THE CHIEFTAINS, Abravanel Hall, Friday; additional performance tonight, 8 p.m. (355-2787).
Last night, the Chieftains were the featured guests with the Utah Symphony. And there's an easy one-word summary of the concert: Wow!! There's a reason the Chieftains are the most famous Celtic group around, and it's wonderful to have a group live up to — and perhaps even exceed — their reputation. So . . . when are they coming back?
Yes, they are tight, and musically first-rate, but the bottom line is that they are so darn much fun. It was impossible not to get drawn into the excitement and enthusiasm of the music. A high point of the concert — and perhaps the best explanation of why the concert was so fun — was the last piece on the program, a reel.
As each group member took a turn as a featured soloist, the concert hall almost seemed to disappear and transform into a cozy Irish pub where neighbors and friends gather. Gone were the formal trappings of a symphony as each player, in turn, displayed phenomenal talent on their respective instrument. Two of the especially fun ones included a fiddler who could simultaneously tap dance while playing in his chair (providing his own rhythm section), and a drummer who performed his solo on a storage box instead of a drum. But things really got fun when, instead of stopping after the Chieftains had finished the turns, two violinists (including Jack Ashton) from the Utah Symphony walked over and took a turn fiddling. Another fun moment was the "competition" between the highbrow orchestra and the "lowbrow" folk music in Planxy Mozart, which featured horn player Bruce Gifford.
Aside from the Chieftains' fantastic performance, there were a few other elements to the concert. Most notably, the Utah Symphony took the spotlight following intermission for a performance of Bernstein's Symphonic Dances from "West Side Story." Lockhart explained that they chose that piece because it will be included on the upcoming tour to Europe. While that may be true, either another concert or rehearsal probably would have been a better place for this piece. Not only was it overly long in context of the program (the entire concert lasted about a half hour longer than most Utah Symphony concerts), but it detracted from the mood and feel of the concert. Also, there was the interesting artistic choice of including a high school madrigal ensemble to perform with the Chieftains. They sounded like, well, high schoolers.