Stamina and skill from violinist Jac van Steen at Ulster Hall
Review: Ulster Orchestra at Ulster Hall, Belfast
The Ulster Orchestra's successful current season is characterised by a shrewd mixture of familiar much-loved pieces balanced by music that is perhaps less well-known to local audiences.
This was the key to the latest concert under the baton of Jac van Steen, the orchestra's principal guest conductor, who expertly set the stage for a special evening with Sibelius' tone poem Pohjola's Daughter.
The main feature in the first half was the 8th Symphony by distinguished English composer David Matthews, now 75, who was present in the Ulster Hall for what was the piece's Belfast debut.
After a lively introduction there was an elegaic and almost Mahlerian second movement in G minor, where the composer paid tribute to a friend who died when Matthews was writing it.
The final movement was in sharp contrast and featured four exuberant dance tunes. The theme for one of these came to the composer during a walk in the woods when he had no paper - but he wrote the notes down on a leaf from the forest.
He told the story in a lively pre-concert talk with van Steen, and it was quite a privilege to hear a composer share such inner thoughts about the elusive creative process.
The second half belonged to international violinist Tasmin Little, a visitor here during the darkest days of the Troubles and who is still a great favourite with the Ulster Orchestra and local audiences.
She performed superbly Elgar's lengthy Violin Concerto, a musical tour de force which requires enormous technical skill and stamina, not only from the soloist but also the from conductor and the orchestra, who combined almost flawlessly to give an inspiring account of this masterpiece.
There was enthusiastic and sustained applause at the end.
Next Saturday the mood will change when the Ulster Orchestra and conductor Stephen Bell pay tribute to Abba in the Waterfront Hall. It will be a sell-out.