Founded in 1966, the Ulster Orchestra has been at the forefront of musical life in Northern Ireland and the Orchestra's sixty three full-time musicians form the region's only professional symphony orchestra.
In 2014 the Ulster Orchestra appointed Rafael Payare as its Chief Conductor. Payare is a conductor in high demand amongst the world's great orchestra and joins a distinguished line of past principal conductors including Bryden Thomson, Vernon Handley, Yan Pascal Tortelier, Dimitry Sitovetsky, 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. 2014 was also the year that Jac van Steen was appointed Principal Guest Conductor, in recognition of his long-standing and vital relationship with the Orchestra.
The Ulster Orchestra's mission is to enrich the lives of people living in and visiting Northern Ireland, as well as promoting the region through international touring and regular 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 for the BBC’s Proms in the Park celebrations each year.
A new initiative for the Orchestra, Ulster Orchestra On Your Doorstep, was founded in the 2016/17 Season (the Orchestra’s 50th Anniversary Season) and it sees the Orchestra play in as diverse a range of venues as possible throughout Northern Ireland. This is an important aspect of the Orchestra's outreach work, sending everything from small ensembles to the full symphony orchestra, far and wide across the region.
The Orchestra’s successful partnership with Northern Ireland Opera (now in its seventh year) will see the two organisations work together on performances of Verdi's Rigoletto in October 2018. The Orchestra gave four performances at the 2017 Belfast International Arts Festival and also regularly performs with Belfast Philharmonic Choir. 2016 saw a new and fresh collaboration with the legendary Portrush superclub Lush!, which saw the Orchestra perform a set of club anthems to a sold-out SSE Arena. Following 2017's second sell-out show, a third concert will take place in October 2018.
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 and for the Hyperion label with Howard Shelley. The Orchestra has also recorded work for Chandos, SOMM and Toccata Classics.