Belfast Telegraph

Ulster Orchestra axe 'would impoverish us all', says Lucy Caldwell

By Harriet Crawford

One of Northern Ireland's top authors has issued a plea to save the threatened Ulster Orchestra.

Award-winning novelist Lucy Caldwell has written an open letter calling on the Culture Minister to do her "utmost" to rescue the orchestra.

Minister Caral Ni Chuilin said earlier this month that it was not her job to "drum up" cash support for the orchestra's £400,000 funding deficit for 2014/15. Belfast-born Ms Caldwell - a former One City One Book author and Belfast Telegraph Woman of the Year - told the Belfast Telegraph that on hearing this "my first reaction was one of great frustration and despair and a sense or horror that so much could be lost". But she hopes the campaign to save the orchestra might help its outreach work across Northern Ireland.

Without a viable rescue package of proposals by December 15, the world-class symphony orchestra will be in serious difficulties.

Ms Caldwell has appealed to the minister to consider the wider "social and democratic benefits" of the orchestra if its artistic merits are not considered enough to warrant its existence.

"The Ulster Orchestra is the pinnacle, the most important and visible expression of a system of orchestras which reach and bring together children of all classes and communities throughout the whole of Northern Ireland, and which would all be immeasurably weakened if not fatally incapacitated by its loss," she wrote.

The author grew up in Belfast during the tumultuous Troubles years of the 1980s and early 90s, where she played the violin in the city's youth orchestras. She says that she made better friends at orchestra, with its cross-section of society, than she did at school.

"We came from all over the city: from musical families and non-musical families, Catholic and Protestant and atheist, working class and middle class, girls and boys. Music brought us together and music made us equal, and music swept all else away."

"The lives of children and teenagers across Northern Ireland will be impoverished by the loss of the orchestra," she added, and this is a loss that will "imperil the entire ecosystem of youth orchestras which it nourishes."

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