Belfast Telegraph

Director to take bow for Ulster Orchestra at Royal Albert Hall

Rafael Payare
Rafael Payare
Alf McCreary

By Alf McCreary

The Ulster Orchestra will perform at the Royal Albert Hall this weekend in front of an audience of up to 6,000 people.

Sunday evening's concert, as part of the 2019 Sir Henry Wood Proms, will be broadcast live on BBC Radio 3.

It will also mark the final appearance of its outgoing music director Rafael Payare after five years in charge.

Payare, who is moving to the San Diego Symphony as their new music director, is credited with raising the orchestra's musical standards.

He is regarded as one of the top conductors of the Ulster Orchestra since it was formed in 1966, and he forged a special bond with the players and audiences during his time here.

Payare took over at a time when the future of the orchestra was threatened by a sharp drop in funding, and its rescue was attributed to its former chairman Sir George Bain, previously the president and vice-chancellor of Queen's University.

Sir George said: "When I was appointed chairman of the Ulster Orchestra in 2011, I was told that it was in dire straits financially but I did not realise how bad it was going to be, and the financial cuts made the situation worse.

"We came very close to not being a going concern, and at one stage I feared that we might go under."

However, with help from many quarters and great public support, the orchestra survived financially, and increased its already high musical standards.

The orchestra has survived many challenges since it was formed as a chamber orchestra in 1966, and nearly folded in 1980 due to chronic underfunding.

It was saved then by the imaginative measures taken by then chairman Stratton Mills, and it emerged as a enlarged 63-member symphony orchestra. As such, it attracted some of the very best conductors in the UK and Europe including Bryden Thomson, Vernon Handley and Yan Paschal Tortelier.

Richard Wigley, the current CEO of the Ulster Orchestra, said: "The BBC Proms is the premier classical music festival in the world, and every orchestra wants to play there.

"The Ulster Orchestra can showcase the quality we have built up over the past five years with Rafael Payare and compare ourselves with, and be in the company of, the absolute best.

"Rafael came to the Ulster Orchestra when we needed him most, and he has developed a confidence and a commitment that shines through today. We are sorry to see him go but pleased about his new role in San Diego."

Following its Royal Albert Hall appearance, the Ulster Orchestra will begin its 2019/20 season next month under its new chief conductor, the young Italian maestro Daniele Rustioni, who is principal conductor of the National Opera in Lyon.

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