Iarla Ó Lionáird has carved a long and unique career in music both internationally and in Ireland. From his iconic early recording of the vision song “Aisling Gheal” as a young boy to his ground breaking recordings with Dublin’s Crash Ensemble and New York’s Alarm Will Sound, he has shown a breadth of artistic ambition that sets him apart in the Irish Music fraternity.
Preferring not to be categorized, his performances and recorded output follows an ambitious arc that challenges musical identity from Folk to Worldbeat, from New Classical to Opera. But there’s no doubt he is one of our most distinctive voices. Distinctive voices are always a welcome arrival, regardless of the orbits they choose, and Iarla Ó Lionáird’s is one that ventures far beyond the boundaries of any one genre: a defiantly unclassifiable sound.
He’s a child of traditional music, born and bred in Cúil Aodha, in the belly of the West Cork Gaeltacht, with Seán Ó Riada a neighbour and indisputable early influence. His great aunt, the traditional singer Elizabeth Cronin, had forged a reputation for rich interpretation before him, paving the way for the young Ó Lionáird to still audiences with his plaintive, textured voice at Mass, and later, in parlours, front rooms, snugs, town halls and concert halls. The truth is, it’s the individual sonic qualities of Iarla Ó Lionáird’s voice that define him. That voice, with all its midnight depth and soaring breadth, transcends anything that might box or classify him as one thing or another.
A twice Grammy nominated artist, Ó Lionáird has worked with a stellar cast of composers internationally including Donnacha Dennehy, Dan Trueman, Nico Muhly, Gavin Bryars and David Lang and he has performed and recorded with such luminaries as Peter Gabriel, Nick Cave, Robert Plant and Sinead O’Connor. His unique singing style has carried him to stages and concert halls all over the world, from New York’s Carnegie Hall to the Sydney Opera House and beyond.
Also an accomplished broadcaster, Ó Lionáird’s recent radio series “Vocal Chords” on the mysteries of the human voice, for Ireland’s National Classical Music Broadcaster, RTE Lyric FM, won both Gold and Silver Awards at the “New York Radio Festival” 2016.
His own voice has graced the silver screen also, with film credits extending from “The Gangs of New York” to “Hotel Rwanda” and most recently as featured singer in the film “Brooklyn” starring Saoirse Ronan. He is the vocalist with the critically acclaimed Irish/American band “The Gloaming.” He holds a Masters Degree in Ethnomusicology from the University of Limerick where he is currently completing a PhD. Currently, as the recipient of a Belknap Fellowship, he is teaching in Princeton University.