Liz Knowles is a well-known American violinist. She is best known as a Celtic fiddler and has toured widely as the electrifying fiddler in the Irish dance production Riverdance.
Her home state of Kentucky includes large regions of Appalachia, where many Scots and Irish folk traditions have continued to be faithfully transmitted over the years. Nevertheless, she was more interested in classical music, training as a violinist as she grew up. She earned her degree in music at the State University of New York Stony Brook.
While in New York she heard the playing of Eileen Ivers and was entranced by Irish music, particularly after she had played at an Irish wedding. She studied with Ms. Ivers and with Brian Connolly. This led to her engagement by the Riverdance company and a number of other Irish-oriented projects, including playing the fiddle in the soundtrack of the film Michael Collins.
She is a member of three diverse ensembles: The John Whelan Band (an outlet for Celtic playing), the Sirius String Quartet, and the Ensemble Galilei. Membership in the latter group reflects the fact that Celtic musical traditions as preserved in America have close links to the popular and dance music of Britain at about the time the earliest settlers from there arrived in America. Thus with Ensemble Galilei (named after the Italian composer Vincenzo Galilei, who was the father of the great astronomer Galileo) she performs music in the tradition of the Celts of Scotland, Ireland, Wales, Cornwall, Breton, and Galicia, as well as the music of Cape Breton and the Maritime Provinces of Canada and parts of the eastern United States.
Her recordings with Ensemble Galilei on the Telarc label include two discs, Come, Gentle Night and From the Isles to the Courts, that trace the wide variety of this music. These discs include court music, Irish songs in Baroque-style interpretations, and dance tunes.
She is the lead artist in two solo discs as well, on Lyrichord: The Celtic Fiddle and The Black Rose. On these albums she ranges farther afield in a wider variety of traditional music, including a Middle Eastern-style tune with melody exotically covered by Knowles' violin, the traditional Irish Uilleann pipes, and the Arab instrument the ney. Other tracks on The Celtic Fiddle include music of legendary blind harpist Turlough O'Carolan as well as less traditional performances using Calypso beats and conga drums. Knowles also composed some of the music on the disc.
Knowles has played on National Public Radio's Performance Today series and a PBS Great Performances with Bobby McFerrin and Marcus Roberts. She played on-camera on a music video for the Trans-Siberian Orchestra. On Ryko Discs she performed on David Kincaid's album The Irish Volunteer, and she toured with the a production of Phantom of the Opera in Spain and Portugal. She played in Scotland as a soloist in the Celtic Connections Festival with String Sisters, and has toured with Cherish the Ladies.