Belfast Telegraph

Band music with difference on Shankill as snowbound Ulster Orchestra performs

By Ivan Little

An ill wind blew the Ulster Orchestra in front of a new and very different audience this week.

For the Beast from the East saw the ensemble bringing a musical 'feast to the west' - of Belfast.

And the Shankill Road was totally in tune with the unexpected orchestral manoeuvre in its direction.

The 63 musicians should have been playing in the north west on Thursday night - at the Guildhall in Londonderry.

But the weather struck a discordant note and the snowbound orchestra diverted instead to a venue in an area where musicians traditionally know more about playing Derry's Walls than appearing beside them.

And so it was that the Spectrum Centre echoed to the strains of Shostakovich - dubbed Sashtakovich by one local wag.

But the orchestra members were in perfect harmony with their surroundings.

For they have used the Spectrum as a rehearsal space in the past when their usual facilities have been unavailable.

And small teams of musicians have conducted workshops for community groups, too.

Ciaran Scullion, head of music at the Arts Council of Northern Ireland, said the hastily arranged concert was an inspired move.

"The musicians could have simply gone home and sat by the fire," he said.

"But they didn't want to let all their rehearsals go to waste." The orchestra and the Shankill community swiftly took up the baton to attract an audience for the concert.

The word went out on social media that it was going to play a free concert in the centre, and classical music devotees from right across Belfast joined local residents to hear one of the world's finest cellists, Alisa Weilerstein, who has been hailed as a future superstar of the classical music world.

Alisa is the wife of the orchestra's music director Rafael Payare.

The programme featured Elgar's Cello Concerto along with one of Shostakovich's most acclaimed works, Symphony No.1, which he composed at the tender age of 18.

The planned Derry performance had been billed as part of the Ulster Orchestra's On Your Doorstep series of concerts, designed to bring the ensemble to new venues and audiences.

"But we didn't know just how close to our own doorstep in Belfast we would be playing," commented one of the musicians.

"However, it was a great night. We all played in our own (casual) clothes and we got a really warm reception on a freezing night."

The Shankill gave its visiting entertainers rave reviews on social media and in person.

One man said: "It wasn't the sort of music we usually hear on the Shankill but they were hard to beat."

Belfast Telegraph

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