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
specials focusing on the Ulster Bank Belfast Festival at Queens of
it's a big year for Queens as they celebrate their 50th festival since
it began. We're here to bring you the best of the festival coverage
of the next two weeks. Charles Dickens's bicentenary is widely
celebrated at this year's festival. We examine his enduring appeal.
World-renowned soloist Maxim Rysanov performs an intimate
recital for the Arts Show. Acclaimed artist Nele Azevedo
reveals her unique ice sculptures commemorating Titanic victims at
Belfast Square, and Ladysmith Black Mambazo played the Waterfront on
Sunday. They took time out to give us an exclusive performance.
Well, as we know, this is now the 50th Belfast Festival at Queens,
but it's not actually the 50th anniversary. There were a few years
it didn't happen along the way. From quite humble beginnings it's
grown in reputation and stature to become one of the most prominent
arts festivals on the British Isles. Let's have a look at how it all
began. At 50, the Belfast Festival at Queens really has something to
celebrate. What began in the early '60s as a bit of crack is now the
third biggest arts festival in the UK. It has an established
international reputation, programming everything from theatre
to dance, lectures to literature, film to the visual arts, making it
arguably Northern Ireland's annual cultural show piece. Opinions vary
about when it actually started. There were student festivals in the
early '60, but the temp plait that stuck was when a -
PROBLEM WITH SOUND Was offered the post of first
festival director in 1964. Under emmerson, the festival grew in
popularity. In the Whitla Hall, it became one of the most popular
draws attracting performers from both sides of the Atlantic
including George Melly and Dizzy Gillespie. Emerson left to become
part of RCA's classic label and Galloway's manager. The festival
didn't happen in 1970 and '71 with the recent troubles a contributing
factor. In 1973 a new director, Michael Barnes took over and
remained director until 1994. During his years the festival
attracted the likes of the Royal Shakespeare Company, Sir Laurence
Olivier, Yehudi Menuhin, Judi Dench, Petula Clark, Clement Freud, Ben
Kingsley and Richard Stilgoe, to name a few.
Monty Python's Michael Palin was convinced by Michael Barnes to
bring his one-man show exclusively to Belfast. Michael Palin loved it
so much, he refused to perform it anywhere else, saying it couldn't
be better than at the Belfast Festival. Other names to appear
earlier in their career include Billy Connolly, Rowan Atkinson,
Victoria Wood, Seamus Heaney, James Galway and even Van Morrison.
Despite the Troubles, the festival kept going through the '70s and by
the '80s it had expanded into two weeks across the city, hosting
everything from the Moscow State Ballet to the Flying Pickets. It's
had its ups and downs, but the Queens University has been
instrumental in the city's cultural Renaissance and is still going
strong. And what better way to mark the
50th than with a fanfare, a specially commissioned work to
Herald the opening of this year's festival. The idea was that
musicians would be sort of calling to each other across the space
inside Victoria Square. Finding the right location for this was
critical, somewhere like Victoria Square which is a real landmark
building, but it also provides a wonderful acoustic. You can imagine
how the sounds of all of those 50 instruments will gather and rise up
into the dome. It's absolutely right for the space, and I think
it's really going to blow some people's, so off. There are lots of
novel things about this piece - the audience is free to walk around.
You can, as a member of the audience, go and stand next to
somebody. Later on, all the musicians leave their locations and
all gather together in the ground floor of the Victoria Square.
I then take over as a conductor, and that really reveals a very
different sound. It's now focused and very intense. The very last bar
is the only straight forward conducted bar in the piece.
What a roll call of names there - amazing. I am joined by Eithne
Shortall for the Sunday Times and Joe Nawaz. They're going to be with
us for the next two weeks to give us their views. First impressions?
First impressions are very promising. It's just what you want
from a festival so it takes the best from the local arts so
musicians like Van Morrison and films such as Jump, then it mixs
that with an eclectic range from everywhere else. There are a lot of
comedians from the south and theatre from Britain. It has
captured the cultural whirlwind that is the Belfast Festival. I
caught the opening bars of Waterloo Sunset, so that was a microcome of
You're going to be with us for the next two programmes. Thank you.
This year marks 200 years since birth of Charles Dickens and the
Queens University is celebrating with a variety of exhibitions,
readings and performances in unusual venues such as May Street
Church and the Templemore Baths in Belfast. Writer Ian Sansom
investigates why after all this time we shouldn't just read, but
also listen, to Dickens. And now he made for the wreck,
rising with the hills, falling with the valleys, lost beneath the
rugged foam. He was so near that with one more of his vigorous
strokes, he would be clinging to it when a high, green, vast hillside
of water moving on shoreward from beyond the ship - he seemed to leap
up into it with a mighty bound, and the ship was gone. On Friday, the
15th of January, 1869 Charles Dickens walked out centre stage
here at the Ulster Hall in Belfast and read from his novel, David
Copperfield. In his youth, Dickens had aspired to be an actor. Now he
was getting his chance. So what the Belfast audience got that night was
not just a reading from a book. It was a dramatic performance. Can you
tell us about the reception that Charles Dickens received when he
arrived in Belfast? We have accounts of people who came to
listen to Dickens read. People ran over themselves and fell over the
top of themselves to get to their places. People thought that he was
the superstar of his age, and they wanted to have a piece of him, and
this is why the public performance was so important. It wasn't enough
to read the books. They wanted to see him. One of the things I admire
about Dickens is that he was a dramatic writer, although, of
course, he wasn't a dramatist, and we know that it's sometimes
difficult to translate what's on the page to what's on the stage.
But a new adaptation of Nicholas Nickelby is putting the words of
the characters in the novel into the mouths of actors. I have seen
the parents of some boys, and they're so glad to hear how he was
getting on that there's no prospect at all of you going away. It's very
good. It's very good, and that - He has an eye for observation. He
has an ear for dialogue, and in the course of researching this, he
heard the Yorkshire dialect, and he's able to translate that on to
the page. And look after that spoon, or I'll give you enough... Yeah, I
need you really to be showing me - "And you look after that -"
much do you think his own interest in acting influenced the way that
he wrote? Well, when he was writing his novels, he would get up from
the desk, and get - and go into character. His body would change.
He would be using his hands and his voice, and so he acted it out, and
he would scuttle back to the desk and the actor then translated what
was going on inside himself and in his imagination on to the page.
Some of the finest passages in Dickens are when he's describing a
place or an atmosphere or a mood. He wasn't just a storyteller. He
was a conjurer of images. Dickens in the dark seats the audience in
cubicles in a disused Victorian bathhouse and lets his words work
their magic. "That man was the man that I had seen along Piccadilly
and whose face was the colour of impure wax." What is it, then,
about Dickens' language that enables you to turn it into drama?
His descriptions are so precise, and he evokes so much detail in the
world of the story that it's quite easy to visualise that folly and
imagine that as a soundscape. I think it's very easy for an actor
to take a passage of Dickens' prose and perform it. Because he wrote
especially to be heard, it lends itself very easily to audio theatre
and to the kind of work we do. inward expectation of seeing the
figure in the dressing room in the dark, and I did not see it there.
In Dickens' time, reading was a social and a sociable activity.
People didn't just curl up with a good book. They would read and
recite to one another, and so parlours across the land would echo
to the sound of Great Expectation and Oliver Twist. It was a ghastly
figure to look upon. The murderer staggered backward to the wall, and
shutting out the sight with his hand seized the heavy club and
struck her down! Dickens was an entertainer. He understood that
prose, like poetry and drama, when it's most honest and moving and
sincere, is when it's performed, when it's voiced out loud on stage.
APPLAUSE Joe, does anybody read Dickens
today Probably get the book of the film after having seen it in the
cinema or on TV but Dickens himself - he read his own work. He was a
performer as well as being a campaigning novelist, so I think
one of the best mediums to see him in is the spoken word as she and I
did at the Ulster Museum recently. He was an incredible performer. He
would have loved the amount of work of his that reaches the screen now.
That's it. He had early aspiration of being an actor, and when that
didn't work, he combined the two. At the Ulster Museum you can see a
replica of the lectern he would have read off of. It's carved out.
You can see his legs, and it's quite low. Basically, health you to
see him reading the work. You can see the text. He underlined certain
words to emphasise it and altered it to make it a play and less of a
reading text. What else struck you about his work at the festival?
thing I learned, interestingly, about his work, is he found this to
be a fine place with a rough people. He also found that he couldn't read
the Nancy passage from Oliver Twist because we were Highly strung
already. Oh. Actually, one of the readings we have done at the
festival is that piece. It did get a reading here. How did it work,
hearing that Nancy piece taken out of the book and dramatised? It was
very good. It was done by a member of the English Department of
Queenss. He's obviously an enthusiast himself. He happened -
didn't happen to be wearing did he wore his gear. That's his look.
put his heart and soul into it because obviously he wanted to do
justice to the man he idolises. would be your favourite character?
Out of Dicken, I have recently read Hard Times so fresh in my mind is
Mr Guardgrimes, the pursuer of facts, facts. And you? I am going
with Nancy, a heart of gold and comes to a sticky end. The viola is
often the forgotten stringed instrument of the orchestra.
Ukranian musician Maxim Rysanov has established himself as one of the
world's leading viola soloists performing the small body of work
written for the instrument. He played St George's Church Saturday
in Belfast as part of the festival. We're delighted he took time to
Apology for the loss of subtitles for 146 seconds
perform exclusively for The Arts Guy and a cellist, so why am I
feeling that why has this violin guy taken all the best music?
a lot of these pieces have been adapted for the final lap. The
pieces for the viola would definitely the strongest pieces.
You felt whenever you heard music specifically written for the viola
that the tone of the instrument just sank. I was Saviola version.
The viola for me is somewhere between the cello and violin. It is
almost a human voice like quality to it. He didn't come to life for
me before the piano came in. There was a wonderful counterpoint
between the two instruments. would go back and see it played
again? I would if they were specifically for the viola.
Internationally acclaimed Brazilian artist Nele Azevedo is known for
creating interventions, or temporary monuments, in cities
worldwide such as Sao Paulo, Havana and Tokyo since 2002. Entitled
Minimum Monument, the travelling project features large numbers of
ice figures celebrating the anonymous everyman in contrast to
traditional permanent structures. For the Queen's Festival, she's
Apology for the loss of subtitles for 146 seconds
created 1,517 of the figures, one A fitting tribute to the Titanic?
Weirdly, I found it moving. Lifting the little ice sculptures and
putting them on the steps. Just when we started the sun came out.
Did you find it moving? Not really. I thought it looked very pretty. As
a tribute to the Titanic, would you use melted ice? As a festival
events and something to bring the family to eat, it is lovely. We did
our bit, we put up six or seven each. I accidentally stepped two
together and they went down as a couple. You could have a little bit
of individual creativity. By the end there was this what sensation
of being watched by the Ice People. Still, very much a festival piece.
Music figures large each Festival and here, with his pick of this
Thanks, Marie-Louise. We'll start with one of this year's big hitters,
the Buena Vista Social Club. Ry Cooder's original recordings of
Cuba's thriving music scene sold something like seven million copies
worldwide when they were released in 1996, sparking a passion for
pure, pulsating Cuban music that's kept growing to this day. Naturally,
the line up has changed down the years, but the vibe remains as
thrilling as ever. Orquesta Buena Vista Social Club, the latest
incarnation of the collective, are a 15-piece band direct from Havana.
They bring the heat to The Ulster Hall on Tuesday night. Take my
advice and slip on your dancing shoes for this one.
On an altogether different, but just as exciting tip, are Beach
House who provide one of this weekend's must-see highlights.
Everyone in the know is dropping their name right now so it's the
perfect time to see them. A duo from Baltimore, their sound is
dream pop in the drowsiest, trippiest sense - kind of like the
Velvet Underground played at the wrong speed! If that sounds right
up your sonic street, they're at the Mandela Hall in Queens
University tomorrow night. The term Legends of Irish Folk
hardly covers it in the case of Altan. County Donegal's finest have
been trailblazers for traditional music here for three decades and
performed everywhere from the Hollywood Bowl to the Albert Hall,
collaborating with everyone from Dolly Parton to the Chieftains.
They're playing as part of Festival's 50 Shades Of Green, a
celebration of Irish poetry, literature, music and film. Catch
them in The Mac in Belfast on Saturday.
Outside of Festival there are some essential gigs happening in the
next week I'd point you to. Charlatans frontman Tim Burgess
makes a rare solo appearance in support of his excellent new album,
Oh No I Love You, at the Stiff Kitten in Belfast on Saturday night
One of the most wildly exciting collectives currently on the local
traditional scene, At First Light, bring their unique blend of old and
modern to the Alley Theatre in Strabane also on Saturday night.
And, finally, hugely acclaimed alt- country duo The Civil Wars promote
their Grammy Award Winning album Barton Hollow with a gig at the
Mandela Hall in Belfast on Sunday. Definitely one not to miss.
Thanks, Ralph. Nor will you choose this week? Another good play will
be Macbeth at the Lyric. We imagined and said Northern Ireland.
Thanks to my guests, Eithne Shortall and Joe Nawaz, who'll be
back next week for the second of our Festival Specials. Until then
you can keep up to date on BBC Radio Ulster each week day with our
Festival Desk at 11.55am and Arts Extra at 6.30pm.
We leave you tonight with a special performance from the South African
choir best known for appearing on Paul Simon's seminal solo album,
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.