From the Emerald Isle, one of the greatest living tenors is making a return trip to Savannah to join a fellow Irishman on stage.
Anthony Kearns’ remarkable, nigh angelic, voice will lead a night of lighthearted and full-bodied arrangements with the Savannah Philharmonic and Chorus in a showcase of world-class vocal and symphonic music Nov. 17 at Lucas Theatre for the Arts.
Kearns has been coming to Savannah for years, thanks to generous local supporters. He was introduced years ago to Philharmonic artistic director, conductor and fellow Ireland native Peter Shannon, and the two have had a fond working relationship since.
“I had heard of him back home, from people in Ireland,” Kearns said. “We’re not too far removed age-wise. We know a lot of the same people. He knows a lot of singers.
“Peter did a bit of singing in his day as well. He has a nice voice. Peter can sing a tune. He’s been wonderful for the Phil up there. They’re a wonderful group of musicians. Great character in them and I think they work well to complement each other well. It’s a joy to go and perform. I love it. Nothing better. I love the rehearsals probably more than the performances. It’s fun. It’s so good, to hear these wonderful, rich arrangements of sounds everyone is pulling together.”
Kearns rose to prominence in the late 1990s as one of the original members of the famed Irish Tenors, a super group formed by PBS. Kearns still tours with the group, which has cut 10 albums over two decades. He says the group’s repertoire has about 200-250 orchestral arrangements now, which he sometimes calls upon in his solo shows.
Over his 20-year career, Kearns has performed in live televised events, before stadiums of people and in the presence of monarchs, kings and presidents. He has handled opera, folk and pop with hundreds of the greatest orchestras in the world. In 2010, Kearns was recognized by the Irish Music Association as the “Best Irish Tenor in the US, UK and European Union."
His massive repertoire, which spans the spectrum of traditional pop music and opera as well as contemporary, has been culled from his two decades of professional work, and one fortunate source. When legendary tenor Frank Patterson, known as “Ireland’s Golden Tenor,” passed away in 2000, his wife bequeathed his entire library of vocal music to Kearns.
“A lot of them are handwritten,” Kearns said. “I am trying to digitize them. There’s some wonderful arrangements and some wonderful music. Thankfully, Frank was a tenor who sang in the tenor keys. He was a real tenor. He wasn’t afraid to go for it. So the music is in the keys I would sing it in myself.”
Kearns and Shannon have joined creative forces to put the night’s program together. The standards will be on full display, as well as a variety of arrangements from intense love songs to hymns, a Willie Nelson tune and of course, traditional Irish tunes — the “bread and butter of any good tenor,” as Kearns puts it. “Limerick You’re a Lady,” “Nearer My God to Thee,” Vienna, City of My Dreams” and “Nessun Dorma” will all be heard.
“We couldn’t get out of Savannah without singing 'Danny Boy,'” Kearns said. “That’s a must. It’s a mixed program. It covers a lot. That’s the beauty of these concerts. They’re not too heavy. Lots of entertainment. There’s contemporary songs.”
Typically when working with the Irish Tenors, Kearns is bound to a particular setlist. When he performs solo concerts, like this one, he has a bit more freedom to dig into his vast repertoire.
“The Tenors program does not deviate from its repertoire,” Kearns said. “We have our set music and that’s rotated. We may add one or two numbers to a program. For me, though, I can pick and choose. That’s why it’s fun.
“I am going through Frank Patterson’s library and say, oh, I’d like to do that; Peter, let’s give it a shot. It’s like a recital with a pianist. You can pick your own music. You can have a bit of fun. These are light, entertaining programs. It’s not heavy-duty. It’s not all opera, it’s not all Irish, it’s not all spiritual. It’s a roller coaster of emotions.”