The Ulster Orchestra Finale Concert

A diverse collection of classics and Barry Douglas close the Ulster Orchestra's season

The Ulster Orchestra’s 2008/2009 programme looks to be one of the most eclectic in years, with performances from artists including violinist Tasmin Little, clarinettist Julian Bliss, and the Dankworth family. 

Let's not forget the closing concert of the current season, however, featuring one of Northern Ireland’s most popular classical exports, pianist Barry Douglas.

Opening the concert is Copland’s 'El salón México', a charming homage to a Mexican dancehall the composer visited in 1932. It contains all the hallmarks of his music, quirky rhythms and dissonant chords with a light-hearted touch.

Following this, Beethoven’s exquisite 'Fourth Piano Concerto in G Major', one of the great concertos in the repertoire, in its day an incredibly progressive work. This concerto is distinctly Beethoven - a composer endeavouring to re-invent one of music’s great genres. 

In doing so, Beethoven created a work of harmonic invention and formal uniqueness, something which would become a signature of his later work.

Douglas’s recital is right on the money, a fantastic performance of both technical dexterity and skilful musicianship. Douglas has a fierce respect for the classical form and his fellow musicians. 

Soloist and orchestra move as one, with excellent direction from principal conductor Kenneth Montgomery, whose interpretative energy and flair marks him as one of the finest conductors around.

Diversifying the evening's proceedings is Prokofiev’s 'Symphony No 5', a triumphant, sterling performance of what Ulster Orchestra chief executive David Byers describes as 'one of the great symphonies of the 20th century'. 

The number five has a special place among symphonic composers, particularly those writing in the years following the First World War. Consider Shostakovich’s 'Fifth Symphony' or Vaughan Williams’s fantastic 'Fifth', with its nostalgic wink back to his earlier pastoral style. 

For many, Prokofiev's 'Symphony No 5' is a definitive work, a culmination of style and character. 

The same can be said of his magnum opus, '100', a vast work encapsulating the composer's personality and style. The symphony is an enigma, both dark and colourful. It recalls other Prokofiev works including Romeo and Juliet, and some of his work on motion pictures.

Of particular note during this piece is the 'Allegro giocoso finale', an intrepid orchestral engine furiously running toward the finish. Clarinettist Paul Schumann’s performance provides the giocoso element with flair, and with Prokofiev’s spectacular finale flourish, the orchestra end their 2007/2008 season in fine form.

Principal conductor Kenneth Montgomery has said that 'innovation, participation and creative enrichment' are the key words of the forthcoming season. The future certainly looks bright. 

The Ulster Orchestra will shortly return to its spiritual home, the modernised Ulster Hall, allowing for a greater relationship with the public. And as far as creative enrichment is concerned, with the enduring support of the Arts Council and other sponsors, the Ulster Orchestra can only go from strength to strength.

Graeme Stewart

The Ulster Orchestra's Ulster Hall opening concert is expected on March 6, 2009.