Sounds Classical

The Ulster Orchestra unveils its star-studded new season programme

Alfie Boe, Cleo Laine and Charlie Chaplin are just some of the stars headlining the Ulster Orchestra’s new season. Rousing fanfares were provided at the Elmwood Hall launch party in Belfast by the Orchestra’s Brass Quintet and 18-year-old superstar clarinettist Julian Bliss.

Bliss is just one of many talented young musicians and former BBC Young Musicians being featured in 2008 – including the outstanding 16-year-old pianist Benjamin Grosvenor, making his Irish début in both Dublin and Belfast with Grieg’s 'Piano Concerto'.

Principal conductor Kenneth Montgomery welcomed the Orchestra’s move to the Ulster Hall, scheduled for March 2009. 

'It opens up whole new areas, working ever more closely with Belfast City Council to provide access to the Hall, developing schools concerts and lunchtime concerts, and supporting the city’s regeneration and cultural tourism agendas. It will be an exciting period.'

Speaking at the launch, Roisín McDonough, Chief Executive of the Arts Council, said: 

'The relationship between the Arts Council and the Ulster Orchestra has been close and rewarding throughout the years and we welcome another season of local and international performances. 

'The new programme is a credit to the organisation and its ability to support Northern Ireland’s outstanding young musicians, aspiring conductors and composers. We look forward to a restored Ulster Hall which will enhance audience experience as well as becoming the administrative base for the Orchestra. We wish them every success.'

Kenneth Montgomery outlined the orchestra’s new season, which includes a mini-fest of Bohemian Rhapsodies, and the colourful series of Flights of Fancy. 

The Christmas season brings two nights of newly-restored Charlie Chaplin films at the Waterfront Hall, with music by Carl Davis added to the annual favourites of Messiah, The Snowman and the Viennese concerts with Camilla Dallerup and Ian Waite from the BBC’s Strictly Come Dancing.

This year’s Popular Classics concerts include the young British tenor Alfie Boe singing opera arias and Neapolitan songs and a concert celebrating one of the great jazz families – Cleo Laine, her husband John Dankworth and their daughter, singer Jacqui, and son, bassist Alec. 

Other popular classics include a Valentine’s Day special filled with romantic movie scores presented by Barry Norman, an evening of Italian opera with mad scenes, grand arias and choruses, and a night of Baroque classics.

The Orchestra will also take to the road, giving four concerts in Dublin, major performances for the BBC Proms in London, the Belfast Festival at Queen’s, the Kilkenny Arts Festival and music by John Tavener in Drogheda.

In addition to its Dublin season and concerts in Derry, Coleraine, Enniskillen and Downpatrick, the Ulster Orchestra will be spreading christmas cheer with a series of festive concerts, conducted by Christopher Bell and featuring soprano Rebekah Coffey, in Newry, Bangor, Ballymena, west Belfast and Omagh.

'We’re building on firm foundations of real success in recent years,' said David Byers, the Orchestra’s Chief Executive, 'thanks to the loyal support of our audiences, our donors, sponsors and of course our major funding partners – the Arts Council, BBC and Belfast City Council. 

'With attendance figures growing year on year, once again we have something for everyone. And underpinning it all is our education and outreach work.'

Next season, Brian Irvine, the orchestra’s associate composer, will be introducing two family concerts, one featuring A Carnival of Animals and then a large-scale community performance of The Pied Piper involving schools from across Belfast. 

In addition, there will be a series of masterclasses for piano, voice, oboe and violin, pre-concert talks by conductors and soloists, the always over-subscribed 'Come and Play' (which gives people of all ages an opportunity to rehearse and perform with the Ulster Orchestra for a day), and workshops given by orchestral players in schools all over Northern Ireland.

The new Ulster Orchestra season opens on Friday, September 19 in Belfast’s Waterfront Hall with Kenneth Montgomery conducting Dukas’s The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, Berlioz’s Symphonie fantastique and Pascal Rogé playing Saint-Saëns’ Piano Concerto No.2.