An exclusive interview with Kevin Burke of Celtic Fiddle Fest

A more aptly-named group can probably not be found, this renowned trio of fiddlers: Irish legend Kevin Burke, Brittany native Christian Lemaitre, and young Andre Brunet from the French-Canadian region of Quebec. Known collectively as Celtic Fiddle Festival, the three indeed provide a musical celebration of all things Celtic – and many things not Celtic at all, but that fit into the Celtic canon perfectly.

CFF, along with guitarist Nicholas Quemener, performs Sunday at 4 p.m. in the Continental Ballroom of the Yorktowne Hotel, 48 E. Market St., York, with Irish Blessing opening. There will also be  a Celtic music jam session beforehand starting at 2:30 p.m. Tickets and information at www.smsfolk.org.

Kevin Burke was kind enough to answer e-mailed questions about the group’s makeup, its music, and what he’s been up to. Following is that Q&A:

Q: The original Celtic Fiddle Festival was you, the late Johnny Cunningham, and Christian, and now it is you, Christian, and Andre (along with Nicholas, of course) – why did you choose to factor together this particular mix of players instead of finding, say, another Scottish fiddler, for example? What were you looking for sound-wise, maybe, with this pairing of musical and national backgrounds?

A: When we lost Johnny, it was a pretty sad time. Our tour was due to begin not long after he died, and all the Scottish fiddlers we thought of were also friends of Johnny. We soon realized it would be a pretty sad tour for them too and the inevitable comparisons could have made it doubly difficult. By choosing Andre, we felt it would seem less like an attempt to “replace” Johnny – an impossible task! We also felt good about drawing attention to the fantastic Quebecois traditional music and its strong Irish and Scottish influence, as well as the obvious French one.

Q: You each play a solo set in your concerts, then a joint one – what do you find yourselves playing in your solo sets (music from your own background, or do you cross-pollinate, as it were) and then what do you play when you perform together (again, music from your own backgrounds or do you choose completely different material to get you all out of maybe a comfort zone)?

A: The solo sets highlight each individual genre, but in the group set, we “borrow” form many other styles and traditions.

Q: Your most recent album, “Equinoxe,” came out in 2008 – any plans for a new one anytime soon? How do you break down the song selection between original and traditional tracks? Do you write and record together or separately?

A: We are just at the talking stage at the moment for our next CD. We all collaborate but each player takes a larger role with the music of his respective region.

Q: The song selection on the album comes from all over, from your own native lands to Italy and Sweden and such—are there tunes from even more disparate places you’d like to do on an album, or do live, and what might be some of those? How about song types you haven’t explored – any of those pending?

A: We’re always open to different kinds of music – if we feel we can do it justice, we’ll give it a go!

Q: For readers who might be more familiar with the Irish jig and reel, can you provide the names of perhaps similar Quebecois or Breton tune forms that might correspond to those maybe stylistically or rhythmically?

A: In Quebec, there is the Quadrille, the Grondeuse, and the Brandy, among others. In Brittany, there are dances such as the Gavotte and An Drou.

Q: You replaced Ged Foley with Nicholas Quemener for the current tour – how did you come across him? Is it important to you to have the band be composed on players from several generations (that is, different ages), and if so, why? Will Ged be back ever or is the lineup set (or is it meant to be fluid and if so, why)?

A: Christian has played with Nicholas for years and and I knew him from when he lived in Ireland over 20 years ago. The Celtic Fiddle Festival has often toured with different accompanists – the changes in personnel have usually been brought about by circumstances rather than a specific “group policy.”

Q: What is next on your slate, either with CFF or otherwise – what are your upcoming projects?

A: I have been playing with Cal Scott from Oregon for a while, and our most recent CD, “Suite,” includes some traditional music arranged for string quartet. We will be performing “Suite” (next year) in Europe and the U.S. with various local classical players.

I am also releasing a CD on my record label, Loftus Music, by a great fiddler from Portland, Brongaene Griffin. I met her almost 30 years ago when she was a teenager. She was very interested in Irish music and eventually became a student of mine. Her CD is called “Three Colours Ginger,” and part of the proceeds will go to various pet rescue agencies.

And I expect in a year or so, I’ll be back on the road again with CFF.

BY KIRA L. SCHLECHTER

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