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

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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