[This is typical of the many previews I have written for the Woodstock Times over the past 35 years. I liked these musicians particularly.]

Ferintosh, an ensemble of violin, harp, and cello, plays a program of celtic baroque music this Saturday evening at the Kleinert/James Arts Center in Woodstock. It sounds like a simple statement, but it includes two mysteries: what is Ferintosh, and what is celtic baroque music?

According to cellist Abby Newton, “Ferintosh” is the name of a strathsay, a celtic dance she found in a tunebook. After she arranged it for her ensemble and they played it, the group decided it sounded like a good name and they adopted it. Shortly afterward, Fiona Ritchie, host of NPR’s “Thistle and Shamrock” celtic music program, told Newton that the dance “Ferintosh” is named after a popular whisky of the day. The ensemble refuses to repudiate its name!

Celtic baroque music is a bit harder to explain, but it doesn’t mean the kind of concert works written in baroque era Ireland by composers like Francesco Geminiani. Much of Ferintosh’s repertoire, including about half of Saturday’s program, comes from the work of James Oswald, an 18th century Scottish composer and lover of traditional melodies. Oswald wrote many tunes which have become accepted into the Scottish folk repertoire. He also composed a series of “96 Airs for the Seasons,” which Newton describes as “three minute sonatas for trio using traditional Scottish melodies.” (She adds with pleasure that, unlike many trios of the period, Oswald’s have active independent parts for the cello.)

The remainder of Ferintosh’s program consists of other traditional celtic melodies arranged by members of the ensemble. Newton describes the music as “what both the kings and the farmers would have heard, real crossover music. The same musicians would play for the village dances and for the ladies and lords at the court.”

The members of Ferintosh love performing together, although geography limits their opportunities. Newton is a New Yorker and Catskill weekender. Harper Kim Robertson, introduced to Newton “by a mutual fiddle friend of ours,” lives in Milwaukee. The two played in a trio for a while, until Newton met David Greenberg and played on one of his albums. Greenberg, a longtime member of the great Canadian baroque orchestra Tafelmusik, lives in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Bringing the three players together is a challenge, but they have coordinated their schedules for four years now, giving concerts and recording a CD in natural settings in Scotland. Those performances were also recorded on videotape, which the ensemble hopes to see released as a DVD.

Newton also plays in a local Catskill-area band, Celtic Crossing, which includes her husband and daughter. Next week she starts a five month residence in the New York City public school system under the “Arts in American History” program, taking place in many of the city’s schools. She and the band hope to make their second tour of Scotland this coming Spring if all details can be worked out. Meanwhile, you can hear them Saturday at 8 P.M. Reserve tickets at 679-2079, and get more information on the band at www.ferintosh.com. –Leslie Gerber

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