Belfast Telegraph

Ulster Orchestra: A show that proves that music can lift the Mood

By Rathcol

The cost of the arts is tiny in comparison to the costs of other publicly funded benefits.

Most European countries manage conflicting demands on the public purse and still give the arts a generous position in their budgets.

Here in Northern Ireland, we are facing a situation where the Ulster Orchestra is apparently now unaffordable after half a century. Why?

The Ulster Orchestra provided the curtain-raiser last night in a well-filled Ulster Hall for our city's most prestigious annual arts festival, the Belfast Festival at Queen's, which itself is on a financial knife edge.

It was a wide-ranging programme entitled and designed to illustrate "Four Moods in Music".

For anyone aware of the financial situation of the arts in general, and the Ulster Orchestra in particular, the predominant moods among the audience must surely have been frustration and disappointment.

Frustration because, in order to exist at a high level, the arts rely on public funds in the hands of local politicians who seem to be interested only in point-scoring against one another, leading to the current financial debacle so vividly and farcically displayed in Stormont.

Disappointment because the majority of people in Northern Ireland appear on the surface to care little about the arts and their direct and indirect beneficial effects on society in general.

For example, Belfast City Council fulsomely recognises numerous justifications for the arts in its recent Cultural Framework document, but it cynically relies on others to pay for them.

For those of us who recognise the importance of the arts at a personal and societal level, and who want to live in a place which offers them, how do we make our arguments and whom do we have to convince?

These were just some of the thoughts and questions that went through my head at the Ulster Orchestra's excellent concert last night.

Despite all, the Ulster Orchestra performed with unstinting professionalism.

The four movements of Haydn's Symphony no.87, under conductor Jac Van Steen, encompassed much more than just the four moods of the concert title, all of them stylishly controlled with classical restraint and inventiveness.

The Four Symphonic Interludes from the opera Intermezzo by Richard Strauss are flamboyantly extroverted with abundant opportunities to showcase the different sections of the orchestra.

The Ulster Orchestra was up to the challenge, as indeed it was in Wagner's glorious, beautifully shaped Prelude to Act One of Lohengrin. But it was the soloist in Bartok's Second Violin Concerto, Valeriy Sokolov, who stole the show.

Intense, vibrant, technically superb, Sokolov exploited every nuance of genius in Bartok's music.

It is a concert like this that makes me wonder how we could or would let the Ulster Orchestra quietly disappear without trace.

Four stars

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