Ilse de Ziah- Irish Airs for Solo Cello | Review

It’s not every day we see a release of traditional Irish tunes that isn’t marketed at those clutching at their Irish roots. Mix this with an Australian cellist and you have a real treat for those not only interested in traditional Irish songs, but classical music lovers as well. Yet it’s not just Ilse De Ziah’s nationality that makes ‘Irish Airs for Solo Cello’ something special; the cello itself offers a new perspective on these traditional airs, and cleverly modern arrangements can only be seen as a ray of light after the storm cloud that has been over our native songs.

From the onset of this ten track album it is clear that de Ziah is not only an extremely talented cellist, but arranger of great skill as well. It opens with Carrickfergus, a tune familiar to most. De Ziah offers a lot to the listener here; her emotive playing manages to dictate the sentiment of the song without the presence of lyrics. The arrangement also allows her to hint at the modern features to be experienced later in the album. Buachaille Ó’n Eirne, although it begins with a familiarity, soon becomes a haunting and mysterious piece created by plucking and the shrieking sound De Ziah draws from her cello. Like before, the warm colours in Aisling An Oig-Fhir created by a higher register shows that these contemporary arrangements can be as emotional as conventional ones. Fanny Power is given a contemporary twist with the repetitive bowing and a diverse structure.

Unlike some of the previous tracks Down by the Sally Gardens is a case of ’why fix something that isn’t broken?’. The tune is very much similar to the traditional one, yet de Ziah sees it break into something wonderful by increasing the speed and energy with which she plays before coming back to a more sombre and sustained sound. Again, an emotional roller-coaster. A stunning rendition of A Stór Mo Chroí reiterates that without the words these pieces are just as effective. And the long drones allow for a connection with the traditional roots of the song, allowing the listener to exit having experienced the highlights of  both traditional and modern composition.

‘Irish Airs for Solo Cello’ is not your average combination of Irish tunes. De Ziah offers more than the ‘diddly aye’ that some of these tunes have been subjected to in the past. Throughout it is obvious to hear, not only her skill, but her passion for these airs – it’s not just a desire to please a handful of tourists. She manages to gives the listener a fresh outlook on the songs we may well be long fed up of, by giving them a modern twist and a new heart.

Solo Cello Concert reviews

Christ Church Cathedral gave their Coffee Concert audience a special treat with cellist Ilse de Ziah, a Connecticut born but Australian educated performer who now lives in Cork and plays with the Cork Symphony Orchestra. Her programme Irish Airs to Australian Fair was crowd-pleasing and her unusual arrangements of familiar Irish tunes created an expressive journey of styles and influences.

Her opening Carrickfergus was cold and lonely and caught the “black as ink” mood as the drone sound caught the heart – “I would swim over the deepest ocean” and de Ziah has crisscrossed oceans to share and expand her talents. Buachaill ón Eirne was beautiful and she sang her own love song Driftwood with contemporary folk touches.

Her arrangements were ambitious and interesting and O’Carolan’s Fanny Power was a gem glistening with grace and sparkle. Her Indian tabla-influenced piece caught the humidity, thunder and downpour.

Amhrán na Leabhar was very mournful, but she finished off an excellent concert with a jazzy song Chicken and Fox

Liam Murphy, Munster Express


Film Review – Living the Tradition/Ilse de Ziah & Maarten Roos

Posted by R J Lannan on May 21, 2014 at 11:30 on Tradconnect

“It is not often that one of my favorite genres of music comes with pictures, but in this case, Ilse de Ziah & Maarten Roos have provided just that in their remarkable documentary film, Living the Tradition, an enchanting journey into old Irish airs. Ilse de Ziah is a popular cellist, composer, and performer living in County Cork, Ireland. Maarten Roos is a well-known documentary filmmaker. In concert, their talents have produced a ninety-six minute documentary about the pursuit of traditional Irish music. Ilse travels the length and breadth of Ireland to meet up with homegrown talent and kindred spirits that keep the traditions alive and Maarten provides a vivid cinematographic chronology.

Disc 1: The full-length feature film centers on ten Irish aires and the people that perform them. After Ilse meets and confers with the musicians, she performs the air in that locale. Thus, we get the back-story of the music and the flavor of the area in which it is played. With her, Ilse carries her hard cello case and her little wooden stool, and in her pockets are determination and a passion for the truth in the music. I can clearly hear that passion in every performance. As she plays the cello, I could imagine her heart embracing not only the instrument, but also the spirit of the music itself.
Maarten Roos is obviously a detail-oriented cinematographer. He captures the fine expressions of every performance and adds the brightness of the day in which every character becomes a saint. He also films the nuances that make the performance memorable; the grain of the wood on the curve of a harp, the waves of the sea grass and the waves on the sea, and most of all, the stones. The rocky ruins, the wavering walls, and the crosses that make the graveyards sacred.

One of my favorite tracks on Disc 1 is Carrickfergus (The Rock of Fergus). Filmed in Helen’s Bay, Ilse chases the sunrise and, meeting her on even ground, plays a bittersweet tune of yearning called Carrickfergus, a song about a man looking for lost love.

“I wish I was in Carrickfergus, only for nights in Ballygrand.
I would swim over the deepest ocean, the deepest ocean for my love to find,
But the sea is wide and I can’t swim over, neither have I wings to fly.
If I could find me a handsome boatman to ferry me over to my love and die.”

Filming the performance of the ever-popular tune, Down by the Salley Gardens, Roos captures a rippling pool, turning the performance into a mirrored Monet. Ilse’s rendition is a bit spirited, but she does bring to life all that is hidden within the words of W.B. Yeats’ poem. The song offers the whisper of willow trees and the hope of a newfound love.

The tune Amhrán na Leabhar or Song of the Books became a quick favorite. The tune was a lament over lost objects more precious than gold, but the setting of the graveyard in which Ilse played the tune was quietly beautiful. The Celtic crosses stood like silent monuments as her cello paid homage to life gone by.

Disc 2: Irish Airs for Solo Cello & Performances by other Musicians are vignettes of all the songs brought to life in singular performances. It opens with Cape Clear featuring gorgeous visuals of the rising sun and Ilse playing her cello as a warm morning breeze flows through her hair.

The beginning scene of A Stór Mo Chroí or Treasure of My Heart has a nosegay of purple asters abloom as Ilse and her cello face the sun and greet the day. Waves crash on the black, basalt rocks and wispy clouds bring a pall of darkness in this caoineadh or lament. Penned by Brian na Banban the music carries on about the sadness of leaving home for an unknown land. It might be America or Canada, but it is always far away.
Ilse and Marja Gaynor perform an old tune called Fanny Power. Yes, it would make any eight-year-old giggle, but the story of Fanny Power, a beauty with braided hair and snow white skin, played faster than a waltz, but slower than a dream, is a tune to remember. Thanks be to Turlough O Carolan and Alfred Percival Graves.Living the Tradition, an enchanting journey into old Irish airs, the 2 Disc Set, is one that you will cherish. Nowhere else can you find the stories of such stirring music told better than by this amazing cellist and this astounding filmmaker. I challenge you find interviews and accompaniment by this illustrious group of artists anywhere else. Living the Tradition has it all. If it were just a music CD I would give it a great score. Since it is two DVDs with incredible visuals and emotional music, I give it my highest recommendation.

Ilse de Ziah & Maarten Roos
Living the Tradition, an enchanting journey into old Irish airs
DVD 2 Disc Set
Ilse de Ziah & Lightcurve Films, The Search for Musical History

Rating: Excellent

More film reviews on Amazon 

Irish Airs for Solo Cello – Book and CD reviews

“This book includes new arrangements of nine beautiful traditional Irish Airs, plus one original composition. All works are clearly typeset, with detailed (and stylistically appropriate) ornamentation. In addition, each solo includes general information and performance notes, lyrics (where applicable), and in many cases a basic version of the melody for preparation and reference. Not only do these pieces provide the intermediate to advanced cellist with expressive, ‘out-of-the-ordinary’ performance material, but they also promote technical development through techniques and effects such as false harmonics, double stops, chordal pizzicato, ornamentation and left-hand pizzicato. The book also includes a fine CD of all works, performed by the composer.”

Stretto magazine September 2010 ANZCA Australia and New Zealand Cultural Arts Limited 

“Cellists – Take note! This new collection of Irish melodies, arranged for cello by Ilse de Ziah, is a joy. Here we have ten airs, some well-known, others waiting to be discovered, but all singing gloriously in their new raiment.
There is something here for everyone. Amhrán na Leabhar (The Song of the Books) maintains the simplicity and beauty of the original Kerry song, whereas one or two others use an exciting variational technique which will appeal to more advanced cellists.
On the accompanying CD, the rich harmonics of Buachaill ó’n Éirne in Ilse’s playing seem to make every word of this wordless performance speak a special music to us.”

Tomás Ó Canainn

Duo Concert Review

“Milis is Ilse de Ziah on the cello and Niamh Varian-Barry on the fiddle, a duo of artists who handle their instruments like old friends, with enough charisma to charm the pants off the toughest crowd in downtown Franklin.”

Irish invasion – VALERIE NUTT, Williamson Herald, Nashville, Tennessee