Classical music has been one of the cornerstones of the Belfast Festival at Queen’s since its inception, which makes it all the fitting that this 50th festival should include a typically excellent selection of performances.
And as befits a birthday celebration, the programme opens this year with the flourish of Fifty Fanfares, a specially commissioned work by the Belfast composer Michael Alcorn, which will be performed by leading brass players from across the province. They will be located at various points of the busy Victoria Square shopping centre and, with the aid of the latest technology, the musicians will give a resounding welcome to the festival.
The same evening sees the traditional opening concert in the Waterfront Hall, featuring the Ulster Orchestra and the distinguished local pianist Michael McHale. They will perform the lively Gershwin Piano Concerto, and who better to direct this distinctive piece than the Orchestra’s Principal Conductor — and New York native — JoAnn Falletta? The concert will open with John Adam’s showpiece, Short Ride on a Fast Machine, and end with the lights and shades of Holst’s powerful Planets Suite.
There is much else to catch the ear and eye in this year’s programme, including the baritone Wolfgang Holzmair and pianist Imogen Cooper performing songs from Mahler’s Des Knaben Wunderhorn, in the atmospheric First Presbyterian Church in Rosemary Street on October 21.
Another top-class recital takes place in the same church a week later when the outstanding pianist Stephen Hough plays works by Chopin, Brahms and Schumann as well as his own composition, Piano Concerto No 2. On the previous evening, October 27, St George’s Church in High Street will host the Swedish soprano Camilla Tilling and the German pianist Paul Rivinius in a performance of some of Schubert’s best-known songs.
Other major attractions this year will include Lesley Garrett and Emma Johnston, two of the top female classical artists, who will perform an eclectic programme on October 30 including music by Bach and Gershwin, as well as traditional folk songs, alongside pianist Andrew West.
Meanwhile, on November 2 American singer Barbara Bonney, acclaimed as one of the greatest Mozartians of her generation, will perform works by Mozart, Strauss and Haydn, in the Ulster Hall.
And for those seeking some quality chamber music the Royal String Quartet will perform works by Szymanowski, Debussy and Schubert in the Great Hall at Queen’s, on November 4.
And rounding things off with another flourish on the same date will be John Wilson and the John Wilson Orchestra, who have featured regularly in the BBC London Proms at the Royal Albert Hall. They will recreate the Golden Age of the Hollywood Musical in the Waterfront Hall — a relaxing and toe-tapping way to end a very special Festival!