacNeil’s haunting vocals. Highlights include a Symphonic arrangement of My Heart’s in The Highlands inspired by a bombastic rendition by John (Jimmy Malcolm) Gillis and Jackie (Allan J.) MacNeil which Stewart first heard on the top of the Highland Village hill in scenic Iona overlooking the Barra Strait in Victoria County; a lively, dynamic set of reels on Dougie Mac; Dance With Me Daily, a number that celebrates the simple yet profound theme of celebrating love and joy daily; and Our Highland Queen Medley featuring Kyle and Sheumas MacNeil in an orchestral arrangement by brother Stewart that pays homage to fiddler J. Scott Skinner. An exuberant medley which leads with Gearan na Maidainn (The Maiden’s Compliant) a gaelic song written by the late Hugh F. MacKenzie serves as closing number.

A free MP3 download of My Heart’s In the Highlands is available now until April 10, 2012 on the Barras website. The Barra MacNeils with Symphony Nova Scotia (Live) will be available in stores on April 10, 2012. For more information please visit the Symphony page.

Track Listing
01. The Longest Day
02. My Heart’s In The Highland’s
03. One Misty Moisty Morning
04. Darling Be Home Soon
05. Easter Snow
06. Dougie Mac
07. Caledonia
08. By Northern Light
09. Horses, Geese And One Old Man
10. Our Highland Queen Medley
11. Dance With Me Daily
12. Finale Medley

About The Barra MacNeils
The Barra MacNeils, a six-sibling ensemble from Sydney Mines, Nova Scotia are widely regarded as one of the greatest live concert acts in the Celtic world. The group takes its name from the Scottish island of Barra, the ancestral home of the MacNeil clan. They are the product of a musical family deeply rooted in the Celtic music, culture, dance, language and history of their native Cape Breton Island. Their mother, Jean MacNeil, a passionate amateur composer, singer and well known step dancer offered early inspiration and support, while father Columba always encouraged the siblings to perform and was an enthusiastic supporter of the regions’ local musical traditions. Founding members Sheumas, Kyle, Stewart, and Lucy MacNeil, who was 10-years old when she began performing with her teenage brothers in 1980, performed locally on weekends and toured during school breaks. Sheumas (pipe organ), Kyle (violin) and Stewart (piano) studied classical music at Mount Allison University while the band continued to gain notoriety and commercial success. Younger brothers Ryan and Boyd travelled extensively with their band Slainte Mhath (Good Health) and performed with the Chieftains prior to officially joining the Barra MacNeils in 2005. The group also includes Jamie Gattie, a highly regarded jazz bassist who toured globally with the now defunct RCMP band. In addition to his work with the Barra MacNeils, Jamie is in demand for his solo projects and with other artists.

Multi-award winners, the Barra MacNeils have released 14 recordings to date with the The Barra MacNeils with Symphony Nova Scotia (Live) due on April 10, 2012 and another new CD planned for the Fall. Their numerous critically acclaimed recordings have included their own original songs as well as tried and true standards, featuring their trademark multiple lead vocals, beautiful sibling harmonies and extraordinary musicianship. The Barra MacNeils have won multiple East Coast Music Awards, including Album of the Year award for TimeFrame in 1992 and a Group of the Year award in 2001. The group also earned a 2001 Juno Nomination for Best Roots/ Traditional Group of the Year. Sydney Mines, Nova Scotia recently paid tribute to the Barra MacNeils by amending their official welcome sign to now read “Welcome to Sydney Mines, Home of the Barra MacNeils”. The Barra MacNeils have been an opening act for Céline Dion and continue to tour regularly to theatre and festival stages around the world.

About Symphony Nova Scotia
Now in its 30th season, Symphony Nova Scotia, under the thoughtful and dynamic leadership of Music Director Bernhard Gueller, is the largest employer in Nova Scotia’s cultural community. Employing 37 musicians and ten administrative staff, along with over 150 contracted artistic, production and technical personnel. An award winning recorded group, Symphony Nova Scotia has 21 commercial CD releases to date, and in 2008 were noted as CBC Radio’s most recorded Orchestra. In addition to these achievements, Symphony Nova Scotia’s talented team has won many awards, including four East Coast Music Awards for classical music.

The orchestra has repeatedly been praised for its versatility and flexibility, performing everything from baroque to pops to jazz with equal finesse. International music veteran Howard Cable calls Symphony Nova Scotia “the most versatile orchestra in Canada,” and the Chronicle Herald says, “They can play it all: Beethoven, Shostakovich, Hatzis and Current, as well as Tommy Dorsey, Scott Macmillan, Rose Cousins, Buck 65 and Natalie MacMaster. We are, in this province, exceedingly fortunate to have them.”

Symphony Nova Scotia also places a high priority on community engagement and corporate social responsibility. Its education programs reach over 15,000 elementary, junior, and senior high school students each year – students who may not otherwise have access to symphonic music. The Symphony also conducts many accessible community programs, including pre-concert chats, performances in local public libraries, and free community concerts.

About Conductor Martin MacDonald
Martin MacDonald is one of Canada’s most dynamic and outstanding young conductors. He recently concluded his three-year term as Resident Conductor of Symphony Nova Scotia, a position supported by the Canada Council for the Arts. With Symphony Nova Scotia, Martin conducted over 100 performances of classical, ballet, pops, and educational programming; led the orchestra on tours; covered all concerts and repertoire; and several of Martin’s performances were recorded and broadcast nationally on CBC Radio. Martin worked closely with Maestro Bernhard Gueller and through his remarkable mentorship gained invaluable experience in this incredible and dynamic residency program. His extensive work in Nova Scotia earned him the 2010 Jean-Marie Beaudet Award in Orchestral Conducting from the Canada Council. Previous to this, Martin was Associate Conductor of the National Academy Orchestra of Canada, and Maestro Boris Brott for three seasons, where he was mentored through his national training program.

For 2011-2012, Martin’s guest conducting engagements include the orchestras of Edmonton, Thunder Bay, and Prince George; Symphony Nova Scotia; the NAOC; Nova Sinfonia; and multiple appearances with both the Hamilton Philharmonic Orchestra and the Newfoundland Symphony Orchestra. Martin completed his Master’s degree in Orchestral Conducting at McGill University in Montréal, and his Bachelor’s degree in Cello at Memorial University in St. John’s. At McGill, he assisted both the McGill Symphony Orchestra and Opera McGill; and conducted the Contemporary Music Ensemble. Martin has extensive experience as a cellist with several orchestras across Canada.

Born on Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia, Martin is the youngest of 12 children and his training began at the age of six with cello, violin and piano. He is an alumnus of both the Nova Scotia and Newfoundland youth orchestras. Martin has a strong Celtic music tradition in his heritage and has toured and performed Celtic music extensively with members of his family throughout Europe and North America.

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Media Contact: Victoria Lord, VLPR Inc. – 416-484-9047 /Victoria@vlpr.com