Masters of Tradition is an ensemble of some of Ireland’s most gifted traditional musicians. The concert performance is made up of solos, duets, trios, and full ensemble, with uilleann pipes, fiddles, guitars, accordion and sean nós song. The touring group is based on the festival of the same name that takes place annually in Bantry, West Cork, Ireland.
Masters of Tradition has had two acclaimed tours in the U.S., in 2012 and 2013, with tours booked for March 2014 and 2015. From major concert halls in New York, Boston, Philadelphia, and Austin, to top music venues in Washington DC, San Francisco, Seattle, and Denver, audiences have been rapt and the media, effusive.
"Masters of Traditions lives up to its name...not to be missed," enthused The New Yorker. The Irish Voice reviewed the show as “brilliant...a stellar cast...the blistering set brought thunderous applause and a standing ovation."
Renowned fiddler Martin Hayes is Artistic Director of the ensemble. He is joined on stage by six of the most compelling artists in Irish music today: vocalist Iarla Ó Lionáird, fiddler Cathal Hayden, guitarists Dennis Cahill and Seamie O'Dowd, Máirtín O’Connor on accordion, and uilleann piper David Power. Hayes chose these musicians for the original contributions they've made to Irish music.
“These are artists who have found their own voice in the music,” he explains. “Dynamic, powerful musicians. I feel a lot of confidence walking on stage every night with these artists. I know that I’m going to hear something I hadn’t heard the night before. I also know that it’ll be full of energy and life.”
The original intention of the Masters of Tradition Festival was to present traditional Irish music in small configurations (solos, duets and trios) in venues normally associated with chamber music: the wood-paneled library of the beautiful Georgian mansion Bantry House, and the intimate sanctuary of St. Brendan’s Church in Bantry’s main square. The goal was to create a true listening experience so that the depth of the music could be explored and shared with discerning audiences.
The success of the festival, developed by Hayes in collaboration with West Cork Music, started to spread and word reached the Sydney Festival in Australia. The Australian organization wondered if the Masters of Tradition concept could be reconfigured as a stage show and if it could reproduce the festival's intimacy in the 3,000-seat Sydney Opera House. The answer was found in two sold-out performances at the Opera House and raves from the press and the audiences. American demand led to the debut US tour in 2012.
At a Masters of Tradition performance, from the opening notes of David Power's uilleann pipes, the listener realizes that they are in for a unique evening of magic and portent. "Power cracked the heart of the tune wide open, making it unspeakably desolate, yet...beautiful" wrote The Sydney Morning Herald. Iarla Ó Lionáird follows with a soaring, unaccompanied sean nós (old style) song, called "heart-rending" by the Herald. Fiddler Martin Hayes and guitarist Dennis Cahill later perform one of their characteristically subtle yet searing sets. In the second half of the evening, the powerful trio of O'Connor, Hayden, and O'Dowd create sparks with their sublime interpretations. “At times blazing fast, they play with great clarity and with great feeling,” says The Irish Voice. The evening closes with the ensemble in full, a "thrilling climax of galloping jigs and reels." (The Australian)
"This magnificent seven [bears] out the underlying treatise that Martin Hayes operates under,” said The Irish Voice, “that traditional music is the equal of any other form, and can strike and capture the hearts of music fans anywhere and at any time."
"One of the things I want people to experience is a sense of the bedrock of the music," says Hayes. "In its purest form, Irish traditional music speaks a universal language."