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Daniele Rustioni and Ulster Orchestra: A Retrospective

A look back at Daniele's five years as the Orchestra's Chief Conductor and Music Director.

Delights ensue whenever Daniele Rustioni takes to the podium to conduct the Ulster Orchestra. There has been a real sense of wonder in having him at the helm as Chief Conductor (and later Music Director) over the last five years. Ahead of his final season concert with us, we wanted to celebrate some of his concert highlights.

Ulster Orchestra musicians are eager to share their thoughts and feelings about working with Daniele. Vahan Khourdoian (bassoon) spoke about his enjoyment of the musical programmes Daniele brings when he comes to conduct. Wenhan Jiang (viola) highlighted the tour to Linz with Daniele in summer 2022, as it was his first project with the Ulster Orchestra. Philip Walton (viola) commented on the joy of touring with Daniele, creating memories in other places as well as at home. Many other Ulster Orchestra musicians remarked on Daniele’s skill for bringing people together every time he returns to conduct.
These musical moments, not only in the Ulster Orchestra’s home city of Belfast, but also in London at the BBC Proms and in Linz, Austria, also make up a special legacy. Following a debut performance in 2022 Daniele will conduct the Ulster Orchestra in his second BBC Proms concert at the Royal Albert Hall, London on Sunday 18 August 2024.


(Photo: Daniele Rustioni conducting Ulster Orchestra during his introductory event for subscribers, 2019).
In 2019, Daniele’s inaugural concert as Chief Conductor with Ulster Orchestra sold out weeks in advance with a palpable ‘buzz of anticipation’ surrounding it [LINK].

This concert showcased a programme highlighting Daniele’s love of opera and viscerally emotional works. Verdi’s I vesperi siciliani and Elgar’s Cello Concerto with soloist Johannes Moser saw reviewer Leighton Jones describe how Daniele’s ‘modest, clear conducting brought a breath of new life, the players interpreted and executed each gesture with definition and understanding’. 
In February 2020 he performed alongside Francesca Dego a romantic and 20th century programme of Prokofiev (Romeo and Juliet, Balcony Scene), Shostakovich (Violin Concerto No. 1) and Tchaikovsky’s Manfred. Bachtrack remarked on Daniele’s conducting style: ‘Rustioni conjured-up all the necessary communicative prowess to evoke the storytelling in the music’.


While social distancing guidelines meant we were unable to have in-person concerts from March 2020 until September 2021, the majority of the orchestra’s activities switched to online, with many of Ulster Orchestra’s musicians and staff creating a wealth of digital content. Daniele got involved in the creation of digital content, including conducting the orchestra in a virtual performance of Overture from The Marriage of Figaro by Mozart. 

Returning to live concerts, September 2021 brought a much-needed sense of relief and reassurance. Still playing to limited audience sizes as restrictions would allow in October 2021, Daniele conducted a bewitching programme of Lyadov’s The Enchanted Forest, Korngold’s Violin Concerto in D Major (with soloist Alena Baeva) and Rachmaninov’s Symphonic Dances. 


In the beginning of 2022, Daniele conducted the Ulster Orchestra and soprano Erika Baikoff in a ‘celestial’ performance of Mahler’s Symphony No. 4 and Strauss’ Death and Transfiguration.


(Photos: Daniele conducting Ulster Orchestra in Mahler 4 and Strauss’ Death and Transfiguration)

Later in May 2022, our ‘Postcard from Italy’ concert, brought audiences in both Northern Ireland and Austria a programme of Italian themed music. Organist Martin Riccabona joined us to perform Casella’s Organ Concerto, and Respighi’s Fountains of Rome was also programmed – a majestic evening of music, performed to a packed Ulster Hall, and later in the Brucknerhaus in Linz.

Our season finale for 2021/2022 was a thrilling programme from the USA. Michael Collins was the soloist for the Copland Clarinet Concerto, which was paired with Jessie Montgomery’s Banner, the electric showstopper, Bernstein’s Symphonic Dances from West Side Story, and the sensitive Porgy and Bess: A Symphonic Pictureby Gershwin. Daniele’s showmanship went beyond that of conductor, taking on the role of Officer Krupke, turning to face the audience and blowing a whistle from his podium. 
(Photo: Daniele and Michael Collins during ‘Postcard from the USA’)

In August 2022, Daniele made his BBC Proms debut in Royal Albert Hall with Ulster Orchestra, performing a programme of Wagner’s Tannhäuser and Mahler’s Blumine without an interval. This was a surely a highlight in Daniele’s Ulster Orchestra experience to conduct such an epic programme to an audience of this scale. Tim Ashley of The Guardian reviewed the concert, stating that Daniele was ‘mesmerising to watch, and at times almost balletic on the podium’. 
(Photo: Daniele’s BBC Proms debut with Ulster Orchestra in Royal Albert Hall, London. Credit: Chris Christodoulou/BBC)


(Photo: Daniele conducts Ein Heldenleben during season 2022/2023 opening concert)

For the start of season 2022/2023, Daniele returned to the podium to conduct a programme including the magnificent Ein Heldenleben by Strauss and Brahms’ Piano Concerto No. 2 with soloist Stephen Hough. In December, Daniele joined us once more with Busoni’s Violin Concerto (soloist Francesca Dego), Brucker’s Symphony No. 7, and Roxanne and Andrzej Panufnik’s Modiltwa (Prayer). In February 2023, Nicholas Daniel was the soloist when Daniele joined us again to conduct Strauss’ Concerto for Oboe and Orchestra, Sibelius’ 7th Symphony and Brahms’ Symphony No. 2. 

(Photo: Daniele and Nicholas Daniel on stage performing Strauss’ Oboe Concerto)

In April 2023, Haydn’s The Creation was the season concert for Easter weekend. Daniele led Ulster Orchestra, Belfast Philharmonic Choir and soloists Robin Tritschler, Emma Morwood and Ben McAteer in what the Spectator’s Richard Bratby described as ‘surround-sound happiness’.

(Photo: Daniele, Ulster Orchestra, Belfast Philharmonic Choir and soloists Robin Tritschler, Emma Morwood and Ben McAteer)

Mirroring season 2021/2022’s finale, Daniele once again brought the sunshine of an Italian-themed programme to Belfast. Timothy Ridout was the viola soloist for Berlioz’s Harold in Italy, playing the part of Harold both on the instrument and acting out the entrance of Harold over the mountains to see the sights of Northern Italy. Elgar’s In The South and Resphigi’s Pines of Rome offered the perfect balance of sensitivity and epic scale to bring the season to an end.
(Photo: Daniele brings season 2022-2023 to a close with Pines of Rome)


There was magic, adventure and fantasy in the air for the opening of season 2023/24 as Daniele took on an imagined role as the sorcerer, conducting an enchanting programme of Dukas’ L’apprenti sorcierSinfonia Concertante with soloist Alban Gerhardt, Borodin’s Polovtsian Dances from Prince Igor and Daphnis et Chloé Suite No. 2, ‘a strong programme on paper and even better in execution.’ [LINK]
(Photo: Daniele and Alban Gerhardt with Ulster Orchestra take a bow after performing Sinfonia Concertante)
Pianist Federico Colli performed Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 21, with complementary works Ricercare(Bach/Webern) and Prokofiev’s 5th Symphony. In Daniele’s next appearance in the Ulster Hall, Francesca Dego returned to perform the fiendishly difficult Violin Concerto by Sibelius with contrasting works by Clara Schumann (Three Romances for Violin), Dvořák (Slavonic Dances and Symphony No. 7). Francesca returned to perform with Daniele and cello soloist Daniel Müller-Schott to perform Brahms’ Double Concerto in a concert which also included Elgar’s Enigma Variations
(Photo: Daniele and Francesca Dego during their performance of Sibelius’ Violin Concerto)
Daniele’s penultimate season concert with Ulster Orchestra saw him conducting a programme of Webern’s Passacaglia, the spectacular Shostakovich’s Violin Concerto No. 1 (soloist Sergey Khachatryan) and Brahms’ Symphony No. 1

(Photo: Daniele and Sergey Khachatryan on stage with Ulster Orchestra following their performance of Shostakovich’s Violin Concerto No. 1)

Still to come

This week, Daniele conducts his final season concert as Ulster Orchestra’s Music Director in in a near capacity house for Mahler’s epic Symphony No. 2, ‘Resurrection’, a work demanding 200 performers on and off stage and one that seldom been performed in Northern Ireland including performers from Belfast Philharmonic, Ruby Hughes and Kai Rüütel. 
Daniele also joins us in August for his second BBC Prom with us, along with piano soloist Francesco Piemontesi, to perform a programme of Busoni’s Comedy Overture, Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 4 in G Major, Avril Coleridge-Taylor’s Sussex Landscape and Dvořák’s Symphony No. 7 in D Majorafter which he will continue his relationship with the Ulster Orchestra as Music Director Laureate.
(Photo: Daniele conducting Ulster Orchestra in the Ulster Hall, Belfast, with Orchestra Leader Ioana Petcu-Colan, right).

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