Ulster Orchestra sounds note of triumph in Royal Albert Hall
Ulster Orchestra at the London Proms. Royal Albert Hall, London
The Ulster Orchestra has taken centre stage at the BBC Proms in London’s Royal Albert Hall in a prestigious engagement on the eve of its 50th anniversary season, which starts next month.
Under principal conductor Rafael Payare, the young maestro from Venezuela, the popular programme included Tchaikovsky’s Fifth Symphony, and a Haydn cello concerto with the award-winning soloist Narek Hakhnazary.
The ensemble also gave the world premiere of a new work by Ulster composer Piers Hellawell, entitled Wild Flow, which was commissioned by the BBC.
The Ulster Orchestra’s appearance at one of the most important musical festivals in the world is welcome news after the prolonged crisis over its financial survival following severe cutbacks in arts funding by Stormont.
On Friday the orchestra played its Proms programme in advance to a packed Ulster Hall in a free concert for supporters who had backed it during the survival campaign.
In a pre-concert speech, the new managing director Richard Wigley thanked the audience for their support.
“Without your help the orchestra and I would not be here on this platform this afternoon,” he said.
He added that the new season’s programme was booking up rapidly, and urged people to snap up the remaining seats to avoid disappointment.
This year’s special anniversary programme features some of the world’s top soloists, including Payare’s wife Alisa Weiletrstein, a world-class cellist, and Barry Douglas, the Ulster-born pianist who won the Tchaikovsky International Piano Competition in Moscow in 1986. He was the first non-Russian pianist to do so since the American Van Cliburn in 1958, and to mark the 40th anniversary of his triumph, Douglas will play all three of Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concertos with the Ulster Orchestra in the 2016-2017 season.
The ensemble’s future is yet to be assured, but there is justified optimism about its long-term future after a spirited campaign led by outgoing chairman Professor Sir George Bain, and the Ulster Orchestra Board.
The campaign was widely supported by people from all backgrounds in Northern Ireland and by leading musicians and supporters from the UK and further afield.