Performance Friday, March 8, 2013 | 8:30 PM


Zankel Hall
No Irish traditional band has had a wider impact on audiences throughout the world than Altan. From delicate and heartrending airs to hard-hitting reels and jigs that often feature twin fiddles, Altan combines a respect for tradition with a modern sensibility.


  • Altan
    ·· Mairéad Ní Mhaonaigh, Lead Vocals and Fiddle
    ·· Ciarán Tourish, Fiddle, Tin Whistle, and Vocals
    ·· Dermot Byrne, Button Accordion and Melodeon
    ·· Dáithí Sproule, Guitar and Vocals
    ·· Ciarán Curran. Bouzouki and Bouzouki Guitar


  • Altan

    Altan has established itself as one of the most important groups to play traditional Irish music in Ireland and on the world stage. Acclaimed for its dynamic twin fiddling and haunting renditions of old Gaelic songs, Altan has been a standard-bearer for traditional Irish music.

    Altan takes its name from Loch Altan, a beautiful lake at the foot of Errigal Mountain, which is the highest peak in Donegal and dominates the landscape of that area. Donegal, an area in northwestern Ireland, is renowned for its fiddle music and song heritage, but for many years its thriving musical tradition was not prominent in the public eye. Nearly three decades ago, Altan emerged from the strong musical culture of its native Donegal and helped draw attention to the rich tradition. Altan's music was passed down from the older musicians and singers of that region before it gained popularity in the 1970s and '80s. Mairéad Ní Mhaonaigh's father Francie Mooney was a noted fiddler and composer who learned a wealth of unusual local tunes from his mother Róise. Many of the songs and tunes that Altan plays come from his repertoire.

    The traditional sounds of Donegal have a distinctive Scots flavor, the result of both Donegal and Scots workers historically migrating back and forth and intermingling musically. For example, many of the strathspeys from the Scottish tradition are played as slightly faster highlands in the Donegal tradition. The quick, single-stroke bowing and staccato triplets favored by Donegal fiddlers lie at the heart of the propulsive twin fiddling by Mairéad Ní Mhaonaigh and Ciarán Tourish. That core Altan sound, in turn, is enhanced by the accordion playing of Dermot Byrne and the dynamic rhythm accompaniment of Ciarán Curran and Dáithí Sproule. Together, they embody the depth, strength, and beauty of the northern Irish tradition.

    Mairéad and her late husband Frankie Kennedy founded Altan when they were invited to make their debut album for the specialized Irish label Gael Linn. The album, Ceol Aduaidh, featured a young unknown Enya as a guest keyboardist. It was the feedback from this recording that encouraged them to go professional and leave their teaching jobs in Dublin. It was the next album, Altan (produced by Donal Lunny), that featured Ciarán Curran and Mark Kelly, introducing the ensemble's music to an international audience. The band expanded over the years, with fiddler Paul O'Shaughnessy joining the ranks, followed by Ciarán Tourish and eventually Dermot Byrne. Dáithí Sproule, a Derry native who lives in Minneapolis, has been the permanent guitar player stateside. Dáithí and Mark share guitar duties on the albums and, along with Ciarán Curran on bouzouki, have one of the strongest melodic accompaniments in contemporary Irish traditional music.

    A renowned cultural ambassador, Altan has toured Europe, the US, Japan, and Australia, performing in some of the world's most prestigious venues, including the Sydney Opera House, Hollywood Bowl, Royal Albert Hall, and Frankfurt's Alte Oper. The band accompanied Irish President Mary McAleese on several State visits, appeared twice at the Clinton White House, and performed in Rome for the Irish and Italian presidents to celebrate the EU presidency in 2012.

    Altan recorded four albums on the Green Linnet label, including three that won the Celtic / British Isles Album of the Year award from the National Association of Independent Record Distributors and Manufacturers. In 1994, Island Angel was the fourth best-selling album on Billboard's world music chart. "Tommy Bhetty's Waltz," from The Red Crow album, was featured in the Oscar-winning film Good Will Hunting in 1997. Altan went on to record three albums for Virgin Records, which helped bring their music and culture to a larger audience worldwide.

    Altan has performed and recorded with The Chieftains, Dolly Parton, Bonnie Raitt, Alison Krauss, and Ricky Skaggs, among others. The band has gained gold and platinum status in Ireland with its record sales, and received numerous awards and honors, including being named the Best Group at the BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards (2003) and having the group's image on an official Irish postage stamp (one of the highest honors bestowed upon any living artist in Ireland).

    In recent years, Altan has experimented with traditional music, using orchestral arrangements of its most popular pieces. The arrangements have been scored by the highly respected arranger Fiachra Trench and performed with the Ulster Orchestra, RTÉ Concert Orchestra, and Royal Scottish Opera Orchestra. In 2010, the band released a 25th anniversary album with the RTÉ Concert Orchestra and toured Asia, Europe, and the US. In 2012, Altan released its 11th studio album, Gleann Nimhe (The Poison Glen), on Compass Records. In addition to its current US tour, 2013 includes a collaboration with Clannad, where both groups will perform together for the Earagail Arts Festival in their native Donegal. 

    Mairéad Ní Mhaonaigh, born and raised in the heartland of the Gaoth Dobhair Gaeltacht in Donegal, is renowned as one of the leading exponents of Donegal fiddle music and one of Ireland's finest singers. She is a founding member of Cairdeas na bhFidiléirí, which was set up 25 years ago to preserve and facilitate the development of the Donegal fiddling tradition for future generations. Mairéad and her late husband Frankie Kennedy founded Altan, a band that has stayed true to the music and songs that she learned from her family and friends back at home in Donegal. Aside from playing with Altan, Mairéad has presented music programs on both radio and television, including the classic radio show The Long Note, and television's The Pure Drop and The Full Set. She has also recorded with Enya, The Chieftains, Dolly Parton, and The String Sisters. In 2009, she released her first solo project, Imeall.

    Ciarán Tourish hails from Buncrana in Donegal. Although Ciarán started playing the tin whistle at an early age, he soon took up the fiddle under the guidance of local legendary fiddler and teacher Dinny McLaughlin. In addition to his mastery of the dance music tradition, he has been in demand as a valued collaborator on non-Altan and non-Irish music projects with a wide range of musicians and singers, including Paul Brady, Matt Molloy, Mary Black, Maura O'Connell, Máirtín O'Connor, Dolores Keane, Dé Danann, and American musicians Jerry Douglas and Tim O'Brien. In 2005, he released his first solo recording, Down the Line, featuring guest musicians Arty McGlynn, Paul Brady, Maura O'Connell, Tim O'Brien, Alison Krauss, and Jerry Douglas.

    Dermot Byrne-from Buncrana, Donegal-learned music from his father Tomás Ó Beirn, who came from the Teileann area. While growing up, Dermot had a rare opportunity to meet many of the old masters of Donegal fiddling, including John Doherty, Con Cassidy, James Byrne, Tommy Peoples, and Danny Meehan. These musicians had a great influence on the young Dermot as he developed a distinctive style of button-accordion playing. Before joining Altan in 1994, he made guest appearances on two Altan recordings, The Red Crow and Island Angel. In addition to his work with Altan, he has collaborated  with Seamus and Manus McGuire, Sharon Shannon, Frankie Gavin, Pierre Schryer, Tim O'Brien, and the late jazz violinist Stéphane Grappelli. Dermot's self-titled solo recording, which he recently reissued, received much critical acclaim.

    Dáithí Sproule, from Derry, has lived in Minnesota for many years. He is one of Irish music's most respected guitar accompanists and one of the first guitarists to develop DADGAD tuning for Irish music. Since performing with the groundbreaking Skara Brae in the early 1970s, he has performed and recorded with two highly influential traditional music trios-Bowhand (with James Kelly and Paddy O'Brien) and Trian (with Liz Carroll and Billy McComiskey)-and provided accompaniment for recordings by Tommy Peoples, Seamus and Manus McGuire, Liz Carroll, Paddy O'Brien, and The Kane Sisters. He has toured and recorded with Altan, Randal Bays and James Keane (under the name Fingal), Dermy and Tara Diamond, The Kane Sisters, Liz Carroll, and Peter Ostroushko, among others. His original compositions have been recorded by Skara Brae, The Bothy Band, Altan, Trian, Liz Carroll, Aoife Clancy, Loreena McKennitt, and the RTÉ Concert Orchestra. Dáithí's recordings include his first solo album, A Heart Made of Glass (1995); the instrumental guitar album The Crow in the Sun (2008); and Lost River, Vol. 1 (2011), featuring songs in English and Irish.

    Ciarán Curran is a native of Kinawley in Fermanagh-an area rich in music, song, and folklore. He brings his family's strong musical tradition to bear on an instrument relatively new to Irish traditional music: the bouzouki. Ciarán's late uncle, Ned Curran, was a great fiddle player and gave the band many tunes from his unusual repertoire. Ciarán was introduced to a lot of traditional music by his friend Cathal McConnell (Boys of the Lough), and also played with fiddler Ben Lennon, to whom he attributes his strong backing rhythm. Ciarán has worked with Antrim singer Len Graham, Enniskillen singer Gabriel McArdle, Derrygonnelly fiddler Seamus Quinn, and Belfast flute player Gary Hastings. He recorded the classic Dog Big Dog Little album (named after two mountains on the borders of Fermanagh and Leitrim in Ireland) with Ben Lennon, Seamus Quinn, and Gabriel McArdle. He also produced the critically acclaimed Slán le Loch Éirne, a duet album from Gary Hastings and Seamus Quinn.


    More Info


The Silver Slipper


Altan performs the reels "Paddy's Trip to Scotland" followed by "The Shetland Fiddler."

Presented by Carnegie Hall in partnership with World Music Institute.
This performance is part of World Views.