Ulster Orchestra live from the Ulster Hall in Belfast performing music by Schumann and Sibelius. Michael McHale (piano)
 Christian Kluxen (conductor)

This afternoon (20/06/17) I attended a concert given by the Ulster Orchestra live from the Ulster Hall in Belfast performing  Schumann and Sibelius. It was introduced by John Toal. It was a BBC Radio 3  Invitation Concert.

Schumann: Piano Concerto in A minor, Op. 54

Michael McHale (piano)

Michael was born in Belfast, Northern Ireland in 1983. His interest in music began at the age of seven when he started learning the piano, soon followed by cello lessons at the City of Belfast School of Music. A varied education took Michael from Belfast to Dublin, Cambridge and ultimately London.

His performing career encompasses solo recital, concerto and chamber music appearances and he enjoys playing both core and contemporary repertoire. He has established himself as one of Ireland’s leading pianists and has developed a busy international career as a solo recitalist, concerto soloist and chamber musician. ( http://www.michaelmchale.com)

Ulster Orchestra :
Christian Kluxen (conductor)

‘Music Director Designate of the Victoria Symphony Orchestra in Canada, Danish conductor Christian Kluxen is an artist of intelligence, vitality and great musical integrity. Having already conducted orchestras such as the London Philharmonic, Gothenburg Symphony and Netherlands Philharmonic, Kluxen makes further debuts this season with the Royal Philharmonic, Turku Philharmonic and Arctic Opera and Philharmonic. In 2016, he led a critically acclaimed tour of Madama Butterfly with Danish National Opera, and in the current season makes his debut with Komische Oper Berlin, conducting The Magic Flute’. (http://www.kluxen.dk)




Allegro affetuoso; Intermezzo (Andantino grazioso; Allegro vivace

Schumann’s Piano Concerto was described by Liszt as a ‘concerto without piano’.

He said that ‘we must wait for the genius who will show us how orchestra and piano can be combined in a newer and more brilliant way, so that the soloist might unfold the riches of his instrument and his art, while the orchestra, no longer a mere spectator, weaves its various sonorities into the fabric in a more artistic fashion.’ (From programme notes)

The music is poetic and lyrical with the contrasting features of Schumann’s two beloved characters, Eusebius the dreamer, and Florestan, the man of action. The musical material is all derived from the theme heard from the woodwind and horns after the opening flourish, there’s a lovely Andante espressivo section (the slow movement of the original Phnatasie concept) with the dialogue of the clarinet and the piano. The gentle slow movement is a short Intermezzo in three sections, the central one a dialogue between piano and cellos. (From programme notes)

Sibelius: Symphony No. 5 in E flat major, Op. 82
Ulster Orchestra
Christian Kluxen (conductor)

Tempo molto, moderato; Allegro moderato; Andante mosso, quasi allegretto; Allegro molto-Un pochettino largamente

Sibelius worked on this symphony from 1914-1915. He described his method of writing as:

‘Arrangement of the themes. It’s as if God the Father had thrown down the tiles of a mosaic from heaven’s floor and asked me to determine what kind of picture it was. To me they are confessions of faith from different periods of my life.

Today at ten to eleven I saw 16 swans. One of my greatest experiences! Lord God, what beauty! They circled over me for a long time. Disappeared into the solar haze like a gleaming silver ribbon. Their call the same woodwind type as that of cranes, but without tremolo. The swan-call closer to the trumpet…a low-pitched refrain reminiscent of a small child crying. Nature’s mysticism and life’s Angst. The Fifth Symphony’s finale-theme: legato in the trumpets! ‘

He stressed how important the swans were to his imagination:

‘The Swans are always in my thoughts…strange to learn that nothing in the whole world affects me – nothing in art, literature or music – in the same way as do these swans and cranes and wild geese.’

An entry in Sibelius’s diary, 21st April 1915.

Swans were also a source of inspiration to W.B. Yeats: In his poem ‘The

Wild Swans at Coole’ he wrote:

The trees are in their autumn beauty,
The woodland paths are dry,
Under the October twilight the water
Mirrors a still sky;
Upon the brimming water among the stones
Are nine-and-fifty swans.



A Tour of Belfast

On 19th June, 2017, I was given a tour of the City by Kerena Crowe who has just recently qualified as an official tour guide. Her knowledge of the city is immense and her tour is replete with genuine research, peppered with wonderful stories and anecdotes. Kerena is particularly knowledgeable about the United Irishmen, and how their rebellion was influenced by the American Revolution, the French Revolution and the Scottish Radicals.

Looking up Royal Avenue, you will see Belfast City Hall with its distinctive green copper-coated domes. Its style is Baroque Revival and the exterior is built from Portland stone. The building was completed in 1906, and the Sir Alfred Brumell Thomas was the supervising architect. Brett admonished those people who laugh the City Hall, and says it is a remarkable building:

The front, though impressive, is somewhat over decorated, depending on a rhythm of coupled Ionic columns; the central portico and pediment are largely masked by the peculiar and ugly port-cochère, and the freestanding statue of Queen Victoria in front of it. Indeed this was recognised very early on as the weak point in the whole composition (Brett, p. 66)


Brett goes on to say that when the scaffolding came down in 1905, the Irish Builder’s correspondent wrote, ‘The majority incline to consider it a mausoleum for the statue of Queen Victoria which she not liking, stepped out of it, with her pedestal, to the open ground’. (Brett, p. 66) He also describes the pediment and how its designer Frederick Pomeroy used figures that would promote commerce and arts in the city:

The pediment carving was designed by Frederick Pomeroy, and partly executed by him and partly by local carver J. Edgar Winter. It is spirited if much of over crowded: the subject matter is Hibernia encouraging and promoting the commerce and arts of the city: she is supported by Minerva, Industry, Labour, Liberty, and a variety of person symbolic of different branches of Commerce, clutching appropriate harps, torches, bolts of linen, spinning-wheels and so forth. All the carving is now extremely grubby; only Hibernia’s hand, clutching a flaming torch, protrudes through the pigeon-netting, like the hand of a desperate prisoner thrust between the bars. (Brett, p. 66)

Luckily we got excellent weather for the tour, and  I enjoyed every moment of it. We stopped at the Linenhall Library after leaving the City Hall and then headed to Castle Lane and stopped at St. Mary’s Church and then popped into Kelly’s Cellars. Then we visited the First Presbyterian Church in Rosemary Street and then walked around the area known as the Entries. We also called into the St. George’s Church, High Street Belfast.  And not forgetting White’s Tavern where the United Irishmen met and discussed tactics.

The Spring Continental Market at Belfast City Hall. 29th May 2017

This was a rainy Bank Holiday Monday. I headed down to The Spring Continental Market at Belfast City Hall. Although it has been open since Thursday 25th May, this was my first time to visit it. When I arrived, there was a sea of brollies and as the smoke was rising from the various pots and pans, the rain was lashing down. Even with the rain, the atmosphere was animated. There were lots of stalls selling crafts and plenty of delicious types of food to eat and drink, from French patisserie to Jamaican crepes, from bratwurst and currywurst sausages to Greek vegetarian pies.

There was even a stall with food from Afghanistan called baklava. It was the most beautiful pastry I ever tasted in my life. The Ottoman Empire must be given some credit, as I believe this heavenly recipe was invented there.  The pastry reminded me of strudel and again the Hapsburg Empire stole a march there. Is there a connection between empires and flaky, filo pastry? What about the British Empire? Are we talking short crust pastry as the high point? From Wikipedia I learned the following information:

‘Baklava is a rich, sweet pastry made of layers of filo filled with chopped nuts and sweetened and held together with syrup or honey. It is characteristic of the cuisines of the Levant, the Caucasus, Balkans, Maghreb, and of Central and West Asia’.

So I bought food from Jamaica, Greece and Afghanistan and it all tasted delicious. And before I left I bought a hot chocolate from Thomson’s Family Teas just to bring me back down to earth!

Congratulations Belfast City Council. Despite the rain, I really enjoyed my jaunt round the The Spring Continental Market.



Belfast Marathon: 2017

Noun (dictionary.com)

a foot race over a course measuring 26 mi. 385 yards (42 km 195 meters).


1895-1900; allusion to Pheidippides’ 26-mi. (42-km) run from Marathon to Athens to carry news of the Greek victory over the Persians in 490 b.c.

Route of Belfast Marathon:

The Marathon startsed at the Belfast City Hall and ended up in Ormeau Park



  • Laura Graham becomes first NI woman to win since 1999 in 2:41:47
  • Kenyan Bernard Rotich wins the men’s race in 2:16:02

More than 15,000 runners took part in the 36th annual race

Runners enjoying a drink after the Marathon, Ormeau Road, Belfast

Lines of Thought: Ulster Museum

Today, I visited the Ulster Museum to see this wonderful exhibition.

‘Placing contemporary artists side by side with master draftsmen across five centuries, Lines of thought explores the history of drawing as a thinking medium, giving us  insight into the minds of some of the world’s greatest artists in operation.

Bringing together seventy drawings selected from the British Museum’s unparalleled graphic collection, Lines of thought emphasises the continuing vitality and fundamental nature of drawing, and its importance for artists from Michelangelo to Mondrian, Rembrandt to Rachel Whiteread, Piranesi to Picasso. What unites all of these artists, from the Renaissance through to contemporary practitioners and all those in-between, is the use of drawing as a way of thinking on paper.

There are five sections to explore:

  • The Likeness of a Thought
  • Brainstorming
  • Enquiry and Experiment
  • Insight and Association
  • Development and Decisions’




Performance Art: Writer’s Square Belfast

I attended an event at Saint Anne’s Cathedral today and I noticed some kind of performance art taking place in Writer’s Square, Belfast. I thought it looked very interesting and I took some photographs. I was not not exactly sure what each performer’s art meant but I think that’s okay as I read that;

‘Performance artists often challenge the audience to think in new and unconventional ways, break conventions of traditional arts, and break down conventional ideas about “what art is.’ ‘Performance art is presented to an audience within a fine art context. Performance may be either scripted or unscripted, random or carefully orchestrated; spontaneous or otherwise carefully planned with or without audience participation. The performance can be live or via media; the performer can be present or absent. It can be any situation that involves four basic elements: time, space, the performer’s body, or presence in a medium, and a relationship between performer and audience. Performance art can happen anywhere, in any type of venue or setting and for any length of time. The actions of an individual or a group at a particular place and in a particular time constitute the work.’