Ulster Orchestra plays Dvorak 9 at Ulster Hall


The brass play gentle but insistent chords. Strings echo. Dry. Cue cor anglais. Look to the ceiling. This is an awkward moment. It seems silly early to be crying.

For as long as I can remember I’ve always overlooked Dvorak’s ninth symphony. Schmalz. Popular. Way too tuneful. Insufficiently spikey to be of any use to me.

And yet here I am, listening to Abbado and the Berlin Phil’s interpretation, waiting for the 0950 from Belfast City to London Gatwick this morning. To my left a woman nursed a large glass of white.

In the space of 24 hours I’ve become besotted with the second movement.

Last night I heard the Ulster Orchestra conclude their Friday night concert with Dvorak’s much-loved symphony, the performance concluded with an unapologetically theatrical bow from the band lead principal conductor Daniele Rustioni.

The Ulster Orchestra string section is inconceivably rich. To hear them playing their loudest in Dvorak’s 9th you’d think there were more of them squirreled away somewhere. The acoustic helps – amplifying the upper frequencies meaning the textures and higher notes are most evident when they play. This emphasises the loud bits and the texture. Gripping stuff.

80% house by my estimates. Numerous people younger than me. One parent responding to excited offspring seeking clarification on various Young Person Observations made in the moment. Parents observed in the bar accommodating young person clearly animated by being out on the town with his folks.

The vibe in the Ulster Hall was pleasingly upbeat. A mix of anoraks, duffle coats, suits, and half-moons. I felt like I was at An Event that meant something to everyone there. A world away from London. People stood to applaud.

During the Dvorak 9, I see the chap sat beside me fiddle with his hearing aid. As final adjustments are made, the brass section gently calls out. He moves his hand and lets it rest on the knee of his partner sat the other side of him. Hands clasp. The Cor Anglais solo begins. It’s almost too much to bear.