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Secret Garden on ‘The Dawn of a New Century’

On paper, Secret Garden fits in the new age category, and that’s fine with Norwegian keyboardist Rolf Lovland and Irish violinist Fionnuala Sherry, but their lush, lilting sound is so much more.

“New age, that’s not where we’re coming from,” Lovland said recently, “but we have learned to see that within the new age category, there’s very little that would suggest some music is new age. There’s a variety of styles within the category, everything from Enya to Yanni. There’s very little that ties these artists together. Very often it’s instrumental music, somewhere between contemporary and classical music. That’s true for our music; that’s where we are.”

Sherry loves how their atmospheric melodies cross oceans and borders and are not bound, for the most part, by lyrics.

“By being instrumental, we’re not confined to lyrics, and this music does allow it to travel,” she said. “We see it, whether we’re performing here in the states or in Asia, that there’s a huge understanding of this music. It’s also very emotional music, very passion-driven. The melodies are so strong, it’s important that the melodies tell the story.

“Everybody around the world has the same emotions. We all cry and laugh and hurt the same way. That’s what triggers people when they’re listening to our music; that’s why it has a universal appeal. It was something we dreamt about when we began this project; it’s great to see other people appreciating it.”

For the past month, PBS audiences have been appreciating Secret Garden’s hypnotic style in an hourlong special titled “A Night With Secret Garden.” The special comes on the heels of the duo’s third album, “Dawn of a New Century” (released April 20 on Philips). The LP is perched this week at No. 7 on Billboard’s new age chart.

Lovland and Sherry, both accomplished performers in their native countries, first met at the Eurovision song contest in Dublin, Ireland, in 1994 and hit it off immediately.

“I just knew there was an instant connection,” Sherry said. “We’ve both worked with a lot of people, so when you find someone you have an instant chemistry with from the word go, it’s special. When you have that musical chemistry, the friendship falls naturally into place; you don’t have to think about it or work on it because it’s there.”

It worked so well, the pair entered its first collaboration, “Nocturne,” at the 1995 Eurovision contest and won. Since then, their first two albums – “Songs From a Secret Garden” and “White Stones” – both topped the new age chart.

For “Dawn of a New Century,” Secret Garden didn’t rest on its laurels: It incorporated solo vocals on the tracks “Prayer” and “Sona” and the Celtic choir Anuna on “In Our Tears.”

“The first two albums established our sound,” Lovland said. “We developed a repertoire that defined Secret Garden. With this album, we felt a little bit more free to do songs such as the two with vocals and not restrict ourselves. We did material that I don’t think we would’ve done on the first two albums; we let our creativity take us wherever we wanted to go.”

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