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Munich 1998
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The Following review was written by Gabriele Schrötter

Munich, Philharmonie, April, 8th 1998

A PERSON ASKING for the whole back catalogue of a particular artist doesn't come along very often. It did happen at the merchandise stand in Munich. I remember the guy well. He looked quite down-to-earth and yet, it was easy to see he loved good music above anything else.

This seems to be symbolic for Loreena McKennitt's concert at the Philharmonie Munich. The educated audience followed each of her songs attentively, without ever interrupting except during "Between The Shadows" where Brian Hughes, Danny Thompson and Hugh Marsh each had their solos.

Also, they usually waited a few seconds before applauding, which kind of intensified the revering silence reigning in the hall. One might deduce from this particular behavior that much of the music presented was new to the audience. In Firenze, many songs were greeted with a special applause as soon as people recognized them.

Certainly, the Lustspielhaus, where Loreena played back in 94, holds considerably less people than the Philharmonie... Both halls are fundamentally different. In fact, I wouldn't even call the Lustspielhaus a hall, still Loreena and her sound technicians managed to make both venues sound the best possible.

Loreena played the first notes herself on the Qanun (it wasn't a zither, it wasn't the hammered dulcimer, so I believe that's the one) beginning at 9.15 p.m. in Firenze and at 8.15 p.m. in Munich. Loreena and band come out by the light of matches as the stage completely lies in the dark, then more and more soft shades of lights are cast onto the musicians.

With "The Mummers' Dance", one can detect the various elements of the stage for the first time: a huge arc of distinctly eastern character whose backdrop later on will feature projections of ornaments and letters (probably "The Book of Secrets" in different languages, spelled in an antique character), a screen for more projections further back and 4 antique lanterns pending from the ceiling. Also, "Mummers'" is the track where all the power is needed first and in Firenze, Loreena recalls that a day ago, Rome, had seen an involuntary tea break for the musicians due to a power failure in the middle of "Mummers'".

While with "Mummers'" and "Prologue" where flows into each other, "Skellig" is preluded by a long introduction with Ms McKennitt telling us about never having performed an album track by track before and mostly about the book "How the Irish saved Civilization". In Munich, Loreena remarks justly "This is a wonderful hall". During this rather loomy piece, three lanterns are lit for the first time.

"Skellig" leads directly into the percussion interlude to "Marco Polo". At this time of the concert, some people will have noticed that there are tracks whose live performance excels even the most brilliant studio work. "Marco Polo" sounds different to the album version but certainly is one of the more "fiery" pieces.

On the screen appear the shadows of the branches of a tree in the moonlight... "The Highwayman" has Loreena remembering "the many times we tried to record this song" and inviting us to pack our lunch boxes :). In Firenze, she feels uncomfortable about presenting long poems to non-English speaking audiences and thinks about coming up with a possibility to translate the meaning of the songs.

The 1991 exhibition in Venice was a major event which Loreena traveled to Italy for. It completely changed her view about the Celts. She was also impressed by Venice having been a gateway to the East and the mingling of cultures in the city as a consequence of that. "La Serenissima" - which by the way means "the most serene" in Italian and is a title proud Venice earned in the past - is based on strings instruments. In Firenze, the musicians stand as they are, in Munich, roadies bring three additional chairs for Loreena, Brian Hughes and Rob Piltch. Also, in Munich, Loreena sings a short a capella introduction to "La Serenissima" which she "had heard on Palm Sunday in Valencia some years ago. The piece is one of the audience's favorites, as it was as a pre-release performance in Spilimbergo.

With "Night Ride Across The Caucasus", the shadow of trees in the moonlight reappear. As for horses, anyone having been in Ireland will testify the Celts' love for horses. Loreena has the audience laughing about imagining "these short stocky Celts on their short stocky horses with these helmets and these earflaps kind of going up and down..." which she promptly illustrates with her hands. "Night Ride" is a piece that might need growing, both live and on album. Certainly, the additional vocals by cellist Caroline Lavelle and Loreena switching aptly from keyboard to harp and vice versa are quite impressing.

On "Dante's Prayer", most moving, Loreena plays the piano while greenish stars assemble over her head: "Dante's reference to the stars and all that the stars represent..." Perhaps golden stars would have been more true to nature.

After a 15min intermission, Caroline Lavelle opens the second set of songs with "Bushes and Briars". Her warm and husky voice perfectly conveys the Irish melancholy which is so typical of those traditionals when sung a capella. Loreena follows with "Searching for Lambs", both with voice and accordion.

With "The Mystic's Dream", the stage is lit again and one can notice a few alterations: There are draped curtains to the left and right of the arc. The lanterns are hid in the ceiling. Loreena changed her appearance as well, she no longer wears the long Bordeaux velvet manteaux with olive dress underneath (Munich) or the simple black satin dress with flower ornaments (Firenze) but a baroque style black skirt with white blouse and black blazer with pink sleeves.

Both audience and band seem to enjoy themselves even more with the second set of songs. Is the first part to be considered like the "have to"-test and the second the impromptu performance like at the skating competitions? Perhaps not entirely so but "Santiago" definitely is the absolute favourite of both band and audience. You could see Loreena, usually quiet, dancing and jumping, getting quite out of breath in Firenze. During "Santiago", the backdrop of the arc features a beautiful rosette-like set of ornaments in red, blue and purple.

"When you walk into your hotel room it's not infrequent that I start going into last night's room number. It doesn't work out so well" After a big laugh and a side-glance to Caroline she notices "It seems others have had that experience, too." With this, Loreena goes into "Bonny Portmore". The stage is bathed in green light, from both left and right and above, green triangles of light wander around. These are the only geometrical forms used and that is well. The lightning engineers usually like overdoing things a little...

Speaking of lights, in Munich, Loreena sermoned the audience because of the flashes. Interestingly, they were a greater nuisance in Firenze, in Munich being shot approx. 1 flash per song. She said that flashes disturb her and that "It doesn't take much to distract me - I sometimes get the feedback that other audience members also find it distracting..." When introducing the band she mentioned Nigel Eaton on "mandolin and Drehleier", the German expression for "Hurdy Gurdy". That's what you call a professional! "Between The Shadows" featured solos of a great part of the artists in her band: Brian, Hugh and Richard. The audience greeted them with much applause.

Another poem that Loreena had set to music is "The Lady of Shalott". The piece is performed in much the same way as on the "Mask&Mirror" tour and it is just as moving. Perhaps this song is one of the most catchy ones, many of us were drawn to her music through this particular track. Before her introduction about the Arthurian legends and in Firenze, about the rural imagery of the poem that she likes so much she addresses the audience telling her that sometimes she'd like to get up and have a view on them. Each hall is a different configuration, and despite the care taken at sound check she is bound to cut some folks off, this being due to the shape and size of her harp. She assures this particular part of the audience that she's thinking of them but obviously can't make her harp wander around the stage.

"The Bonny Swans": Brian Hughes' and Hugh Marsh's duel on guitar and violin causes an extraordinary response, the lights alternating between them along with the music.

Loreena's words "We've been traveling your country up and down and even did some good traffic jams the other day" make it clear that "The Old Ways" is the last song of the second set. Whether Loreena thinks of our beloved Old Ways List when she does this song on the piano, we don't know, it always is captivating, and the wonderful riffs by Hugh Marsh earn a tremendous applause from the audience.

After a short pause, Loreena comes back to the piano and begins "All Souls' Night", another showcase from "The Visit". The hall burst into a jubilating cheer while Loreena and band leave the stage. She is back with Shakespeare's "Cymbeline". The stage lights are marvelously set: a light blue circle in the background, yellow and dark blue spots on Loreena... "and the rest is silence".

During "Cymbeline", her microphone was moving steadily downwards. She referred to that when she once again came onstage with a bouquet of white and red flowers: "I thought I was going to sing down there". I hadn't noticed until the moment she told the technician she'd take the G-harp for the last song that she actually carries two identically looking ones with her on tour. A tribute to Murphy's Law? The very last piece she did was an ideal showcase for her voice. I believe very few of the audience knew it and would never have expected her to sing in French. As a Canadian, the song about a "Canadienne", in fact a Franco Canadian traditional from Quebec, might have been a little greeting as an ambassador from a land far away across the ocean.

To end with a funny experience: After the concert I presented Loreena with a "voluminous" booklet of press articles about her compiled as a guide for both the journalist and the listener new* to her music(* It might prove interesting for the "pantless" collector as well;-). My slightly exaggerated "all that's been written about you" made her "feel I should be 90" - what an example of being down-to-earth! The picture I had chosen for the cover (my personal favourite: Loreena among white doves) turned out to having been taken by Pamela Hughes, Loreena's personal assistant, on the appropriately named Paloma Square in Sevilla.

Exchanging a few words with her, I learned that Loreena's excellent sound engineer worked for the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra. A classically trained sound engineer, that's what the Philharmonie needed! One of the favourite encores 'Tango to Evora" owes its title to the city of Evora. Loreena was in Portugal doing photo sessions for "The Visit" and thinking of titles, she named this instrumental, actually a tango, after the city of Evora. Asked about collaborations, Loreena had mentioned earlier, that she would very much like to work with other artists. So far, she only worked with Donal Lunny on "The Bonny Swans". However, there are no tracks on his recordings that feature contributions by Loreena.

At this point, I'd like to thank the wonderful people from the Old Ways mailing list and in particular the many friends that I made through Loreena McKennitt, be it in person or through the electronic medium. A heartfelt thanks goes to everyone who helped making this tour happen, a special thought to Niema, Tim and Karen from Quinlan Road and of course to Loreena herself for music and inspiration.

Gabriele Schrötter
(All photo's taken during the Firenze concert)