Belfast Telegraph

Ulster Orchestra: Don't let the music die - Sir James Galway's appeal to Stormont

JoAnn Faletta, conducting the Ulster Orchestra in the Ulster Hall, Belfast
JoAnn Faletta, conducting the Ulster Orchestra in the Ulster Hall, Belfast
Sir James Galway has been given a lifetime achievement award
War of words: former Arts Council director Philip Hammond

By Nevin Farrell

World-renowned Belfast flautist Sir James Galway and more than 30 leading names in the classical music world have made a plea for the Ulster Orchestra to be saved.

Sir James - the first Artist Laureate of the Ulster Orchestra - and others who have worked with the orchestra in the past have put their names to a letter calling for the Stormont government to find funding to ensure the music plays on.

The letter has been addressed to First Minister Peter Robinson, Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness and Minister for Culture, Arts and Leisure Caral Ni Chuilin.

Composer Ian Wilson and saxophonist Gerard McChrystal drummed up support.

Mr Wilson told the Belfast Telegraph: "We decided to contact friends and colleagues who have worked directly with the Ulster Orchestra as performers, conductors or composers to underscore the depth of dismay about the orchestra's current precarious position. We are grateful to the signatories for their support."

The letter from the music stars implores Stormont to find the necessary funding "to keep this marvellous institution alive and prosperous".

The letter further states that Northern Ireland's cultural life would be "immeasurably poorer without the Ulster Orchestra and it is deeply troubling to think that Northern Ireland might become the only part of Europe without a full-time professional orchestra".

The signatories said it was a "tremendous shock" to hear about the orchestra's plight and said it would be "unthinkable" to potentially lose "what many people around the world consider to be its (Northern Ireland's) cultural flagship institution".

The letter said annually the orchestra plays to thousands of people and it has "given many home-grown composers the opportunity to have their music performed and broadcast nationally".

The letter said the orchestra "has represented Northern Ireland in the best way possible - free from politics, simply as ambassadors for the very best characteristics of the community".

And the signatories said that over the years the orchestra has provided huge expertise in terms of music education and outreach and to lose the orchestra "would be devastating for musical life in Northern Ireland". The Ulster Orchestra is on the brink of folding because of cuts in the arts sector.

Sir George Bain, chairman of the orchestra, said last week: "The potential loss of the Ulster Orchestra, at a time when 11,000 people attended the BBC Proms in the Park at the Titanic Slipway in September and 60,000 asked for tickets, is simply a tragedy for the cultural, educational, social and economic future of Northern Ireland.

"Times are tough for everyone and we absolutely recognise that but we believe that Northern Ireland deserves to have a symphony orchestra as much as any region in these islands.

"We also have much to celebrate as we enter into an exciting new season with our new, young Chief Conductor, Rafael Payare, at the helm."

He added: "Audience numbers are up, our work in socially and economically deprived areas goes from strength to strength, and more and more young people are engaging with us in our education work.

"We can't do it on our own. We call on all lovers of music, in whatever genre, the minister and all our public representatives to recognise the unique nature of the Ulster Orchestra, and to make a firm decision to help us continue in our mission to share the music across the region.

"We can then work together, as partners, on developing a structural and financial model that is sustainable while taking account of current public-sector financial difficulties.

"For now, our work throughout the season will continue as normal and we wish to thank all our loyal staff, funders and friends for their unwavering support".

Orchestra chiefs have met funders including the Arts Council, the BBC, Belfast City Council.

The Ulster Orchestra costs an estimated £4.6million a year to run but as cuts begin to bite it has found itself at the centre of a war of words over culture versus frontline services.

Supporters believe it is vital to maintain it as a flagship of the arts in Northern Ireland but others claim funding would be better diverted to essential services like hospitals.

Major figures from the classical music world who joined the chorus of concern

  • Sir James Galway, flautist
  • Dame Evelyn Glennie, percussionist
  • Elaine Agnew, composer
  • Jonathan Byers, cellist
  • Gerald Barry, composer
  • Paul Bateman, conductor
  • Ed Bennett, composer
  • David Brophy, conductor
  • David Byers, composer
  • Greg Caffrey, composer
  • Bill Campbell, composer
  • Finghin Collins, pianist
  • JoAnn Falletta, conductor
  • Philip Flood, arts manager
  • Frank Gallagher, musician, producer
  • Stephen Gardner, composer
  • Deirdre Gribben, composer
  • Philip Hammond, composer
  • Brian Irvine, composer
  • James MacMillan CBE, composer and conductor
  • Simon Mawhinney, composer
  • Gerard McChrystal, saxophonist
  • Deirdre McKay, composer
  • Kenneth Montgomery, conductor
  • Darragh Morgan, violinist
  • Christopher Norby, composer
  • Kevin O'Connell, composer
  • David Quigley, pianist
  • Joanne Quigley, violinist
  • Chris Ryan, sound artist
  • Matthew Schellhorn, pianist
  • Hugh Tinney, pianist
  • Paul Watkins, conductor
  • Ian Wilson, composer

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