Conductor JoAnn Falletta in tribute to Belfast as she reaches big finale with Ulster Orchestra
The first woman conductor of the Ulster Orchestra is bowing out after three years in the role with a final concert at the Ulster Hall.
JoAnn Falletta was also the first American to anchor the orchestra, and said she was leaving with many fond memories.
She said she fell in love with the warmth of the people in Belfast and the local sense of humour.
Ms Falletta said: "Without exception, I have found the people helpful and friendly.
"When I talk about the Northern Ireland people, I am thinking about the proprietor of a local restaurant who was most helpful.
"I had orchestra rehearsals and my husband and I arrived late for lunch at the restaurant.
"The proprietor said that they were closing at 2.30ppm, but he was so concerned about our welfare that he took us personally to another restaurant nearby and assured us that we would have a good meal – that's what I call real hospitality.
"I also have learned to appreciate your sense of humour and the subtlety of people here. You might say that Americans are much more obvious, but there is a subtlety here which takes you some time to get used to, but it is delightful."
During her three years she made several recordings with the Naxos label, which has brought the Ulster Orchestra's performances to a bigger US audience.
She also introduced a wide range of American music to the orchestra's repertoire, and her last concert will feature the music of the legendary Leonard Bernstein, who was one of her teachers in New York.
The conductor has worked with musicians all over the world, and has high praise for the Ulster Orchestra.
She said: "It is one of the best orchestras I have ever worked with.
"It is well-known in America because its CDs are broadcast regularly across the States.
"I was aware of them long before I was offered the post as their principal conductor."
She said she will be sad to leave. "I really will miss them.
"They have dazzled me with their ability not only to sight-read and pick up new works quickly, but also to understand the musical context of what they are playing. That is exceptional in an orchestra.
"It is also great to see such a close connection between an orchestra and its audience, because this is not always the case.
"One of my high moments musically was last year's performance of the Verdi Requiem in the Ulster Hall.
"It was like being surround by a huge wall of energy from the orchestra and the large choir, and I found it very fulfilling.
"The people of Northern Ireland are really proud of the Ulster Orchestra, and so they should be.
"I have really enjoyed my visits to Northern Ireland, with its warm people and its beautiful scenery, and I am already looking forward to coming back again."
"The city is burgeoning, visitors are coming all the time, and this is a place which is opening itself to the world. It is like a flower blossoming out, and I am glad that the Ulster Orchestra is playing its part in this, and will continue to do so, after all the long years of the Troubles when it was one of the stalwarts in keeping music alive here."
JoAnn Falletta, whose last concert is at the Ulster Hall at 7.45pm tonight.