Ulster Orchestra to make waves with world première of special Titanic work

In one of the first Titanic centenary events of 2012, the Ulster Orchestra will give the world première tomorrow tonight (Friday 17 February) of Ian Wilson’s The stars, the seas in the Ulster Hall, Belfast, at its Titanic Journey concert.

The 25-minute work for orchestra and chorus by the UO’s Associate Composer marks the centenary of the sinking of the Belfast-built liner in April 1912 and has been specially commissioned by the Orchestra with the support of JTI.

Speaking before the world première of his work, Belfast-born Ian Wilson said, “This is an important commission that not only commemorates a significant world event, but an event that has had a profound effect on the city and people that built the ship.”

The piece, which is Ian’s biggest work for full orchestra in terms of its length, falls into five broad sections entitled Build, Launch, Forward, “No sun, no moon” and Towards the Horizon.

“There was a strong temptation for me to make the music programmatic and just tell the Titanic story,” Ian explained. “I resisted this as much as possible so that, while there are still clear links between various sections and parts of the Titanic narrative, any sense of telling a story, as it were, is absent. In its place is a frieze-like structure where various scenes from the story have inspired a musical response.

In the first section, Build, Ian explained that the music is noisy, busy and mechanistic, creating a sense of a structure coming together. “Launch is, suitably, fanfare-like and briefly celebratory, whereas Forward begins with a determined air which is soon replaced with – literally – a sinking feeling as the music drops to reach the lowest instrumental depths,” he said.

‘No sun, no moon’ is a setting of a specially-commissioned poem from the English poet Helen Pizzey, a beautifully evocative text which manages to be memorial without overdoing either melancholy or morbidity. The celebrated Northern Irish chamber choir, Cappella Caeciliana, will join with the Orchestra for this section, which realy is the heart of the work,” Ian said.

“The final section, Towards the horizon, was inspired by the idea that while the Titanic is physically at the bottom of the north Atlantic, metaphorically it lives on in our minds, particularly for those of us who grew up in Northern Ireland where it is very much a part of the cultural and historical fabric. Therefore the music becomes active once again, stirring motifs bringing previous sections back into life as the ship sails on into the future.”

Looking forward to Friday’s concert, the Ulster Orchestra’s Chairman, Professor Sir George Bain said, “A world première is an exciting time for any orchestra. Through our concerts, education and outreach work, the Ulster Orchestra has always played its part in the life of the community as one of Northern Ireland’s cultural cornerstones.

“The UO is therefore proud to be a part of the Titanic commemorations and very grateful to JTI for its support that has enabled us to commission this special centenary work by Ian. The Titanic has always been a part of Belfast’s story, long before the 1985 discovery of the wreck and the 1997 film. While the tragedy itself has cast a long and understandable shadow over the city, it is only in recent years, perhaps, that the true legacy of that great liner, one of innovation, ingenuity, creativity and excellence is now being realised.”

Tickets are still available for Friday’s concert, which also features works with a journey theme by Wagner, Mendelssohn and Sibelius, conducted by the UO’s Principal Guest Conductor, Paul Watkins. The concert will also see the renowned Bulgarian-born violinist, Bella Hristova, make her UK and Irish début playing Mendelssohn’s effervescent Violin Concerto.