Belfast Festival at Queen's 2009

Watch videos of the launch of the festival programme at QFT

Graeme Farrow, director of the Ulster Bank Belfast Festival at Queen's, goes to all the festivals in the UK and Ireland. He goes to test the waters, see what's on other programmes, what artists he might invite over to Belfast, and what shows are worthy of a headline slot.

It's inspiring, then, to hear him say that the Belfast Festival at Queen's has few genuine rivals. Its eclectic, international line-up and pulling power is second only to the mighty Edinburgh Festival, says Farrow, something that Northern Ireland should be very proud of.

This year's festival programme backs up the director's promulgations. Surely his contemporaries would kill for Seamus Heaney and Michael Longley reading with the Ulster Orchestra, a mix of music and poetry that will no doubt go down as one of the highlights of the festival's 47 years.

Heaney and Longley will be appearing at the Waterfront Hall in Belfast on October 17, reading their own works whilst the Ulster Orchestra play Bach, Schubert, Mendelssohn and more. 'You won't get that in Cork,' remarks Farrow, evidently pleased with his handy work.

The 2009 festival programme was launched in the Queen's Film Theatre, where the great and good of the Northern Irish arts scene came out in force to see what Farrow et al have in store this October.

Comedian Tim McGarry looked forward to Heaney perhaps attending his Irish History Lesson at the Waterfront Studio (see below for McGarry's entire festival programme launch appearance); Lord Mayor Naomi Long made an elegant speech without notes about the importance of the festival in relation to the economy and in fostering local talent; and Longley recalled the origins of the festival, beaming at the thought of 'upstaging' the Ulster Orchestra with his friend and fellow poet, Seamus Heaney.

Running from October 16-31, the Ulster Bank Belfast Festival at Queen’s brings the best in theatre, comedy, music, film, visual arts and talks to venues across the city. Other highlights this year include left-wing philosopher Noam Chomsky  (already sold-out), Polish conductor Valery Gergiev with the Mariinsky Orchestra, Teatr Biuro Podrózy’s daring Macbeth, featuring motorbikes and giants on stilts, legend of musical theatre, Barbara Cook and Saharan blues band Tinariwen.

The Arts Council of Northern Ireland is principal funder of the festival and its vice-chair Damien Coyle says the line-up demonstrates how the arts can portray Northern Ireland in a positive light. 'The Ulster Bank Belfast Festival at Queen’s is an excellent platform for showcasing a diverse range of talent from around the world,' commented Coyle.

'The festival is part of Polska! Year with a number of Polish performers including the Zbigniew Namyslowski Big Band and the multi-talented Karbido visiting. The festival also boasts a Russian playwright, a group from Minnesota, a Bollywood Club Night and a Dutch maestro amongst others. In addition it provides the platform for the cream of local talent including Prime Cut, Kabosh and the Ulster Orchestra to take their rightful place amongst the best in the world.'

Lord Mayor of Belfast, councillor Naomi Long, was delighted that the timing of the festival coincides with the re-opening of Belfast City Hall and the Ulster Museum. 'This is the 47th year of the Ulster Bank Belfast Festival at Queen's and it paved the path for the numerous festivals and events we now take for granted,' she said.

'It has always been a beacon to attract visitors and is still the biggest festival in Northern Ireland. In addition to the Waterfront Hall and the Grand Opera House, the festival is also returning to the newly refurbished Ulster Hall and Ulster Museum as well as those venues off the beaten track such as Barrow Square, Clonard Monastery, May Street Church and the Synagogue in north Belfast, leaving local audiences and visitors alike in no doubt that Belfast is a capital of culture.'

Lee Henry

Check out Culture Live! listings for information on all festival events, and visit the festival website for booking details.