Derry born concert pianist Dr Cathal Breslin has made an impassioned plea for the retention of the endangered Ulster Orchestra and says he would not be in his curremt position without their existence.
“On so many levels, I would not be where I am today, if the Ulster Orchestra did not exist. I am a concert pianist, chamber musician, Professor of Piano at the University of Memphis, and Founder and Co-Artistic Director of the Walled City Music Festival in Derry, my hometown.
“When growing up in Derry, the Ulster Orchestra was the only access that I had when to the highest level of music making, and their visits to Derry had a profound effect on my life. So much so, that I literally remember every single piece that they performed in their visits to Derry. I had the opportunity to meet conductor/violinist Dmitry Sitkovetsky (who I have now had the pleasure of performing duo recitals with), guest conductor Tamas Vasary, pianists Andrei Gavrilov, Mikhail Rudy and Nikolai Demidenko. I also met my teacher, Francis King - who played in the Ulster Orchestra.
“For me, these concerts and interactions with musicians were so uplifting, and they led me to work and focus more on my development at School. In the context of growing up with The Troubles around, I was inspired, it gave me a glimpse of what was possible with enough motivation and determination.
When my career started, I was invited to perform as soloist with the Ulster Orchestra. It was a long journey for a child from Derry to be sharing the stage with the Orchestra who had inspired him, a group who opened up the possibilities in his life.
“I have since played Tchaikovsky, Mozart, Shostkovich and Prokofiev Concertos with them, and every time I revisit their early influence on me – it has a great significance.
The reason my wife and I founded the Walled City Music Festival in Derry in 2008, was to create an inspirational environment for everyone in Derry, to create an enriching and exciting musical environment in my home city, to expand on what they had done. We are now entering our seventh year, bringing in the world’s greatest musicians every year, and I have seen a huge impact on the musical culture in the city.
“Even on my job applications for Professor positions in the United States, when asked for live recordings, I have submitted recent live BBC recordings of my Concerto performances with the Ulster Orchestra.
On all these levels, I would not be where I am today, if the Ulster Orchestra did not exist.
“I am in shock and disbelief at the situation that the Ulster Orchestra finds itself in. If we do not have an understanding of the wider benefits of live music and music education, we will create a very real negative impact on the future generations in Northern Ireland.
The collapse of the Ulster Orchestra would be a massive economic, social and cultural disaster for N. Ireland. We would lose tourism status - can anyone name another country without an orchestra? The members of the orchestra represent the highest level of musical achievement, and all talented young musicians need access to this, or we will have a large number of young people with unfulfilled potential. The members of the orchestra teach and this creates a wide reach, as their students become teachers in the community, and so on. If we lose that, the musical line stops.
“So much research has proven that music education leads to a more advanced development of the brain, which leads to better success in mathematics and science. This creates more engineers, scientists, creators, thinkers, teachers, people that can have a huge economic impact on our communities.
“In my own personal experience as a Professor - when I worked at one of the best Universities for Engineering in the United States, so many talented musicians were studying there, their opportunities had been increased by their musical education as children.
“The musicians in the Ulster Orchestra have trained and perfected their art form since they were young children. They have committed themselves to a life of dedication to the highest level of music making. In order to reach this level, they did not just “get a job,” they worked for a lifetime with discipline to perfect their art. This is a great example to set for any child going into any field.
We can’t think of the Ulster Orchestra as an entertainment business who needs to support itself through ticket sales.
“High level music in the community is a necessity, not a luxury, and should be government funded, in the same way museums and galleries are funded. We can’t be reduced to only experiencing “products” that are marketed and sold to us, then we lose any right to choose, as everything becomes profit driven. We need real live music, of the highest quality, and we need community building organizations like the Ulster Orchestra.”