Can Ulster save its orchestra? That’s not a musical question

Can Ulster save its orchestra? That’s not a musical question


norman lebrecht

October 14, 2014

The first law of British journalism is: never touch Northern Ireland. It has a logic all its own.

So when reports began to filter out that the Ulster Orchestra has a matter of weeks before it runs out of cash, we put fingers in our ears and went la-la-la, expecting the hubbub to die down as it usually does. Except this time, it won’t. This time, it’s for real.

An internal document smuggled out to Slipped Disc reveals that the orchestra’s current deficit of half a million pounds is roughly equivalent to its total reserves, which have been run down heavily.

Two chief executives have come and gone in as many years, each with a handsome pay-off. The last one was the head of music at the local Arts Council, Dr Rosa Solinas, who should have known what she was walking into – and straight out of.


Amid the Solinas chaos, the subscription lists have been lost. The orchestra no longer knows who its customers are and where they might be found. The document sent to Slipped Disc is part tragedy, part farce.

A UK consultant, Ed Smith, was flown in. The board did not like his sensible solution, so they hired another consultant.

So what now?

The Ulster Orch has a new chief conductor, the excellent Rafael Payare, but audiences are weak and losses mounting.

There are no further musical remedies for this situation. A decision has to be taken at the highest political level whether Northern Ireland can sustain a symphony orchestra. If so, it needs to be funded by the Northern Ireland government. If not, well… let’s not go there.

The musical community in the north of Ireland is facing an unmitigated disaster.


  • Amy says:

    So Ulster’s seven years under Michael Henson did not exactly strengthen it?
    Huh…whaddya know.

  • concerned says:

    Refreshing to read the truth at last. Shameful.

  • Frances says:

    It’s such a shame to see this, a few years ago the Orchestra had a massive profile and appealed to young and old market. Now you would barley know it existed.

  • Jack Carson says:

    The orchestra’s concert attendence has been excellent averaging near 80 percent which is well above the uk average. It’d be such a shame to lose this wonderful orchesta. I’ve been attending their concerts for many years. I can’t think of any country in the world without an orchestra. There’s even an Iraq symphony orchestra!

  • Anon says:

    It’s only two hours from Dublin to Belfast. If there’s an audience for it, RTE’s two orchestras will put on concerts in NI too, and if there’s really serious demand for it, the Ulster Orchestra players will re-group under another name (the Ulster Philharmonia, Sinfonietta, etc.). If there isn’t, who will miss it?