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Boston’s WGBH to present 11th annual broadcast of “A Christmas Celtic Sojourn”

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Brian and Lindsay O’Donovan host Christmas Celtic Sojourn.
Brian and Lindsay O’Donovan host Christmas Celtic Sojourn.

Maybe because its roots are deeply planted in a weekly radio show, but the annual production of "A Christmas Celtic Sojourn" harks back to a time when the family gathered round the old radio cabinets bringing entertainers from all over into our own hearths for shows that were near and dear to us.

Or when television rudely pushed radio aside, we then celebrated with the popular stars of the day in multiple variety shows filled with music, song, dance and comedy for seemingly the whole month of December in Yuletide mode.

For those who grew up in Celtic lands like Ireland and Scotland, it was a time to remember and reflect on the year past and those who had come and gone and to make merry around the fireplace and invite all who passed along the road to come and share in the joys of Christmas.

Those warm memories of Christmas past are lovingly recalled around New England through the prism of WGBH’s live presentation of "A Christmas Celtic Sojourn" produced by Brian and Lindsay O’Donovan, Seamus Egan and Paula Plum each year setting our hearts all aglow and filling us with wonderment about how the Irish love Christmas most of all.

Now in its 11th edition, it only gets better with age and already is a hardy perennial in the New England Christmas celebrations.

To maintain such a respected place in the Celtic realm of entertainment, you need the right ingredients and a head chef who knows how to plan the seasonal feast.

Brian O’Donovan, as the weekly presenter of "A Celtic Sojourn" on the PBS radio outlet WGBH in Boston, has been a mover and shaker in Celtic music for more than a score of years, and that vantage point allows him to move well beyond flipping disks on air.

Erudite and puckish and knowledgeable about the “roots and branches” of Celtic music, he has the wiles of an impresario with none of the overbearing tendencies to go with such personalities. He knows his stuff and recruits carefully to build the right team each year to endure the three intense days of rehearsals and familiarization among the artists and then the grind of a 12-show season packed into eight days in four cities.

Egan helps arrange the music and the musicians which this year include his Solas mates Winnie Horan, Mick McAuley and Eamonn McElholm, plus Chico Huff and Steve Holloway.

Steve Hickman, an old-timey musician and Hambone specialist returns again. Maeve Gilchrest from Edinburgh and Boston adds harp and vocals along with Moira Smiley from Voco and Maureen McMullen from "Highland Heartbeat" (a PBS production) as singers as well.

Branching out a little further to Norway, Mariel Vandersteel will play the Hardanger fiddle which has made huge inroads in Celtic music in recent years.

Over the years this stage show has become an amazing vehicle for dancers with its live show choreography that goes beyond your normal jigs, reels and hornpipes. A lot of thought, talent and sweat goes into clever routines and integration into the solid musical arrangements devised by Egan and company.

And this year one of Boston’s most famous step dancers, Liam Harney, whose young dancers steal the show every year with their steps and sets and beguiling charm, will actually be the featured dancer in the production which will be a real treat.

As usual the show is anchored at the Cutler Majestic Theatre in downtown Boston theater district near the Commons from Sunday, December 15-22 for seven performances (cutlermajestic.org).

There are also outreach opportunities, though most shows have already sold out given its popularity among the WGBH listenership and annual returnees like the performances at the Pinkerton Academy in Derry, New Hampshire (Saturday the 14th at 3 and 7:30 p.m.) and the Shalin Liu Performance Center in Rockport, MA where the shows on the 16th at 4:30 and 8 p.m. have been booked out also.

Tickets remain for the Hanover Theatre in Worcester on Tuesday, Dec. 17 at 7:30 p.m. and at the exquisite Cutler Majestic Theatre at Emerson College for a variety of evening and matinee performances.

If you need further enticing, there is a Celtic Christmas music stream based on previous show recordings and live concerts online at that can be accessed at www.wgbh.org/audioPlayers/Celtic.cfm . and even a video available on YouTube.

And before Solas goes deep into the "Celtic Christmas Sojourn" bubble for rehearsal and the 12-show run, they have some gigs of their own. Visit www.solasmusic.com for dates.

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