Friday, 12 November 2010

Masters Bill Whelan and Athena Tergis for IAC series

It was another very successful musician who decreed that “the times they are a changing” over four decades ago, and when it comes to Irish music today that is certainly the case.
One of the biggest catalysts in changing the landscape and the prism in which Irish music is seen and heard is composer Bill Whelan of Riverdance fame. While the success of the popular dance show scored by his musical genius has been unparalleled, this Limerick man prefers to work in solitude and not directly under the spotlight of center stage.
So it will certainly be intriguing to see him come out of the shadows in his first performing role in a few years as he engages fiddler Athena Tergis in the fourth edition of the Irish Arts Center’s Masters in Collaboration from November 17-21.
As in the previous series initiated by the IAC in 2008, a veteran artist with a long string of achievements is matched up with a promising artist whose resume may run a bit shorter.
Whelan, best known for his Riverdance music, has also had great success composing for film, theater and producing music for other artists.
Tergis is a very familiar figure around the IAC in recent years, appearing in a super-sized version of Green Fields of America that was turned into the PBS and DVD video production called Absolutely Irish. She also appears at the annual Christmas shows, and she finds the IAC a very creative environment for the arts.
Whelan and Tergis have crossed creative paths before through Riverdance when she performed in the Broadway production in 1999.
And even more recently Tergis toured with the Dublin Philharmonic Orchestra and along with Cora Venus Lunny, a classical violinist, interpreted Whelan’s composition “Inishlacken” from his Connemara Suite that will be part of the IAC program.
They will compose other material together and perform with a nine string ensemble, a percussionist (Robbie Harris) and Irish dancer Mick Donegan.
One of the critical aspects of a joint effort like this is daring to be different and innovative when working closely with another artist in a confined space and time frame.
Whelan, whose traditional lineage goes back to Planxty, doesn’t fear innovation, and actually embraces it.
“The music can’t be kept in a box only to be opened at holidays or just repeated over and over. Playing on your own in a cottage in Clare or on a Saturday night at the local pub long ago isn’t the same for the young people now who are exposed to so much on the Internet. The music has to change or it will cease being interesting and will die,” Whelan told me in a phone interview.
The Masters in Collaboration series will follow the same pattern as the others, with a behind the scenes midweek interview with both Whelan and Tergis by Dr. Mick Moloney, who has shepherded this project he initiated with IAC executive director Aidan Connolly, on Wednesday, November 17 at 8 p.m.
No one is more skillful and knowledgeable at drawing out his subjects and helping to put their respective accomplishments in perspective and perhaps shed light on the direction that the end performances might take. It remains one of the more novel approaches to witnessing art in creation while maintaining some suspense about what we will witness in the finished product in the weekend performances.
The Donaghy Theatre at the IAC is an intimate laboratory for this type of observation, and there will be two final performances on Saturday and Sunday at 8 p.m. Seats are limited and higher than the usual prices, but these pairings have the potential to be history making.
Visit or for tickets or 212-868-4444.

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