Ireland’s biggest arts festival targets 50,000 visitors and 36 citywide venues in global arts celebration.
The countdown to Ireland’s largest arts festival – the Ulster Bank Belfast Festival at Queen’s – is officially under way.
Unveiled today [Monday 23 August] the Festival programme is bursting at its proverbial seams with the best of international and local music, theatre, dance, visual art and spoken word in a packed 16-day programme which kicks off on October 15.
Taking place at a record 36 venues across the city, the festival will see a school sports hall in North Belfast transformed into the battlefields of Iraq and the tranquil Botanic Gardens turned into a mystical, magical garden. With traditional venues from the Ulster Hall, the Waterfront, Grand Opera House and the Great Hall at Queen’s to a barge on the Lagan, Clonard Monastery and May Street Church, this year’s festival will be the liveliest and the most diverse in its 48th year history further bolstering its reputation as one of the premiere arts events on these islands.
As the festival has grown in size, stature and popularity so too has the line-up – and this year promises to be the biggest yet as organisers look to pull in up to 50,000 visitors from around the world with its top tier attractions.
With round-the-clock entertainment, there really is no better time to take in the city. Featuring more than 60 show-stopping acts the Ulster Bank Belfast Festival at Queen’s welcomes back world-class comic Michael Palin, sees local legend Paul Brady perform alongside the Ulster Orchestra in his orchestral debut, as Therapy? showcase their seminal Troublegum album in full, army regiment drama Black Watch and renowned Australian circus performers Circa will astonish adults and young people alike with their rigorous and exhilarating routines.
The festival, which last year drew more than 40,000 people to the city, is supported by Ulster Bank, Queen’s University Belfast, Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure, Northern Ireland Tourist Board, Belfast City Council and receives both public funding and Lottery funding from the Arts Council of Northern Ireland.
Festival Director, Graeme Farrow, said this year’s line-up would secure Belfast and Northern Ireland’s place as a world-class destination for arts entertainment.
“We thought that last year’s programme would be hard to beat, but I’m delighted to say that we have managed to do just that. With a hectic schedule that is bursting with the most talented artists from every area of the arts world, there’s never been a better time to get involved.
“In a major coup, we will be presenting smash hits from both the National Theatre of Scotland and the Royal National Theatre with Alan Bennett’s sensational The Habit of Art and Black Watch in the same programme. We’re tackling big issues with Black Watch, FML and Trilogy, all of which have enjoyed phenomenal success elsewhere. How will Belfast react? We’ll also celebrate the anniversaries of artists as diverse as Chopin; John Lennon; Mahler; Tagore; minimalist composer Terry Riley; Therapy?; jazz legend Kenny Wheeler and rock star Ian Dury while welcoming winners of the Grammys, Turner prize and South Bank Awards.
“Whatever you are in to – this year’s festival has it all. Early booking is not just preferable, it is essential!” Graeme added.
Ulster Bank’s Chief Executive of Retail Markets, Mike Bamber says that the bank’s ongoing commitment to the festival reflects the close and valuable relationship between business and the arts.
“The arts are as much part of the economic fabric of society as they are of our cultural identity and development. Ulster Bank is proud to partner the ever-evolving Belfast Festival at Queen’s which makes an essential contribution to the cultural landscape of Northern Ireland.
“The festival is achieving deserved international recognition for its scale and the excellence of its content and has helped to raise the global reputation of the city and the province.”
Theatre-lovers can also look forward to the world premiere of Colin Bateman’s first play, National Anthem, gritty teenage play FML from Belgium’s legendary CAMPO outfit featuring some of our own young people and acclaimed proto-feminist play Trilogy. Choreographic superstar Russell Maliphant showcases his latest work and you can even participate in an ancient foot washing ceremony courtesy of Adrian Howell!
Music fans will be treated to special appearances by US singer-songwriter Mary Chapin Carpenter, Afrobeat star Tony Allen, French soundtrack composer Yann Tiersen of Amélie fame, and Polish conductor Antoni Wit will give a rare performance of Mahler’s Symphony No.5.
Fred Astaire’s daughter Ava Astaire McKenzie will host a musical tribute night to him featuring original film orchestrations and musical numbers. The award-winning, Belfast-born composer Brian Irvine showcases his new chamber opera based in a bingo hall – Postcards from Dumbworld. Traditional Irish acts such as De Dannan and Anúna along with the Dublin Gospel Choir are also a firm feature.
An impressive selection of talks with established writers, politicians and performers are a key part of the programme and include an audience with Jenni Murray, Peter Hain on Nelson Mandela, Paddy Ashdown, Roddy Doyle and Joseph O’Connor.
Commenting on the diversity of the programme, Professor Ellen Douglas-Cowie, Pro-Vice-Chancellor at Queen’s University said;
“The content and subjects portrayed address topics such as the feminism, teenage life and the war on terror. There is hard hitting drama, invigorating music, spectacular dance and a series of exquisite talks and tours. The Ulster Bank Belfast Festival at Queen’s truly has something for everybody.”
Roisín McDonough, Chief Executive of the Arts Council of Northern Ireland, said;
“The Ulster Bank Belfast Festival has established itself as a highlight of our cultural calendar, annually attracting tens of thousands of visitors from across the city and beyond to attend a wide range of arts events. As a platform for showcasing the best local and international acts, the Festival provides an excellent example of the major contribution that the arts make to our social, creative and economic life.”
Lord Mayor of Belfast, Councillor Pat Convery, hailed the Festival as being a highlight in the city’s arts and entertainment calendar.
“Thanks to excellent initiatives such as this, Belfast’s status as a thriving cultural centre of excellence is being secured locally, nationally and internationally,” he said.
This year’s festival runs from the October 15-October 30. For more information on the festival programme or to book tickets, log on to www.belfastfestival.com or contact the festival box office Mon-Fri 9am-6pm and Sat 10am-2pm on 9097 1197.