News Analysis

Sunday 31 August 2014

Celebrating 10 years at the Waterfront

Published 20/01/2007 | 00:11

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In sports terms, there can be no doubt about which is Ireland's premier venue. The entertainment equivalent of Croke Park, though, is rather harder to identify.

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When it comes to classical music, I reckon we've three contenders. The top of my chart are the University Concert Hall in Limerick, the first custom-built concert hall in Ireland when it opened 14 years ago; the Mahony Hall at the Helix in Dublin; and the biggest of them all, and an absolutely wonderful auditorium, the 2,250-seater Waterfront Hall in Belfast.

Last weekend, the Waterfront celebrated its 10th anniversary with a scintillating concert. It was on Friday January 17, 1997 that the main hall hosted its first symphony concert. It featured the Ulster Orchestra with two local musical heroes - James Galway, and Barry Douglas.

Barry Douglas was back, reunited with the orchestra, which is itself celebrating its 40th season, and the Steinway that he had chosen as the Waterfront's resident instrument 10 years before. He performed the First Piano Concerto by Brahms.

The concert was to have marked the return to Belfast of the Ulster Orchestra's first leader 40 years ago, Janos Furst, who was, for two years in the late '80s, principal conductor of the RTE Symphony Orchestra. Sadly, Furst died in Paris on the first Wednesday of the year. Aged 71, he'd been suffering from cancer for some time.

In his place on the rostrum was Kenneth Montgomery, the Ulster Orchestra's principal guest conductor, who'll be taking over full-time in the autumn. Another native of Belfast, he certainly relished his evening in its principal venue.

Orchestras directed by Kenneth Montgomery don't match the typical modern configuration. His violins are on either side, first on the left, second on the right, with the lower strings and woodwind fanning out before him. The brass occupy the higher reaches of the two flanks, and in the raised central position at the back are the double basses, with the timpani in the rear at the right.

The set-up, allied to the sparkling acoustics of the venue, enhanced the delivery of the exciting opening overture, Prometheus by Beethoven, and the Bohemian light and shade of Dvorak's Symphony No 6.

All in all, a magnificent evening's entertainment, and, in the circumstances, a most appropriate tribute, too, to a man whose involvement with Irish musical life had spanned a period of more than four decades.

In Dublin, this coming Wednesday, the National Concert Hall is hosting an evening remembering John Roche, who died in late 2005.

Roche was a popular baritone, whose day job as a fingerprint expert in the Garda Technical Bureau was a world away from the songs of Percy French which he loved to sing.

John's friends from the worlds of music and light entertainment have put together a tribute programme that extends beyond the songs.

The concert is at 8.00 pm, hosted by John's son Jonah, whose career as a garda clearly isn't the only way he's been following in his father's footsteps!

George Hamilton presents 'The Hamilton Scores' each Saturday morning on RTE Lyric FM from 10.30am.

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