James Galway appeals to save Ulster’s orchestra

James Galway appeals to save Ulster’s orchestra


norman lebrecht

October 21, 2014

The flautist leads a pack a musicians who are campaigning to save the 70-strong ensemble from imminent abolition. We support their resolve and their campaign.

However – and it’s a big however – no politician in the north of Ireland has yet spoken up to save the orchestra.

The minister of culture has never visited its concerts. There seems to be a distinct lack of public and corporate will.

And the Arts Council of Northern Ireland needs to explain why it allowed the orchestra to deplete it financial reserve from £1 million to less than half a million. There has been negligence, incompetence and cavalier disregard for procedure throughout this unhappy saga. If the orchestra is to be saved – and we desperately hope it is – we need to see the resignation of its chairman, Sir George Bain, along with a public inquiry into the Arts Council of Northern Ireland.

Here’s Sir Jim’s letter:




Open letter to: Carál Ní Chuilín, Minister for Culture, Arts and Leisure; Peter Robinson, First Minister; Martin McGuinness, Deputy First Minister


It is has been a tremendous shock to hear and read about the situation the Ulster Orchestra is presently in.

For Northern Ireland to potentially lose what many people around the world consider to be its cultural flagship institution is unthinkable, and yet it now seems all too possible.

It cannot be overstated how important this body of musicians is to the musical life of the North.

Since its inception in the 1960s, this orchestra has developed into one of the best orchestras in the UK and Ireland, providing thousands upon thousands of people annually the opportunity to hear wonderful music played at the highest standard and to see the best and brightest stars come to Northern Ireland to perform.

The orchestra has given many home-grown composers the opportunity to have their music performed and broadcast nationally; it has invited many local musicians to play as soloists with the orchestra; through its community concerts, touring and broadcasting the orchestra has represented Northern Ireland in the best way possible – free from politics, simply as ambassadors for the very best characteristics of the community.

The orchestra has also over the years provided huge expertise in terms of music education and outreach – many musicians in the North have studied with members of the orchestra; to lose those players and the wealth of experience they possess would be devastating for musical life in Northern Ireland.

We the undersigned implore you to find the necessary funding to keep this marvellous institution alive and prosperous – the North’s cultural life would be immeasurably poorer without the Ulster Orchestra, and it is deeply troubling to think that Northern Ireland might become the only part of Europe without a full-time professional orchestra.


Sir James Galway, flautist

Dame Evelyn Glennie,


Elaine Agnew, composer

Jonathan Byers, cellist

Gerald Barry, composer

Paul Bateman, conductor

Ed Bennett, composer

David Brophy, conductor

David Byers, composer

Greg Caffrey, composer

Bill Campbell, composer

Finghin Collins, pianist

JoAnn Falletta, conductor

Philip Flood, arts manager

Frank Gallagher, musician, producer

Stephen Gardner, composer

Deirdre Gribben, composer

Philip Hammond, composer

Brian Irvine, composer

James MacMillan CBE, composer and conductor

Simon Mawhinney, composer

Gerard McChrystal, saxophonist

Deirdre McKay, composer

Kenneth Montgomery, conductor

Darragh Morgan, violinist

Christopher Norby, composer

Kevin O’Connell, composer

David Quigley, pianist

Joanne Quigley, violinist

Chris Ryan, sound artist

Matthew Schellhorn, pianist

Hugh Tinney, pianist

Paul Watkins, conductor

Ian Wilson, composer


  • Anon says:

    One of the best orchestras in the UK? Not really. Best and brightest stars perform there as a result of the UO? No they don’t. And those who do would perform with any other orchestra that put on concerts of a similar standard in the same cities, so they’ll still come.

    If UO ceases to exist, and if no new orchestra emerges from the ashes, and if there is actually a demand for orchestral concerts, I have no doubt that either or both of the RTE orchestras will make the short journey up to Belfast to perform there. The RLPO may go across the water. There will be no resultant shortage of orchestral music in NI.

    • G McLearnon says:

      How very brave of you to remain “Anon” – especially while contributing such a cynical, unhelpful, negative and mean-spirited post.

      I hope that people viewing this Journal who are interested, passionate and enthusiastic about the performing arts are perhaps more empathetic with the dozens of employed musicians in the Ulster Orchestra; more hopeful about the survival of a region’s only professional orchestra; and more educated about their activities over the past few decades – showing that they do indeed perform with some of the best and brightest classical musicians (they have played concerts with Pavarotti for goodness sake – do stars come any bigger?) and that a Northern Ireland without this orchestra would be a poorer place because of it.

      • Anon says:

        Realistic, perhaps, not mean or negative. I have plenty of time for the good work the UO does in promoting classical music in many guises, but I think it is realistic to suggest that without the UO, if there is truly a wish for classical music of this type, it will be fulfilled.
        I do feel for both players and administration at UO, it is not a nice situation for them to be in. But there’s no point in simply pleading for special funding for our own pet causes; we have to see the bigger picture if we want to stand a chance of seeing the art we love survive.

        (Since you mention it, as for Pavarotti, I doubt he performed in NI /because/ of UO. He performed because people wanted to see him, and UO were there to perform with him. Without UO, Pavarotti would surely have performed there anyway, but with another orchestra.)

        NI without this orchestra would be very much the same place as it is with it. There would still be orchestral concerts, and people would still listen to and play classical music. (and the majority of the population wouldn’t care either way anyway.)

        • G McLearnon says:

          What a bizarre response.

          If you don’t see the collapse of a long-standing and respected group like the UO as a catastrophic thing for the community – I’m afraid I find it difficult to believe that you have any love for the arts as you profess.

          Aside from the weekly concerts, do you think that the loss of the wide-ranging educational and community programmes providing the first experiences of classical and orchestral music to children would or even could be handled by other orchestras? These orchestras are already (rightly) stretched in their own communities.

          The inevitable departure of the majority of professional musicians in Northern Ireland – vital for education, coaching, pedagogy of the next generation would be also be an horrendous loss.

          Or do you think Classical Music in Northern Ireland should just lay down and die as “the majority of the population wouldn’t care either way anyway”….? If this is negative, and yes, mean-spirited – I don’t know what is.

          Also, do you still not feel like putting a name to your comments? As if not, the facelessness of this flagrantly contrary position does seem rather cowardly….

    • Pamela Brown says:

      Anon, you seem to be missing the point…:-0

      • Amy says:

        Pamela, is “Anon” also you? You have a history of setting up fake identities and having them argue with each other.

        • Pamela Brown says:

          “Amy”, only someone trolling under an alias would make a dumb statement like that about someone using their real name.

          • Amy says:

            Naa…it’s what you do, Pamela. Remember this tiresome exchange in August?

            I wish Norman luck in keeping track of your apparently endless identities.

          • Pamela Brown says:

            False statements again, “Amy”. Unlike others, and perhaps you, I post only with my real name. One would think you might have grabbed a clue by now.

            It should be evident to anyone who is interested, including Norman, that you like to hijack threads in order to make false statements. That speaks volumes.

            And when it comes to your nasty insinuation that I would have more than one attitude toward the situation in Ulster, you have gone too far. My birth family, the McElwains, are from Ulster.

  • Arts Council of Northern Ireland says:

    The Arts Council is very supportive of any campaign to save the Ulster Orchestra. It has been the principle funder of the Orchestra for almost 50 years. However we are concerned by the inaccuracies in the statement posted this morning on Slipped Disc in response to a letter of support for the Save the Ulster Orchestra campaign.

    This blog displays a lack of knowledge and understanding of the relationship between the Arts Council of Northern Ireland and its funded clients, in this case the Ulster Orchestra.

    While the Arts Council aims to support any client organisation through difficult times, it is not and cannot be responsible for the governance and corporate affairs of the Ulster Orchestra. These are rightly the responsibility of the Board.

    Any questions about the financial affairs of the Ulster Orchestra should be directed to them.

    • norman lebrecht says:

      If you care to list the alleged inaccuracies we will give them due consideration. But perhaps you might answer the key questionL why did ACNI allow the reserves to be depleted, against all good practice and commonsense? And why did its former head of music not address these concerns while she was chief exec of the Ulster Orch. It is the UKNI, rather than SD, that seems to lack accurate information.

    • norman lebrecht says:

      And perhaps you’d be good enough to put a name to this anonymous smear.

    • Alan Wilson says:

      The UO website lists an ACNI Assessor among its Board members, so you would assume they were at least aware of the financial situation. ACNI have been very quiet over the issue until now – how odd that they make such a defensive statement here!

      This is all a mess and it is impossible to for the orchestra’s audience to gauge who is to blame. Let’s hope the much awaited statement from the orchestra provides some answers (though I doubt we will ever find out the truth).

  • A Edwards says:

    So Anon. If these musicians should not, by your reckoning, be doing their music, what activities do you have in mind for them? Don’t we need more orchestras rather than fewer? Won’t it be better for our world if people pursue their talents in a positive way rather than a negative one – or worse follow a destructive path. These are the real questions that politicians need to be thinking about in relation to the arts.

  • Pamela Brown says:

    We can only applaud Sir James for taking the initiative in bringing to the light the issues involved preserving the Ulster Orchestra.

  • Joan Semple says:

    Anon sounds as if they are someone who has been turned down by the orchestra for a job. He/she sounds as if he/she suffers from “invincible ignorance”

  • Nicola says:

    There are arguments on both sides as to whether the Ulster Orchestra should be saved or not but are we missing the point here? Should the point not be : Why are the orchestra in this situation in the first place? Sir George Bain stated in an article by John Simpson in the Belfast Telegraph as recently as December ’13 that the orchestra was ‘still on song despite cuts in funding’. Why has this changed so dramatically in 10 months? Accounts to 31/3/13 show reserves of over £1million, up 23% from the previous year. We are led to believe that accounts to 31/3/14 will be qualified unless a bailout of £500K is received. WHAT’S GOING ON? Does this mean that the Ulster Orchestra has spent or is committed to spending all of it’s reserves?
    Surely ACNI, it’s main funder, has a right to see how the money is being spent. Has anyone reviewed the Ulster Orchestra’s Management, processes, procedures, financial controls, budgeting and decision making? If not, surely this should be done before any bailout is given.

  • Nicola says:

    An article in the Belfast Telegraph last week states that the Ulster Orchestra’s deficit to 31/3/14 is £562K with a further deficit for the current financial year of £400K which does not leave much change out of the £1million reserves shown in their accounts to 31/3/13. It’s hardly surprising that a bailout is needed but is this a request to bailout the orchestra or to bailout its directors for the obvious financial ineptitude that they have shown? It doesn’t look like any effective measures were put in place to absorb the cuts to their funding that they have known about for at least two years.
    So, yes, ACNI, it is right that the governance and corporate affairs of the Ulster Orchestra are the responsibility of the Board but who will hold them accountable when they are this incompetent?
    There have been lots of voices and opinions on both sides of this debate but the silence from the former Chief Executive, Rosa Solinas, has been deafening. She left the Ulster Orchestra overnight, having ‘achieved all her objectives’ and with no formal statement about her departure from the Ulster Orchestra. I sincerely hope this silence has not come at a cost to the public purse.
    More and more questions but not enough answers.