Irish eyes — and all others — smile at fun Philharmonic concert

For a couple of wee short hours on Saturday evening, the Columbus Indiana Philharmonic musically transported a sellout crowd of more than 1,000 people at Judson Erne Auditorium to the beautiful and enchanting emerald isle of Ireland for a concert of music shimmering with shamrocks, beguiling as the Blarney Stone and chocked full of Irish sentimentality.

Through well-known Irish folk melodies and powerful lyrical stories of the Irish people themselves, the orchestra, with help of Irish tenor Ronan Tynan and the McGing Irish Dancers, created an early St. Patrick’s Day celebration of mirth, merriment and toe-tapping entertainment.

The concert began with the first of several selections from “Irish Suite” by Leroy Anderson who is perhaps best known for his holiday arrangement of “Sleigh Ride.” This Irish jig was performed at a bright and energetic tempo which was conducted by Maestro David Bowden without his usual baton. The orchestra displayed its well-known power and full-bodied sound which in this rhythmically-driven piece was well supported by a spot on percussion section. As would be done many times throughout the evening, the audience responded with cheers, whistles and vigorous applause.

With this instrumental set up, Tynan, featured soloist for the evening, was brought to the stage. Standing an imposing 6-foot-4 and weighing (as he freely admitted) 260ish, Tynan brought a commanding physical presence to the stage which was matched by a voice of great power and richness of tone. His first two selections, “Molly Malone” and “Isle of Hope, Isle of Tears,” showcased a voice that in his high notes needed no amplification and unfortunately at times early in the concert sounded a bit over-amplified.

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This did not, however, detract from his heart-felt emotion and ability to tell a poignant story that drew the audience into his performance as much as into his often widely outstretched arms. The ensemble supported him beautifully as Bowden, Tynan’s pianist, Bill Lewis, and Tynan himself collaborated for moments of exquisite timing and musical sensitivity.

Returning to “Irish Suite,” concertmaster Daniel Aizenshtadt was featured in the traditional role of Irish “fiddler.” His tender and sweet performance provided a wonderful contrast to the power of Tynan’s voice in the previous selections and to the lush, full sonority of the CIP playing with him on “The Last Rose of Summer.” His long, almost inaudible, final note held the audience in a moment of breathtaking silence.

The McGing Irish Dancers then joined the celebration with a rousing Irish Dance by a bevy of delightful dancing lassies which tested all of Bowden’s conducting skills in keeping together the full orchestra and nine pairs of rapidly toe tapping feet. The audience quickly showed their enthusiastic appreciation.

Having now introduced all of the elements contributing to this Irish musical feast, the remainder of the first act showcased Tynan and the Philharmonic. “Grace” highlighted the storytelling skills of Tynan and his wonderful collaboration with his pianist. The well-known When Irish Eyes Are Smiling served as a wonderful tribute to former Philharmonic Executive Director Alice Curry and gave further evidence to the power and depth of Tynan’s top voice.

Not to be outdone, the many different instrumental sections of the orchestra were featured in “The Girl I Left Behind Me” again from Irish Suite and each section performed brilliantly. Closing the act with “Red is the Rose” and “Grandfather’s Immigrant Eyes,” Tynan engaged in some humorous banter with the audience, further strengthening his connection to them which allowed his final selection to leave many in the crowd with a tear in their eyes, a true tribute to the skill of any Irish performer.

A fun moment for the audience followed with a Luck of the Irish sing-a-long of three traditional Irish songs which allowed the sellout crowd to discover its own inner Irishness.

Tynan completed his part of the program with an at times humorous and at times poignantly sad performance of “My Irish Molly,” followed by the McGing Irish Dancers in the concert finale “Lord of the Dance’ clad in beautifully colored, shining costumes that literally sparkled against the background of the orchestra mostly in black.

As the audience roared its approval Tynan returned for his encore with a song that most of the audience had been waiting for all evening, the most well know Irish ballad, “Danny Boy,” which also featured Eddie Ludema, principal trumpet, in a beautiful flugelhorn solo. Singing the verse that is perhaps not as well known, Tynan gracefully and artfully used his musical storytelling skills to capture the heart of the crowd and then with his softest and lightest singing of the evening finished with a beautiful pianissimo that left the audience wanting more.

And more Bowden, Tynan and the CIP gave them with a rousing reprise of Lord of the Dance with the McGing dancers again gracing the stage and Tynan and Bowden leading the audience in clapping along with the music. Irish eyes were smiling as the Columbus Indiana Philharmonic stole the away the hearts of the audience as it rose quickly to its feet with thunderous applause for all the performers.