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October 2014 performance with the Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony

Valerie Hill, The Record, Waterloo, ON / October 20, 2014 / Read original article here

Celtic group Barra MacNeils perform with the symphony

TheRecordKITCHENER — When the Cape Breton group, the Barra MacNeils, take to the stage at Centre in Square Oct. 24, they will have the best backup band ever.

“We’ve played with most of the symphonies across Canada and we cut a CD, ‘Live In Concert’ symphony project with Symphony Nova Scotia,” said Stewart MacNeil. “The first one we did was with the PEI Symphony long time ago. The shows have been well received. This is our first time with the K-W Symphony.”

Juno award nominees and winners of several East Coast Music Awards, the Barra MacNeils have long been a favourite of audiences for their energy and musicianship plus the unusual combination of instruments. The symphony just adds to their already extensive repertoire, which includes accordion, tin whistle, flute, bouzouki, guitar, keyboards, piano, bodhran, banjo, percussion, fiddle, Celtic harp, mandolin, vocals and step dancing. Add to that a full symphonic string, percussion and horn section and that is one big sound.

“The music lends itself really well to symphony,” said MacNeil who developed a passion for orchestral music as a serious piano student. “Some stuff that is better known, turns out it had been scored for orchestra.”

The band’s first symphonic experience was in the mid-1980s and they were struck by how the sound was so much lusher, much fuller.

“It gives a bigger colour palette,” said MacNeil. “It’s like having two orchestras.”

The MacNeil siblings have been performing together as a family for more than 27 years and they still source music they have never played before, through research and their mom.

“Our mother has always been a great wealth of information,” he said. “Her memory of her childhood, there’s a huge collection of traditional music.

“We grew up in a culture that inspired us to play professionally. It always amazes me.”

The Internet has also opened new doors for them musically, this ability to ferret out songs that have not been heard in years or decades.

“The resources now are inexhaustible,” he said.