Belfast Festival celebrates the arts

An internationally renown operatic soprano, a troupe of puppets, a band from the Sahara of Africa and a choral group from Bulgaria, a political firebrand film maker, a thoughtful historian, a jazz orchestra, and a top Irish traditional band: these are just a few of the artists who will take part as the Ulster Bank Belfast Festival at Queen’s unfolds across the city of Belfast in Northern Ireland from the 14 through the 30th of October.

It began as a small festival of the arts some forty nine years ago, when people from Queen’s University wanted to celebrate the arts in the city, and over the years it has grown to be one of Eurtope’s and the world’s premiere arts festivals. It still showcases Belfast, too, as a city that respects arts and artists.

This year, classical music lovers will get to hear Dame Kiri Te Kanawa perform with the Ulster Orchestra, and take in a chamber music series featuring top mezzo-soprano Monica Groop and the Danish String Quartet celebrating the great Nordic composers. The Ulster Youth Choir bring a local touch to performances of Bach and Mendelsohn at St. Peter’s Cathedral. In another performance the Ulster Orchestra will be joined by conductor JoAnn Falletta and piano virtuoso Joanna MacGregor in a program of work by American composers including Bernstein, Gershwin and Aaron Copland. Opera Theatre Company will offer a rendition of the Anne Frank story and Michael McHale, David Quigley, and Cathal Breslin will present an evening of the music of Franz Liszt.

That range of classical performances would likely be enough for any one festival, but there will be quite a bit more going in in Belfast, in venues ranging from concert halls to river barges to cathedrals. Among the speakers who will continue the festival’s tradition of including talks and spoken word events are Bianca Jagger, who will bring her Human Rights Revolution program to the festival. Historian and broadcaster Sir Max Hastings will be on hand, as will comedian Tim McGarry, as well as
“the polemicist of a generation” as festival organizers describe him, American film maker Michael Moore.

Northern Ireland’s talent will be well represented across the arts genres, too through performances of the play the Boat Factory as well as musical and dance events. The Handspring Puppet Theatre will be on hand, too, as will the traditional band Dervish, from Sligo in the republic, who have had hits with jigs, reels, and songs from Bob Dylan.

Part of the audiences for these performances will be those who rarely have a chance to attend arts performances. That is part of Ulster Bank’s contribution to the festival. “Last year, over seventy community groups of all shapes and sizes received opportunities to experience Festival events free of charge through Ulster Bank’s Community Ticket Scheme, and we will continue this in 2011, “ said Ulster Bank’s Director of Business Services Ireland Ellvena Graham “This year’s program delivers exceptional shows from all over the world as well as promoting local talent, and we are proud to support its cultural contribution to Northern Ireland.”

A city whose name is often associated with political troubles and divisions, Belfast would like the world to know it is a welcoming home to the arts, as well. As it begins its forty ninth year, the Ulster Bank Belfast Festival at Queen’s is continuing to support that message.

Find out more at the Ulster Bank Belfast Festival at Queen’s website Even if you will not make it the festival, there’s a lot of good information about arts, artists, and Belfast at the site.

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