Ten years after he last performed in Northern Ireland, one of the giants of the classical music world will be taking to the stage tonight for the grand opening of this year’s Ulster Bank Belfast Festival at Queen’s.
Renowned Russian conductor Valery Gergiev will be leading the Mariinsky Orchestra at the Waterfront Hall for the opening concert in this year’s programme.
In 1999 Gergiev and the Mariinsky Chorus were guest stars at a special Concert for Peace at Omagh Cathedral, in the wake of the bombing which devastated the town the previous year.
Gergiev described the visit as “very memorable”, but said he hoped the circumstances for such a trip would never arise again.
“We wanted to be able to do something emotionally for the people of Northern Ireland and support the process for peace and understanding,” he said.
“We had the opportunity to see the great beauty of the Northern Irish countryside.
“I am especially pleased to open the festival with Shostakovich’s great 7th Symphony, the ‘Leningrad’. This symphony was written as a response to the suffering endured by our own city of St Petersburg, and celebrates the
universal power of the human spirit not only to survive adversity but to rise above it and strive for a better world.”
Festival director Graeme Farrow said tonight’s concert promised to be a memorable event for Belfast.
“In classical music terms, this is the equivalent of bringing U2's tour to Belfast,” he said.
“It's as big and exciting as it gets. Gergiev has been described as the greatest conductor of his generation and as one critic recently put it: ‘in terms of sheer, thrilling unpredictability, a Gergiev concert is the musical equivalent of what it must be like in the seat of a racing car rounding a hairpin bend and holding the road’.
Meanwhile, two of Ireland’s greatest literary figures, poets Seamus Heaney and Michael Longley, will join the Ulster Orchestra at the Waterfront Hall tomorrow for an evening of words and music to mark their 70th birthdays this year.
Other highlights of this year’s programme include a fiery outdoor adaptation of Macbeth at Clarendon Dock by Polish theatre company Teatr Biuro Podrozy, as well as To Be Straight With You, a hard-hitting play at the Grand Opera House about violence against gay people.
Comedians Julian Clary and Sean Hughes are also on the programme.
The festival runs until October 31.
For tickets and programme information on the festival visit www.belfastfestival.com or call 028 9097 1197.