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Belfast Festival: The best package of the last 10 years?

Published 31/10/2009

Queens University - Lanyon Building.
Queens University - Lanyon Building.
Punk band Buzzcocks play at this year's Ulster Bank Belfast Festival
Festival director Graeme Farrow checks out the highlights of this year's Ulster Bank Belfast Festival at Queen's

The carnival is all but over and the curtain will shortly fall on what has been a truly memorable festival.

Director Graeme Farrow says it’s too early for a final tot-up but that the figures are looking pretty healthy for an arts festival approaching its 48th year.

“We'll not know what the impact is on the economy until we've done the research. It was £8m last year and I imagine it will be of a similar order this year,” he said.

“Box office sales are well over £500,000, which is tremendous news under the circumstances, and the total turnover of this year’s festival is around £1.8m.

“The feedback from the public and the critics has been overwhelming. We had to wait over a week for our first 3-star review. Until then, they were all 4 and 5 stars.”

The festival earned almost 2,000 new fans thanks to a massive ticket giveaway to charities and community groups.

Among the top-rated shows according to our own critics were the opening concert when world-renowned conductor Valery Gergiev coaxed some truly majestic sounds from the Mariinsky Orchestra of St Petersburg.

Seamus Heaney and Michael Longley’s joint 70th birthday party, at which the Ulster Orchestra did the honours, notched up the critical seal of approval.

The Polish version of Macbeth and DV8’s physical theatre piece To Be Straight With You also gave us some of the best production standards. A discussion about the issues raised in the DV8 show attracted a high-profile panel, which included gay rights activist Peter Tatchell.

The Talks section attracted world-class speakers like Michael Mansfield QC, author Colm Toibin, theatre director Jonathan Miller, BBC broadcaster-turned-politician Martin Bell, crime writer Ian Rankin and the great intellectual Professor Noam Chomsky.

Audiences went wild for the gorgeous swirling sounds of guitar-poets Tinariwen, as well as for the singing of Barbara Cook and Camille O’Sullivan, the appearance of Buzzcocks and the long-awaited return of Fascinating Aida.

Meanwhile, internationally renowned artist Sean Scully’s retrospective in the magnificent Ulster Museum is a world exclusive, while the splendidly refurbished City Hall proved another popular venue.

“Many people have commented that this has been the best festival for some 10 years and I think that's true,” said a delighted but exhausted Farrow.

Belfast Telegraph

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