Fiddlin’ Around

Gilles Apap Joins the Celtic Fiddle Festival for a U.S. Tour

by Felicia M. Tomasko

Gilles-Apap-Web.jpgWhen virtuosic Irish fiddler Kevin Burke began touring the U.S. in the 1980s, he found that most Americans thought of Irish music as men with red beards singing sentimental songs about their mothers. In fact, Ireland, as well as other Celtic regions such as Scotland and Breton, boasts an old instrumental tradition of lively music that ranges from the rowdy and raucous to the poignant and emotional. In the centuries-old music, it is not necessarily the composers who are the central focus; instead, tunes are passed among family members and friends who gather around fireplaces, pubs, and living rooms to play long into the night.

Celtic music has now captured the imagination of popular and classical musicians all over the world, including celebrated violinist and former Santa Barbara resident Gilles Apap. Apap will join Kevin Burke and other fiddlers in a celebratory concert at the Marjorie Luke Theatre tonight, Thursday, November 2. “I’m an admirer of his attitude, his open-minded approach to music,” said Burke, speaking of Apap’s passion for breaking down the sometimes formidable boundaries between classical and folk. With some schedule juggling, a series of trans-Atlantic phone sessions, and several days of intense in-person rehearsal, the duo is ready to take on America.

The Celtic Fiddle Festival showcases the central instrument of Celtic music. Although the fiddle is a violin, it is a violin played with a vastly different sensibility than one sees during a classical concert. The festival, which highlights both differences and similarities in regional styles, was begun by Burke with the late Scottish fiddler Johnny Cunningham. They toured together for 15 years and produced five recordings showcasing their cultural takes on the Celtic vibe. Breton fiddler Christian Lemaître and guitarist Ged Foley then joined the two and still tour with the festival. After Cunningham suffered a fatal heart attack, Burke brought in other musicians, including the spirited Québecois fiddler André Brunet, who is touring with this year’s festival along with Burke, Lemaître, Foley, and Apap. Each fiddler will play a set of his own music, drawing from his individual heritage and style. At the end, they will conclude with a group jam, bringing together the similarities of the Celtic derivatives.

The players are all fiddlers from a young age. Burke grew up with the music in his blood. His family hails from Sligo County, Ireland, a region where the very peat moss emanates music, before they relocated to London, where Burke was raised. He was surrounded by extended family that would often play music in the evenings. Burke thought everyone lived like this, until he realized that most kids’ entertainment consists of the radio or television, rather than their great-aunt’s jig.

Since his childhood, Burke has been honored by more than audience applause; in 2002, he received a National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) National Heritage Fellowship. He thought the first call he received from the NEA was an elaborate prank, and it took a while before he was convinced to fly to Washington, D.C., for a series of concerts and receptions. It’s been a long time since Santa Barbara received the Celtic Fiddlers, and with this year’s addition of Apap’s whimsy, the evening promises to be a tour through musical tradition — and innovation.

4•1•1 The Celtic Fiddle Festival is performing at the Marjorie Luke Theatre on Thursday, November 2 at 8 p.m. Tickets are $30-$40. Call 963-0761 or visit for tickets.

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