Belfast Telegraph

The critics' pick their best cultural highlights of 2014

From painting the city pink for the Giro, to the mighty Culture Night, to the controversial Reduced Shakespeare Company in Newtownabbey, to Chas & Dave in Belfast's Waterfront Hall, Claire Williamson asks experts and famous faces to name their top cultural highlights.

Chris Jones

Yet again, Culture Night proved to be the most heartwarming, diverse, inclusive, downright fun night of the year in Belfast.

Amid plenty of unpleasantness in 2014, there was lots to enjoy in the city, and others have their favourites, but for my money no other event encapsulated the earthy, vibrant spirit of Belfast like Culture Night.

Run on a shoestring, it brought around 30,000 people onto the streets and into bars, arts venues, churches, galleries, shops, cafés, restaurants and anywhere that could be put to good use.

I don't think that any single event does as much to raise the self-esteem of the city, or to make art, creativity and fun so accessible to every section of society here. To walk around the Cathedral Quarter on Culture Night is to be swept along with a real feeling of excitement, joy and, yes, 'wouldn't it be great if it was like this all the time?'.

Even if its funding does disappear, the goodwill towards it is such that it will doubtless survive anyway, but nevertheless it acts as a lightning rod for both the enthusiasm for publicly funded arts events, and the anger and frustration at their continued marginalisation.

Philip Hammond

With the future of the Ulster Orchestra in the balance at the moment, I have been thinking back over this past year's UO concerts. Aspects of several, in particular, stood out for me.

In March Russian pianist Nikolai Demidenko displayed his uniquely musical, thoughtful and thought provoking musicianship in an unusually expansive and beautifully expressive reading of Scriabin's fervently Romantic piano concerto, with the Ulster Orchestra under the baton of JoAnne Falletta.

Under Robert Houlihan on June 4, as part of the popular lunchtime concerts, the Associate Leader of the Ulster Orchestra, Ioanna Petcu-Colan, showed just what a fine violinist she is in her sensitive, engaging and exuberant performance of Prokofiev's first violin concerto.

The Ulster Orchestra provided the curtain-raiser event in October for the city's most prestigious annual arts festival - the Belfast Festival at Queen's. Under conductor Jac Van Steen, the soloist in Bartok's Second Violin Concerto, Valeriy Sokolov, stole the show.

But if I had to choose one concert this year it would have to be the overwhelmingly intense performance of Britten's War Requiem in St Anne's Cathedral on November 14. We must save the Ulster Orchestra!

Andrew Johnston

The year got off to a controversial start with the arrival of the Reduced Shakespeare Company in Newtownabbey. Classic rock and pop was well represented in 2014 with beefy balladeers Foreigner demanding the Waterfront tell them what love is in April, Sir Cliff Richard reelin' and a-rockin' the Odyssey Arena in June and Bryan Adams unplugging his six-string for a brace of acoustic shows at the Waterfront in September. Thrash metal titans Slayer and Anthrax tore the Limelight successive new ones in June and July, and Cockney knees-up merchants Chas & Dave had the Waterfront chirping along with the likes of Rabbit, Snooker Loopy and Gertcha in November.

Joe Nawaz

In what turned out to be the year where crass commercialism triumphed over the more creatively interesting areas of what we like to call "the arts", there was unusually slim pickings to be found. But there were still little oases of wonder out there, if you cared to forage.

And if somebody were to put a glitter gun to my head, I'd say straight out that the rammed Erasure gig at the Ulster Hall towards the end of the year was one of those events to file under "joyful surprise".

Getting to witness the original originators De la Soul up close and personal at the closing night of the Cathedral Quarter Arts Festival was a five million watt neon-strobing highlight of both my professional and gig-going-geek careers.

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