Opening of Waterfront Hall, Belfast

 Waterfront Hall,
2 Lanyon Place, Belfast, Antrim BT1 3WH
This evening, as Lord Mayor of Belfast, I opened the City’s Waterfront Hall in the presence of HRH the Prince Charles, Prince of Wales, and officiated at the Gala Premier Concert.
There are concert halls that hide themselves away in larger complexes, others proclaim their status for all to see.  But there is nothing shamefaced about Belfast’s Waterfront Hall; free-standing in a part of Belfast oblique to the city centre that has long needed a visual focus, it will never be ignored. More than this, it actually feels like a concert hall. For all its attractive terraces, gallery and spectacular bar, the prime message on entry is that the concert hall is not part of something bigger, it is the building itself.

Circular in shape, the hall sites the audience both in front of the stage and, with wings that extend around the platform, behind the orchestra. Although seating capacity is 2,234, the shallow dome of the ceiling and the angling of seats creates a pleasant sense of intimacy. All this would be in vain, of course, if the sound were disappointing.

 From the mid-stalls somewhat to the left of centre, first impressions were distinctly favourable. If it doesn’t have the analytical clarity of Birmingham’s Symphony Hall, instrumental detail is still well to the fore. Elusive doublings in Copland’s Rodeo were deliciously audible, as were the gentlest piano obbligato chords.

There is also a lot of support for the bass; the result in Philip Hammond’s cleverly orchestrated new opening fanfare was a combination of crisp articulation within a warm envelope of sound. Copland’s Rodeo confirmed that tutti could be powerful without being overwhelming.. The popular first-night repertoire didn’t go in for the measured and sombre; while it certainly proved that the Waterfront is a fine Allegro hall.

It is, moreover, a great acoustic for soloists. Every atom of James Galway’s celebrated tone was audible and contemporary Northern Irish music can be just as witty and entertaining as Hammond’s, as a succession of premieres by the Ulster Orchestra have shown. Barry Douglas gave an invigorating performance of Beethoven’s Emperor Concerto .

This was a huge success for all concerned. Jerzy Maksymiuk and the Ulster Orchestra  clearly already rose to the advantages and challenges of the new hall. The arrival of the St Petersburg Philharmonic for concerts on Friday and Sunday should give an opportunity for the public to prove that a packed opening night was not just the enthusiasm of the moment.

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