Liz Carroll has been called “the best American fiddler going”–by musicians in Ireland. So how did a Chicago girl make a name for herself in the world of Irish violin playing? Well, winning the prestigious all-Ireland fiddle contest–as she did in 1975, at the age of 18, beating Ireland’s best in her first year of eligibility–can’t hurt. Carroll plays with a guileless concentration that makes her cunningly constructed ornamentation stand out all the more, and her quicksilver lines can captivate violin admirers way beyond the bounds of Hibernia. But Carroll has titled her weekend concert “This Is Not a Violin. It’s a Fiddle,” and the distinction has everything to do with the nature of Irish music. Despite the virtuosic demands the idiom places on its practitioners, Irish fiddle playing also requires a certain rough-hewn, even rustic element: therein lies its power. Let the instrument’s tone get too classically polished and it loses the yearning lilt so characteristic of authentic reels and jigs; make the fingering as precise as Barenboim wants it and you forsake the slurs and slides so essential to the form. Carroll manages this balancing act as well as any and better than most. She’ll display all this–as well as her widely renowned and inexhaustible repertoire–at a benefit for Theater by Design, which also features Irish poetry readings. Saturday, 8 PM, St. Josaphat School, 2245 N. Southport; 489-4977.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Suzanne Plunkett.