Belfast Telegraph

Night of music mixes modern with a familiar classic

Ulster Orchestra, Ulster Hall

By Alf McCreary

The Ulster Orchestra, under the masterly direction of its Dutch principal guest conductor Jac van Steen, featured the music of American composers with sharply contrasting styles in this packed concert organised as part of the Belfast International Festival.

The first half was dedicated to relatively modern music with a fine performance of Charles Ives' short and enigmatic work The Unanswered Question ­ - which must have raised many questions from the audience as to what it was all about.

This was followed by Leonard Bernstein's Serenade after Plato's Symposium for solo violin, strong orchestra, harp and percussion.

This is an extremely demanding piece in which the outstanding young Latvian violinist Baiba Skride gave a most assured and convincing performance.

The second half was devoted to the much more accessible and familiar Symphony No 9 from the New World by Antonin Dvorak.

This symphony of great power and lyrical beauty is one of the most played in the classical repertoire.

It was premiered in New York in 1893, but it is a mark of the ability of the highly-respected van Steen and the Ulster Orchestra that this work, first performed 125 years ago, sounded fresh and engaging in this Ulster Hall setting, as it moved through its four movements including the blissful Largo to its glorious finale.

The next main Ulster Orchestra concert on November 16 will feature another Ninth Symphony - this time Schubert's The Great.

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