Ulster Orchestra holds its own amid illustrious company
The Ulster Orchestra acquitted itself well at its BBC Proms concert in the Royal Albert Hall on Monday with a dazzling first UK performance of Bill Whelan's Symphonic Suite of the Riverdance stage show.
Under the expert guidance of its new principal guest conductor Jac Van Steen, the orchestra brought out all the colour, drama and lively rhythms of this striking piece, and the players and composer were given a warmly appreciative reception by a packed Royal Albert Hall.
The concert began with a spirited performance of Dvorak's Slavonic Dances with enough musical sunshine to dispel the downpour gloom of a London Bank Holiday afternoon.
The main feature in the first half was Grieg's ever-popular Piano Concerto in which the young Chinese pianist Zhang Zuo made her Proms debut. This was a sensitive interpretation of a familiar score which also required a little more drama as well as the persuasive lyricism inherent in the work.
The Ulster Orchestra notched up another historic first with the BBC Proms premiere of Arnold Bax's dramatic Roscatha, more than a century old, but the highlight was the Riverdance where the visual image of the dancers themselves rippled through the score.
This was a thoroughly professional concert by the orchestra which was performing in the same venue as the world-class Czech Philharmonic on Sunday night, and the prestigious Budapest Festival Orchestra on Monday evening. The Ulster Orchestra can well hold its own in such a major festival as the BBC Proms but it needs every financial and audience support it can get at home to stay at this high level of performance.