Rising soprano lends her voice to campaign to save under-threat orchestra
Musicians whose careers were inspired by the Ulster Orchestra have told how they would not be where they are today without it - as its future remains uncertain.
The Ulster Orchestra is hanging in the balance because of cuts in the arts sector over the past three years.
The orchestra, which costs around £4.6 million a year to run, has appealed for £500,000 from Belfast City Council to help keep it afloat.
A host of elite musicians have added their support to the Ulster Orchestra's plight including world famous flautist Sir James Galway.
Sir James was the first Artist Laureate of the Ulster Orchestra.
But now musicians whose careers were given a springboard with the backing of the ensemble have spoken out on the impact it would have if it was allowed to wind up.
Rebekah Coffey (34), a professional opera soprano singer from Newtownards, said she owes some of the most memorable moments of her career to the Ulster Orchestra and that she would be deeply saddened if it was to disappear.
She said: "At a young age the Ulster Orchestra was my introduction to classical music.
"When I joined the chorus of the Northern Ireland Opera, they were looking for a young chorus for a production of Don Giovanni.
"It was being involved in that, with the orchestra playing, that gave me the bug.
"The orchestra has provided me with some of my most memorable performances.
"I would hope there are other young artists being inspired in that way.
"It would be sad for the young musicians who wouldn't have the same level to aspire to."
Jonathan Byers (34), a professional cellist from Belfast, also has fond memories playing with the Ulster Orchestra.
He said: "I was brought up in Belfast and went to the City of Belfast School of Music.
"I played with the orchestra as an extra player when they needed a cello player for a project.
"But more importantly, it's been a vehicle for me and many other young up and coming classical instrumentals.
"I'm absolutely horrified that it's come to this, really, and that it is under threat.
"If it was to disappear then it can't really be brought back again.
"When a country loses something like that it loses an integral part of its own society."
Earlier this month Belfast City Council's strategic policy and resources committee met to discuss the fate of the ensemble, but no formal decisions were made. As well as appealing for funding of £500,000, it has also asked for the free rental of the Ulster Hall for the next five years, which would save it £160,000 a year. The council has asked the orchestra to provide a long-term plan.