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Cherish the Ladies, BPO deliver close-to-perfect Irish program

It was a fun-filled Saturday evening with a full house packed with enthusiastic fans in as Cherish the Ladies joined up with the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra in Kleinhans Music Hall for a program of traditional and not-quite-so-traditional Irish folk music. According to Joanie Madden, the leader of Cherish the Ladies, St. Patrick's Day wasn't over yet, a proposition that the group and the orchestra took to with considerable gusto.

As is usually the case for these kinds of Pops performances by the BPO, the orchestra was first up on the program before sharing the bill with the "headliners" after the intermission. The BPO played three of the six movements from Leroy Anderson's "Irish Suite," splitting them apart to fit in some other arrangements of traditional material, including a lively medley of jigs played by BPO members Amy Licata on violin and Brett Shurtliffe, who doubled on double bass and bodhran. Madden also came on stage to solo on her pennywhistle as the orchestra backed her up on a lovely version of "Meagh Seola."

During the second half of the evening, Madden acted as the announcer/hostess, cracking wise and playing her flute and pennywhistle with a polished authority that sang with the tunes. Michelle Burke was the group's featured vocalist and, in the first piece on the group's portion of the program, gave a beautiful a cappella beginning to the "Fir and Far Medley" before the string section slid in behind her.

Then the band eased into the mix, the tempo increased and a trio of step dancers darted out from the wings to give a visual and percussive boost to the proceedings.

While that was very good, the rest of the night's performances were on a par with or slightly better than that. It was a fine, fine way to spend a Saturday evening. All of the musicians seemed to be on top of their game; the orchestral entrances were close to perfect and the Madden-led ensemble played cleanly, convincingly and with verve.

Before the BPO and Cherish the Ladies started playing, there was a pre-concert performance in the Mary Seaton Room across the hall from the main stage. The LeftOvers, a local Irish music sextet, ran through a rousing batch of traditional material including some "rebel songs" from the days when Belfast was a battleground between Catholic and Protestant forces. They also slid in a Celtic influence pop tune ("Ordinary Day") by the Canadian band Great Big Sea and engaged in some well-received audience participation shenanigans with the large crowd in attendance.

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