Athena Tergis and Bill Whelan

How It’s New York:  Bill Whelan lives here much of the time, though often in Connemara, and Athena Tergis, though brought up in California and resident in Tuscany (on a winery!  talk about your sweet life), was born in New York City.  They’re playing at Irish Arts Center this weekend, Oct. 29- Nov. 1
How It’s Irish:  Bill Whelan of course composed Riverdance, which sent traditional Irish dance and music global.  And Athena plays with Green Fields of America, among others.

Purity is Overrated, says Bill Whelan.

Whelan’s Back In The USA

Last year Grammy-Award winner Bill Whelan and Athena Tergis performed together at Irish Arts Center as part of the Masters in Collaboration Series (I wrote about them for this paper here!).
This week, they return for stand-alone concerts – exactly what the series hopes to foster.
The concerts on the 29-1 include two new compositions.
Jazzical Cyclebike is a mixture of jazz and classical sounds.
After the Titanic is a setting of Derek Mahon’s poem of the same name, and will sung by Morgan Crowley.
Irish dancer Mick Donegan will also appear.
Athena Tergis performs with The Green Fields of America, and has played with Riverdance – On Broadway, among others.
Whelan, composer of Riverdance. was also recently awarded a Spirit of Ireland award by the Irish Arts Center at their yearly gala and fundraiser.
We caught up with Bill last week to ask him about what to expect.
“Purity is overrated,” he says. In his speech at the Gala, he said:

“Notions about purity in the arts run, I believe, counter to the creation of all good art. Show me the purist and I’ll show you a heart full of fear. In fact, there is something chaotic, anarchic and unpredictable about the creative process.” 

Interview after the jump!

Bill Whelan (BW): This is the first US performance of Jazzical Cycle Bike. It was written for a Dutch Chamber Orchestra, for cello and chamber orchestra; Athena and I have adapted it to be played on her 5-string violin. I wrote it about a year ago. There’s a space given to the player to play an improv or to play what’s written, but it’s very much in jazz style.
I wrote it in Paris, where I was cycling around. My head was full of cycling and Paris and the streets and jazz; there’s a big jazz tradition in Paris.
I grew up listening to jazz. There’s a very strong jazz influence in the rhythms of Riverdance.
“After the Titanic” was written just 3 weeks ago. It’s very relevant right now because we’re coming up to the 100th anniversary.
I remember being blown away by A Night to Remember as a kid.
The first time I read Derek Mahon’s poem, I was completely taken by it.
It’s the story of this guy who was the head of the Cunard line.
He survived the Titanic and eventually moved to Connemara and lived on his own.
There was an inquiry after the sinking and he didn’t come out smelling of roses.
He ends up living with his guilt and that’s what the poem is about.
Irish Examiner: Is it Irish sounding?
BW: I take a very broad view of what it means to be Irish in 21st century.
Even though I’ve drawn on traditional music to inform my composition, I started out as a composer writing music that was not at all connected to that.
A lot of Irish musicians and composers now reaching out beyond what is Irish music to find an idiom that is 21st Century.
The work I’ve done in Innislacken or Connemara Suite is to bring classical musicians and traditional musicians together.

Athena is an example of a musician who’s trained in both idioms.
We now have a breed of musicians available for all kinds of stuff, not just musicians playing in pubs in west of Ireland.

This week I stood in the queue at Immigration entering the USA.

An Evening with Bill Whelan Featuring Athena Tergis and Special Guests
Irish Arts Center (553 W 51st Street, New York NY)
Saturday October 29 – Tuesday November 1 at 7.30pm
Admission: Admission: $60 premium seating (IAC members $50) / $40 general seating (IAC members $32)
Reserve at or 866-811-4111

Beside me was a man who was leading a group of young musicians from Comhaltas Ceoltoiri Eireann about to embark on a US tour.

We spoke of the state of young musicianship. “Jaysus Bill, they’re brimmin’ with confidence”, he said. “They’re playing jazz, they’re playin’ classical, they’re playin’ trad. There’s no stoppin’ them.” This is the Spirit of the broader Ireland of 2011.

Up next for Bill: a musical, The Contraceptive Train, with Irish playwright Arthur Riordan (who brought Improbable Frequency to New York with Rough Magic in 2009).
Set in the 70s, it’s about a group of women who traveled to Belfast to buy contraception, and were met by the police on their return to Dublin. We’ll keep you posted!

Gwen Orel
About the Author

The only New York journalist who writes for both the Forward and Irish Music Magazine.


  1. Avatar
    Athena / October 28, 2011 at 2:16 am

    Heya Gwen, Thanks for posting about the concerts with myself and Bill Whelan this weekend, just one thing… the shows start Sat, Oct 29th, not the 28th, and run through Nov 1st. See you there! Athena

  2. Avatar
    Gwen Orel / October 28, 2011 at 2:01 pm

    oops! the dates are right in the calendar! will fix that, and see you there!

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