Episode 2 The Arts Show


Episode 2

Marie-Louise Muir presents coverage of the 50th Belfast Festival at Queens, including its celebratory Fifty Fanfares opening and music from Ladysmith Black Mambazo.


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Hello. You're very welcome to The Arts Show in the first of two

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specials focusing on the Ulster Bank Belfast Festival at Queens of

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it's a big year for Queens as they celebrate their 50th festival since

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it began. We're here to bring you the best of the festival coverage

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of the next two weeks. Charles Dickens's bicentenary is widely

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celebrated at this year's festival. We examine his enduring appeal.

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World-renowned soloist Maxim Rysanov performs an intimate

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recital for the Arts Show. Acclaimed artist Nele Azevedo

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reveals her unique ice sculptures commemorating Titanic victims at

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Belfast Square, and Ladysmith Black Mambazo played the Waterfront on

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Sunday. They took time out to give us an exclusive performance.

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Well, as we know, this is now the 50th Belfast Festival at Queens,

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but it's not actually the 50th anniversary. There were a few years

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it didn't happen along the way. From quite humble beginnings it's

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grown in reputation and stature to become one of the most prominent

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arts festivals on the British Isles. Let's have a look at how it all

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began. At 50, the Belfast Festival at Queens really has something to

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celebrate. What began in the early '60s as a bit of crack is now the

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third biggest arts festival in the UK. It has an established

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international reputation, programming everything from theatre

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to dance, lectures to literature, film to the visual arts, making it

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arguably Northern Ireland's annual cultural show piece. Opinions vary

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about when it actually started. There were student festivals in the

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early '60, but the temp plait that stuck was when a -

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PROBLEM WITH SOUND Was offered the post of first

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festival director in 1964. Under emmerson, the festival grew in

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popularity. In the Whitla Hall, it became one of the most popular

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draws attracting performers from both sides of the Atlantic

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including George Melly and Dizzy Gillespie. Emerson left to become

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part of RCA's classic label and Galloway's manager. The festival

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didn't happen in 1970 and '71 with the recent troubles a contributing

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factor. In 1973 a new director, Michael Barnes took over and

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remained director until 1994. During his years the festival

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attracted the likes of the Royal Shakespeare Company, Sir Laurence

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Olivier, Yehudi Menuhin, Judi Dench, Petula Clark, Clement Freud, Ben

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Kingsley and Richard Stilgoe, to name a few.

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Monty Python's Michael Palin was convinced by Michael Barnes to

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bring his one-man show exclusively to Belfast. Michael Palin loved it

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so much, he refused to perform it anywhere else, saying it couldn't

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be better than at the Belfast Festival. Other names to appear

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earlier in their career include Billy Connolly, Rowan Atkinson,

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Victoria Wood, Seamus Heaney, James Galway and even Van Morrison.

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Despite the Troubles, the festival kept going through the '70s and by

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the '80s it had expanded into two weeks across the city, hosting

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everything from the Moscow State Ballet to the Flying Pickets. It's

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had its ups and downs, but the Queens University has been

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instrumental in the city's cultural Renaissance and is still going

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strong. And what better way to mark the

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50th than with a fanfare, a specially commissioned work to

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Herald the opening of this year's festival. The idea was that

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musicians would be sort of calling to each other across the space

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inside Victoria Square. Finding the right location for this was

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critical, somewhere like Victoria Square which is a real landmark

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building, but it also provides a wonderful acoustic. You can imagine

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how the sounds of all of those 50 instruments will gather and rise up

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into the dome. It's absolutely right for the space, and I think

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it's really going to blow some people's, so off. There are lots of

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novel things about this piece - the audience is free to walk around.

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You can, as a member of the audience, go and stand next to

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somebody. Later on, all the musicians leave their locations and

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all gather together in the ground floor of the Victoria Square.

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I then take over as a conductor, and that really reveals a very

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different sound. It's now focused and very intense. The very last bar

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is the only straight forward conducted bar in the piece.

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What a roll call of names there - amazing. I am joined by Eithne

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Shortall for the Sunday Times and Joe Nawaz. They're going to be with

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us for the next two weeks to give us their views. First impressions?

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First impressions are very promising. It's just what you want

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from a festival so it takes the best from the local arts so

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musicians like Van Morrison and films such as Jump, then it mixs

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that with an eclectic range from everywhere else. There are a lot of

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comedians from the south and theatre from Britain. It has

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captured the cultural whirlwind that is the Belfast Festival. I

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caught the opening bars of Waterloo Sunset, so that was a microcome of

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You're going to be with us for the next two programmes. Thank you.

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This year marks 200 years since birth of Charles Dickens and the

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Queens University is celebrating with a variety of exhibitions,

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readings and performances in unusual venues such as May Street

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Church and the Templemore Baths in Belfast. Writer Ian Sansom

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investigates why after all this time we shouldn't just read, but

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also listen, to Dickens. And now he made for the wreck,

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rising with the hills, falling with the valleys, lost beneath the

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rugged foam. He was so near that with one more of his vigorous

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strokes, he would be clinging to it when a high, green, vast hillside

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of water moving on shoreward from beyond the ship - he seemed to leap

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up into it with a mighty bound, and the ship was gone. On Friday, the

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15th of January, 1869 Charles Dickens walked out centre stage

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here at the Ulster Hall in Belfast and read from his novel, David

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Copperfield. In his youth, Dickens had aspired to be an actor. Now he

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was getting his chance. So what the Belfast audience got that night was

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not just a reading from a book. It was a dramatic performance. Can you

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tell us about the reception that Charles Dickens received when he

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arrived in Belfast? We have accounts of people who came to

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listen to Dickens read. People ran over themselves and fell over the

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top of themselves to get to their places. People thought that he was

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the superstar of his age, and they wanted to have a piece of him, and

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this is why the public performance was so important. It wasn't enough

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to read the books. They wanted to see him. One of the things I admire

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about Dickens is that he was a dramatic writer, although, of

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course, he wasn't a dramatist, and we know that it's sometimes

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difficult to translate what's on the page to what's on the stage.

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But a new adaptation of Nicholas Nickelby is putting the words of

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the characters in the novel into the mouths of actors. I have seen

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the parents of some boys, and they're so glad to hear how he was

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getting on that there's no prospect at all of you going away. It's very

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good. It's very good, and that - He has an eye for observation. He

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has an ear for dialogue, and in the course of researching this, he

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heard the Yorkshire dialect, and he's able to translate that on to

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the page. And look after that spoon, or I'll give you enough... Yeah, I

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need you really to be showing me - "And you look after that -"

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much do you think his own interest in acting influenced the way that

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he wrote? Well, when he was writing his novels, he would get up from

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the desk, and get - and go into character. His body would change.

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He would be using his hands and his voice, and so he acted it out, and

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he would scuttle back to the desk and the actor then translated what

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was going on inside himself and in his imagination on to the page.

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Some of the finest passages in Dickens are when he's describing a

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place or an atmosphere or a mood. He wasn't just a storyteller. He

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was a conjurer of images. Dickens in the dark seats the audience in

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cubicles in a disused Victorian bathhouse and lets his words work

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their magic. "That man was the man that I had seen along Piccadilly

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and whose face was the colour of impure wax." What is it, then,

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about Dickens' language that enables you to turn it into drama?

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His descriptions are so precise, and he evokes so much detail in the

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world of the story that it's quite easy to visualise that folly and

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imagine that as a soundscape. I think it's very easy for an actor

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to take a passage of Dickens' prose and perform it. Because he wrote

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especially to be heard, it lends itself very easily to audio theatre

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and to the kind of work we do. inward expectation of seeing the

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figure in the dressing room in the dark, and I did not see it there.

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In Dickens' time, reading was a social and a sociable activity.

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People didn't just curl up with a good book. They would read and

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recite to one another, and so parlours across the land would echo

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to the sound of Great Expectation and Oliver Twist. It was a ghastly

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figure to look upon. The murderer staggered backward to the wall, and

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shutting out the sight with his hand seized the heavy club and

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struck her down! Dickens was an entertainer. He understood that

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prose, like poetry and drama, when it's most honest and moving and

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sincere, is when it's performed, when it's voiced out loud on stage.

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APPLAUSE Joe, does anybody read Dickens

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today Probably get the book of the film after having seen it in the

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cinema or on TV but Dickens himself - he read his own work. He was a

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performer as well as being a campaigning novelist, so I think

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one of the best mediums to see him in is the spoken word as she and I

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did at the Ulster Museum recently. He was an incredible performer. He

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would have loved the amount of work of his that reaches the screen now.

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That's it. He had early aspiration of being an actor, and when that

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didn't work, he combined the two. At the Ulster Museum you can see a

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replica of the lectern he would have read off of. It's carved out.

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You can see his legs, and it's quite low. Basically, health you to

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see him reading the work. You can see the text. He underlined certain

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words to emphasise it and altered it to make it a play and less of a

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reading text. What else struck you about his work at the festival?

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thing I learned, interestingly, about his work, is he found this to

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be a fine place with a rough people. He also found that he couldn't read

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the Nancy passage from Oliver Twist because we were Highly strung

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already. Oh. Actually, one of the readings we have done at the

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festival is that piece. It did get a reading here. How did it work,

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hearing that Nancy piece taken out of the book and dramatised? It was

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very good. It was done by a member of the English Department of

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Queenss. He's obviously an enthusiast himself. He happened -

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didn't happen to be wearing did he wore his gear. That's his look.

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put his heart and soul into it because obviously he wanted to do

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justice to the man he idolises. would be your favourite character?

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Out of Dicken, I have recently read Hard Times so fresh in my mind is

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Mr Guardgrimes, the pursuer of facts, facts. And you? I am going

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with Nancy, a heart of gold and comes to a sticky end. The viola is

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often the forgotten stringed instrument of the orchestra.

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Ukranian musician Maxim Rysanov has established himself as one of the

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world's leading viola soloists performing the small body of work

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written for the instrument. He played St George's Church Saturday

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in Belfast as part of the festival. We're delighted he took time to

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Apology for the loss of subtitles for 146 seconds

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perform exclusively for The Arts Guy and a cellist, so why am I

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feeling that why has this violin guy taken all the best music?

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a lot of these pieces have been adapted for the final lap. The

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pieces for the viola would definitely the strongest pieces.

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You felt whenever you heard music specifically written for the viola

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that the tone of the instrument just sank. I was Saviola version.

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The viola for me is somewhere between the cello and violin. It is

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almost a human voice like quality to it. He didn't come to life for

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me before the piano came in. There was a wonderful counterpoint

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between the two instruments. would go back and see it played

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again? I would if they were specifically for the viola.

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Internationally acclaimed Brazilian artist Nele Azevedo is known for

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creating interventions, or temporary monuments, in cities

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worldwide such as Sao Paulo, Havana and Tokyo since 2002. Entitled

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Minimum Monument, the travelling project features large numbers of

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ice figures celebrating the anonymous everyman in contrast to

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traditional permanent structures. For the Queen's Festival, she's

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Apology for the loss of subtitles for 146 seconds

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created 1,517 of the figures, one A fitting tribute to the Titanic?

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Weirdly, I found it moving. Lifting the little ice sculptures and

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putting them on the steps. Just when we started the sun came out.

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Did you find it moving? Not really. I thought it looked very pretty. As

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a tribute to the Titanic, would you use melted ice? As a festival

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events and something to bring the family to eat, it is lovely. We did

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our bit, we put up six or seven each. I accidentally stepped two

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together and they went down as a couple. You could have a little bit

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of individual creativity. By the end there was this what sensation

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of being watched by the Ice People. Still, very much a festival piece.

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Music figures large each Festival and here, with his pick of this

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Thanks, Marie-Louise. We'll start with one of this year's big hitters,

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the Buena Vista Social Club. Ry Cooder's original recordings of

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Cuba's thriving music scene sold something like seven million copies

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worldwide when they were released in 1996, sparking a passion for

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pure, pulsating Cuban music that's kept growing to this day. Naturally,

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the line up has changed down the years, but the vibe remains as

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thrilling as ever. Orquesta Buena Vista Social Club, the latest

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incarnation of the collective, are a 15-piece band direct from Havana.

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They bring the heat to The Ulster Hall on Tuesday night. Take my

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advice and slip on your dancing shoes for this one.

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On an altogether different, but just as exciting tip, are Beach

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House who provide one of this weekend's must-see highlights.

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Everyone in the know is dropping their name right now so it's the

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perfect time to see them. A duo from Baltimore, their sound is

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dream pop in the drowsiest, trippiest sense - kind of like the

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Velvet Underground played at the wrong speed! If that sounds right

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up your sonic street, they're at the Mandela Hall in Queens

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University tomorrow night. The term Legends of Irish Folk

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hardly covers it in the case of Altan. County Donegal's finest have

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been trailblazers for traditional music here for three decades and

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performed everywhere from the Hollywood Bowl to the Albert Hall,

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collaborating with everyone from Dolly Parton to the Chieftains.

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They're playing as part of Festival's 50 Shades Of Green, a

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celebration of Irish poetry, literature, music and film. Catch

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them in The Mac in Belfast on Saturday.

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Outside of Festival there are some essential gigs happening in the

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next week I'd point you to. Charlatans frontman Tim Burgess

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makes a rare solo appearance in support of his excellent new album,

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Oh No I Love You, at the Stiff Kitten in Belfast on Saturday night

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One of the most wildly exciting collectives currently on the local

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traditional scene, At First Light, bring their unique blend of old and

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modern to the Alley Theatre in Strabane also on Saturday night.

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And, finally, hugely acclaimed alt- country duo The Civil Wars promote

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their Grammy Award Winning album Barton Hollow with a gig at the

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:25:02.:25:03.

Mandela Hall in Belfast on Sunday. Definitely one not to miss.

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Thanks, Ralph. Nor will you choose this week? Another good play will

:25:16.:25:26.
:25:26.:25:29.

be Macbeth at the Lyric. We imagined and said Northern Ireland.

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Thanks to my guests, Eithne Shortall and Joe Nawaz, who'll be

:25:31.:25:34.

back next week for the second of our Festival Specials. Until then

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you can keep up to date on BBC Radio Ulster each week day with our

:25:38.:25:41.

Festival Desk at 11.55am and Arts Extra at 6.30pm.

:25:41.:25:44.

We leave you tonight with a special performance from the South African

:25:44.:25:46.

choir best known for appearing on Paul Simon's seminal solo album,

:25:46.:25:49.

Marie-Louise Muir presents coverage of the 50th Belfast Festival at Queens, including its celebratory Fifty Fanfares opening, the legacy of Charles Dickens, a unique ice sculpture commemorating Titanic victims and music from Ladysmith Black Mambazo and viola player Maxim Rysanov.


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