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No Irish traditional band in the last dozen years has had a wider impact on audiences throughout the world than Altan.

The audience at the Williams Center for the Arts will find out why when the Celtic ensemble gives a concert 8 p.m. today. Tickets cost $20 and can be purchased by calling the box office at 610-330-5009.

It is the lead performance of the Sound Alternatives series, which continues Tuesday, Nov. 16, with the percussion ensemble Mandara, led by Valerie Naranjo, resident percussionist in the “Saturday Night Live” band and the College’s 2004-05 Alan and Wendy Pesky Artist-in-Residence; Friday, Feb. 4, Mali to Memphis, featuring Habib Koité and his African band, Bamada, with special guest Guy Davis; and Tuesday, April 5, Çudamani: Balinese Semarandana Gamelan Ensemble, a group of musicians and dancers from Pengsekan. All concerts start at 8 p.m. A subscription to Sound Alternatives costs $64, a savings of $15 compared to the total cost of the individual concerts. Call the box office to order or learn more.

Altan is comprised of Mairéad Ni Mhaonaigh, lead vocals, fiddle; Cíarán Tourish, fiddle, tin whistle, backing vocals; Dermot Byrne, button accordian, melodeon; Dáithí Sproule, guitar, vocals; Cíarán Curran, bouzouki, bouzouki guitar; and Jim Higgans, bodhrán.

With its award-winning recordings, ranging from soft, old Irish songs to hard-hitting reels and jigs, as well as dynamic live performances, Altan has moved audiences from Donegal to Tokyo to Seattle. The traditional instruments of Donegal — fiddles, whistles, bodhrans, and guitars — are complemented by Mhaonaigh’s graceful voice and eloquent fiddle playing. Altan’s brilliant ensemble playing generates the sort of ecstatic excitement characteristic of the best improvisational music.

Throughout, the band has had an unwavering commitment to bringing the beauty of traditional music, particularly that of the Donegal fiddlers and singers, to contemporary audiences in a way that brings out all of its qualities and destroys none. Altan has always believed that Irish traditional music is a modern music in every sense, and its growing influence and popularity have proved it right.

The seeds of the band lie in the music and fun of gatherings and sessions in kitchens and pubs in Donegal where virtuoso music was heard in an atmosphere of respect and intimacy — it is here that the band’s heart lies still, whether it is performing on TV in Australia or jamming with Ricky Skaggs on the West Coast of the United States.

Altan was signed in 1996 to Virgin Records, the first Irish band of its kind to be signed by a major label. The band had gold and platinum albums in Ireland and toured larger venues in Japan, Australia, New Zealand, Europe, and the United States.

Altan has been called “the hottest group in the Celtic realm these days” by the Boston Globe and “one of the Celtic world’s great treasures, gifted with a front line that is a sheer powerhouse” by the Los Angeles Times. According to the New York Times, “Altan’s special strength is the clarity and coordination of its textures.” Adds New York’s Irish Echo, “They’re poised for greatness and under no circumstances should they be missed in concert.”

“The appeal of Altan centres on the fact that they see no differences or divisions in music,” notes The Sunday Tribune (Dublin). “As such, they have managed to cross the all- important cultural barriers between folk and world and rock music.”

The nationally recognized Performance Series at Lafayette attracts more than 10,000 people each season. It has been cited for performing excellence by the National Endowment for the Arts, National Dance Project, Chamber Music America, Lila Wallace Reader’s Digest Fund, Pennsylvania Arts and Humanities Councils, and Association of Performing Arts Presenters.

The 2004-05 Performance Series at Lafayette is supported in part by gifts from Friends of the Williams Center for the Arts; by the F.M. Kirby Foundation; by provisions of the Alan and Wendy Pesky Artist-in-Residence Program, J. Mahlon and Grace Buck Foundation, and Croasdale Fund; and by grants from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts.

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