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Saturday, May 30, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Fiddler Eileen Ivers celebrates roots of the music with Spokane Symphony

Eileen Ivers will perform with the Spokane Symphony during this weekend’s Pops concerts. (Mel DiGiacomo)
Eileen Ivers will perform with the Spokane Symphony during this weekend’s Pops concerts. (Mel DiGiacomo)

If you’ve ever been to a symphony performance before, you’ll likely be familiar with the violin. But the fiddle? Is there even a difference? Eileen Ivers, Grammy Award-winning Irish fiddler and this weekend’s symphony guest artist, explained:

“This little girl asked me once during a masterclass, ‘What’s the difference between a violin and a fiddle?’ I said ‘You know, I don’t know,’ and she said, ‘Well a violin has strings, but a fiddle has straaangs.’ ”

As it turns out, the primary difference lies in the musician; the instruments are the same, the techniques, quite different. Itzhak Perlman, the world-renowned violinist, notably calls his instrument a fiddle. “The wonderful thing about playing with the Spokane Symphony is that we’ll be able to represent both kinds of players and really show that interchangeability,” Ivers said.

Audience members familiar with composer Bill Whelan’s Riverdance, the Irish music and dance sensation that took the world by storm during 1994’s Eurovision Song Contest, might be more familiar with Ivers’ work than they realize.

“I remember when I got the call to join Riverdance in June of ’95 for their premiere show in London, I originally said no … I’d just put a record out, and I didn’t want to turn my back on that,” Ivers said. “Long story short, Whelan) kept after me, and it (all) worked out very well.” Ivers toured with Riverdance for three years. “It was wonderful.”

This weekend, Spokane’s Haran School of Irish Dance will join Ivers and the symphony on four pieces, including the iconic Riverdance theme. “It really adds to the festive nature of the concert,” Ivers said. “Seeing that element of Irish dance – it’s so exquisite and athletic and passionate.”

Another of these tunes, “Pachelbel’s Frolics,” recorded on Ivers’ first record, starts with “Pachelbel’s Canon” and synthesizes it into a proper Irish real, for which the Haran school Irish dancers will provide the percussion.

“Audiences always get excited when we start bringing orchestral music together with roots music,” Ivers said. “It’s a whole new level of excitement and accessibility.”

Ivers’ Celtic virtuosity and her band’s uplifting rhythms rarely fail to bring an audience to its feet.

“We get the audience clapping along and singing as well; it’s a very interactive show,” Ivers said. “For me, whenever I go to a live music show, I want to be involved, I want to be a part of that experience.”

A daughter of Irish immigrants, Ivers’ love for the country and its music has always been informed by her fascination with the history of its people.

“I love to chat with (the audience) about … the immigrant experience (and) how Irish music has integrated with other roots music along the way,” Ivers said, explaining some of the crossovers she has found over the years between Irish folk and Americana, bluegrass, Appalachian and cajun music. One of her great passions, she said, is “connecting the roots,” a pursuit she continues in her latest album “Scattering the Light.”

“I wanted this record to be very thematic and focused … it really looks at life and human nature in a positive way, finding moments of joy and gratitude even in life’s struggles. Believe me, we go through (a host of) emotions talking about famine and hunger, but, in the end, it’s very uplifting and joyful,” Ivers said.

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