Ulster Youth Orchestra of Northern Ireland
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Musical youth energise audience

Ulster Youth Orchestra concert in the Ulster Hall, Belfast, on 24th August 2013

Shostakovich’s Twelfth Symphony is shot through with the kind of muzzled political doublespeak which so often stifles untrammelled emotional expression in his music. It is, though, raucous and sizzlingly orchestrated, and must be fun to play. That, at least, was the impression given by the 100 musicians of the Ulster Orchestra who packed the stage at the Ulster Hall for their annual concert in Belfast. They fairly ripped into Revolutionary Petrograd, the opening movement, with fiery string contributions and appropriately strident commentary from the brass section.
The confident articulacy of the playing was impressive, betokening a week’s hard work with the orchestra’s sectional tutors beforehand, and the energising influence of Takuo Yuasa, the dynamic and technically incisive conductor. Yuasa’s vast experience showed also in the big, bold and vividly colourful performance of Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition, in Ravel’s orchestration.
Their enthusiasm and expertise made for an invigoratingly enjoyable evening.

Terry Blair for the Belfast Telegraph 26th August, 2013

Ulster Youth Orchestra concert in the Ulster Hall, Belfast on the 20th of August, 2011

More than 90 young musicians celebrated the 18th anniversary of the Ulster Youth Orchestra (UYO) at two weekend concerts in Londonderry and Belfast.
The Belfast concert in the Ulster Hall on Saturday the 20th of September was attended by Lord Mayor Niall O Donnghaile.
The UYO, under the baton of Scottish conductor, Garry Walker, began with a sparkling performance of Shostakovich’s Festival Overture - one of the most scintillating entrees in the classical repertoire.
In the Rachmaninov Piano Concerto no 2, Michael McHale added to his growing reputation with an assured performance of this popular and demanding work.  Initially, the orchestra at full throttle threatened to overpower the soloist, but maestro Walker maintained a subtle balance.
The UYO changed pace with Rimsky-Korsakov’s famous setting of the legend of Scheherazade.  The darkness of this tale was quickly banished by this UYO performance which flowed in a sea of gorgeous music, until its dramatic and finely subdued ending.
The orchestra’s leader, Tara McNeill, was the excellent violin soloist throughout.  Under Garry Walker’s challenging direction, the entire orchestra, with other outstanding soloists, combined superbly to guide the troubled but beautiful Scheherazade to her safe haven at last.
The prolonged standing ovation for this fine group of young musicians was thoroughly deserved.

Alf McCreary for the Belfast Telegraph 22nd August, 2011

Ulster Youth Orchestra concert in the Guildhall, Londonderry on the 19th of August, 2011

The first of this year’s Ulster Youth Orchestra summer concerts featured music by three very popular Russian composers.  Conducted by Scottish-born Garry Walker, who has experience with all the BBC orchestras and more, Friday night’s concert, in the Guildhall in Londonderry, began with the suitably vivacious Festive Overture by Shostakovich.  Right from the start this overture demonstrated the incredibly strength of each section of this year’s young orchestra.  The strong brass opening, followed by the racing string theme and bubbly clarinet solo, backed up at every turn by the sparkling percussion department, gave the audience a rousing opener.  The cheers from the audience at the end of this piece set the tone for the rest of the evening which oozed excellence at every turn.
Michael McHale was the soloist in Piano Concerto No 2 by Rachmaninov.  This emotionally charged, romantic masterpiece was given a virtuosic performance by this Northern Ireland born pianist and former Methody student.  His brilliant technique was demonstrated in the faster passages while the slower sections were simply sublime and obviously heartfelt.  It is such a great experience for these young players to play with an artist of this calibre.  McHales’s world-class performance moved me to tears. The conductor had a great rapport with the players who were incredibly sensitive and responsive to the soloist. 
Rimsky Korsakov’s famous Scheherazade was a substantial piece for the UYO to tackle in the second part of the concert.  The beguiling voice of the solo violin guided the audience through storybook tales from Arabian Nights, the orchestra's dramatic colours depicting perfumed gardens, bustling bazaars and an unforgettable shipwreck at sea.  Tara McNeill was a superb leader and suitably bewitching soloist.  The UYO excelled in this real tour-de-force, playing with precision and style.  This is real talent, real X factor in my book and the standing ovation at the end said it all.

Ruth McCartney for the Irish News

Ulster Youth Orchestra concert in the Ulster Hall, Belfast on the 20th of August, 2011

Just now, many students are dreading the beginning of the school year and the work and study that comes with it. One particular group of young folk, however, has already got a lot of hard work under their belts in the form of intensive rehearsals with the Ulster Youth Orchestra. Their Concerts last weekend, in the Guild Hall in Londonderry and the Ulster Hall, Belfast proved that miracles do happen, with a challenging programme performed with an unfettered musicality that made for a thrilling evenings music. This is a big orchestra, formed 18 years ago when most of the current membership was in nappies or possibly not even born yet. Concert repertoire for such a group is necessarily on a large scale, and ‘War Horse’ is a cliché one could apply to any of the works on offer. The Shostakovich Festival Overture is an ear-warmingly big listen with fabulous tunes and plenty of colour. The opening fanfare set the tone for a performance that “did not hang about”, courtesy of conductor Garry Walker, a man with strong musical ideas and obvious charisma. Inspiration and perspiration in proportion to the task pulled a strong performance from the players, with every little to suggest that they have less experience than the professional musicians they emulate. Pianist Michael McHale, charismatic and powerful, was the soloist for Rach 2, the concerto so universally loved it is almost a cliché itself, but for the scope it allows for the individual interpretation. I feel that McHale was possibly not allowed as free a rein in this as he deserved, and it became more the orchestra’s piece than his, but then, it was so clearly their night, and McHale, a former UYO member, knows this well. The audience was large and exceptionally clued-in, captivated by the music and the performances. I spotted some of the UYO tutors in the hall as well, intensely focused mentors, nervously willing these youngsters to play as well possible. After the interval, the best was yet to come, as Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade took centre stage with its seascapes and tales of the mythic orient. Orchestra Leader Tara McNeill was the soloist, as confident a story-teller as any young performer I’ve heard. She was joined at various points by soloists from within the orchestra: shimmering flute, scintillating oboe, bright trumpet, warm sonorous bassoon and elegant cello sounds, among others. There was, of course, a standing ovation and in context, it was a well deserved and warm reception for these musical travellers whose summer might have ended early but who, I’m very certain, didn’t mind one bit.

Andrea Rea for the News Letter 26th August 2011

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