The programme for this year's Belfast Festival at Queen's includes a stellar line-up of musical artists. Here are just a few recommendations to keep an eye (and ear) out for.
The opening concert on October 19 in the Waterfront Hall will feature a unique mixture of traditional and classical music featuring Ireland's official musical ambassadors The Chieftains playing with the Ulster Orchestra, the Field Marshal Montgomery Pipe Band, and the Ulster Youth Choir.
The Chieftains were formed in the year of the very first Belfast Festival back in 1962, so it is fitting that they have returned to open this year's festival.
Other highlights of the festival include violinist Darragh Morgan (right) dueting with pianist Mary Dullea in the Harty Room at Queen's on October 20. Morgan has long been a champion of new Irish and British music, having performed countless premieres and commissions over the years. Of particular interest will be the UK premiere performance of Messiaen's Fantaisie, a recently discovered jewel that although composed in 1933, has only just been published this year.
Award-winning young pianist Romain Descharmes will perform in the Great Hall at Queen's on October 24. His recitals of late have included prestigous venues such as the Wigmore and Carnegie Halls. He has a growing reputation for impeccable control and technique, and with past mentors such as Pierre Boulez, it is no wonder that Descharmes is such a popular performer of chamber music.
The Psophos Quartet, an ensemble fast making its mark on the international circuit, will perform an intimate programme of chamber music in the Elmwood Hall on October 27. Founded in 1997, the quartet consists of violinists Lisa Schatzman and Bleuenn Le Maitre, alto Cecile Grassi, and cellist Eve-Marie Caravassilis. Following its success at several international competitions, performances by the Quartet are known for their musical drama and inventiveness.
Vienna-born Stradivarius-wielding violinist Benjamin Schmid, winner of the 1992 Mozart Prize, Beethoven Prize, and Audience Prize at the Carl Flesch competition, will make two appearances at the Belfast Festival. The first is a tribute to the French jazz violinist Stephane Grappelli in the Speigeltent on October 31, followed by a classical recital including Schumann's Phantasy For Violin and Piano and Beethoven's Ninth Violin Sonata, in the Sonic Arts Research Centre at 8pm on November 1.
** Don't miss counter-tenor Andreas Scholl, winner of the 2006 British Singer of the Year Award, performing the music of Handel with the Ulster Orchestra in the Grand Opera House on November 2. The first German to perform at the Last Night At The Proms, Scholl possesses a voice which is hauntingly beautiful.
Closing the Festival will be a suitably powerful performance of Bach's magnificant Mass in B Minor by the Edinburgh-based Dunedin Consort in Clonard Monastery on November 4. Great music, great venue.