About the Ulster Orchestra

50 Years of Northern Ireland's Symphony Orchestra

About the Ulster Orchestra2018-08-17T10:28:55+00:00


Music Director 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 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 from the region’s only professional symphony orchestra and celebrated 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. The relationship between Rafael Payare and the Orchestra was further cemented in 2016 when the conductor was made Music Director of the Ulster Orchestra.

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.

An important 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 2016/17 the Ulster Orchestra created the ‘On Your Doorstep’ touring series as a 50th anniversary initiative, which sees the Orchestra play in as diverse a range of venues as possible across Northern Ireland.  From Donaghmore to Newry and Portaferry to Enniskillen; concerts are announced throughout the year and aim to reach far and wide across Northern Ireland.

The Orchestra’s successful partnership with Northern Ireland Opera (about to enter its sixth year) saw the two organisations perform Mozart’s Don Giovanni  in November 2016, Adès’s opera Powder Her Face in January 2017 and a concert performance of Puccini’s La bohème in April 2017. The Orchestra also regularly performs with the Belfast Philharmonic Choir.

The Ulster Orchestra records regularly and its most recent recording commitments have been for the Naxos label under the baton of former Chief Conductor JoAnn Faletta. 2015 saw the release of a second volume of John Knowles Paine’s Orchestral Works on Naxos, and Volume 1 is also available on the same label. The Orchestra have also recorded work for Chandos, Hyperion, SOMM and Toccata Classics.

Learning and engagement is at the core of all that the Ulster Orchestra does. In conjunction with a range of partners, the Orchestra is building on 30 years of education and outreach work with an exciting and diverse range of projects. From Adopt a Player in schools to Wellbeing Workshops in hospices and supported housing, from concerts for schools and free concert tickets for children to residencies at SEN schools and from projects with Women’s Aid to the award-winning Move to the Music scheme which facilitates isolated elderly people in rural areas access live orchestra music; the Ulster Orchestra is bringing music to new and existing groups and audiences from all backgrounds, right across Northern Ireland.