About the Ulster Orchestra

50 Years of Northern Ireland's Symphony Orchestra

About the Ulster Orchestra 2016-11-01T16:34:19+00:00


Chief Conductor Rafael Payare – click here to find out more about Rafael
Principal Guest Conductor Jac van Steen – click here to find out more about Jac
Associate Conductor Christopher Bell
Artist Laureate Sir James Galway

Leader Tamás Kocsis
Associate Leader Ioana Petcu-Colan

For almost fifty years the Ulster Orchestra has been at the forefront of musical life in Northern Ireland. Founded in 1966, the Orchestra’s sixty three full-time musicians form the region’s only professional symphony orchestra and celebrates its 50th anniversary in the 2016/17 season.

In 2014 the Ulster Orchestra appointed Rafael Payare as its Chief Conductor. Payare is a conductor in high demand amongst the world’s great orchestras and joins a distinguished line of past principal conductors including Bryden Thomson, Vernon Handley, Yan Pascal Tortelier, Dimitry Sitkovetsky, Thierry Fischer and Kenneth Montgomery.

With a mission to enrich the lives of people living in Northern Ireland, those visiting, and those who encounter it through international touring and regular radio and TV broadcasts with both BBC Northern Ireland and BBC Radio 3, the Orchestra strives for excellence in all it undertakes, be it regular concert performances, learning and community engagement programmes, or creative collaborations across the arts.

The Ulster Orchestra gives around 40 evening and lunchtime concerts each season in its home, the Ulster Hall, and in the Belfast Waterfront. The Orchestra performs for the BBC Radio 3 invitational concert series at the Ulster Hall and in front of tens of thousands on the Titanic Slipway for the BBC’s Proms in the Park celebrations each year. The Orchestra also participates annually in the Ulster Bank Belfast International Arts Festival.

The Orchestra’s successful partnership with Northern Ireland Opera (now in its fourth year) saw it perform Puccini’s Turandot with an international and Irish cast and 90-strong chorus in the Grand Opera House, Belfast in October/November 2015. The Orchestra also regularly performs with the Belfast Philharmonic Choir.

A key aspect of the Ulster Orchestra’s work across Northern Ireland is its annual touring programme of regional concerts which bring live orchestral music to the heart of communities in Northern Ireland. In 2015/16 the Orchestra visited Omagh, Lisburn, Ballymena, Strabane, Bangor, Derry~Londonderry and Enniskillen. As well as this, smaller ensembles run projects, workshops and chamber events throughout the region, all year round.

Learning and engagement is at the core of all that the Ulster Orchestra does. Examples of the organisation’s work range from free concert tickets for children to the award-winning Move to the Music scheme that helps isolated elderly people in rural area access live orchestral music; and from cross-community projects in areas of social deprivation to workshops and education programmes in schools throughout the region.

In February 2016, the Ulster Orchestra brought all this education and community engagement activity together in a new project, the Music Room. The Music Room will build on the success of the Ulster Orchestra’s education and outreach work over the past 30 years by nurturing established partnerships as well as creating new ones with communities, schools, other arts organisations, audiences and individuals. It will draw on the highly skilled resources within the Orchestra and work to increase access to musical skills, participation and enjoyment among new and existing groups and audiences from all backgrounds, including those who may face barriers to musical participation.

The Ulster Orchestra records regularly. 2015 saw the release of a second volume of John Knowles Paine’s Orchestral Works on Naxos. The Orchestra have also recorded work for Chandos, Hyperion, SOMM and Toccata Classics.