'A desert for the arts'? Orchestral provision in Northern Ireland, 1945-1981

  • Ciaran Kennedy

    Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


    This thesis is the first analysis of orchestral music in Northern Ireland, and the first academic project that has focused on any aspect of musical life in Northern Ireland in the post-Second World War era. CEMA/ACNfs music subsidy and BBC music policy are examined in tandem, as these two organisations were the primary sponsors of orchestral music in the region during this period. In 1945, there was no professional orchestral ensemble in Northern Ireland, though over the ensuing years a number of developments took place in the sphere of orchestral provision. The first of these was the establishment of the part-time BBC Northern Ireland Light Orchestra in 1949, a studio-based ensemble of fifteen players. The formation of the City of Belfast Orchestra followed in 1950, a semi-professional orchestra that was heavily reliant on the participation of BBC Northern Ireland players. In 1965 the BBC extended the contracts for its BBC Northern Ireland Light Orchestra from part-time to full-time, leading to the situation whereby the City of Belfast Orchestra was no longer sustainable. The City of Belfast Orchestra was subsequently disbanded, and in 1966 ACNI formed the Ulster Orchestra, a full-time orchestra of 37 players that was dedicated to concert-giving and education work throughout Northern Ireland. Despite some initial successes, it soon became apparent that the Ulster Orchestra was living well beyond its means, and in 1969 a reappraisal of the orchestra’s position was undertaken. Under the auspices of the Northern Ireland government’s Operations and Methods department, a report was issued which recommended the amalgamation of the Ulster and BBC Northern Ireland orchestras. Both ACNI and the BBC were amenable to this, though in 1974 the Musicians’ Union rejected the proposed merger. ACNI reacted to this rejection by commissioning a Working Party to assess the Ulster Orchestra’s situation. In 1976 this Working Party presented its findings, and once again recommended a merger with the BBC Northern Ireland Orchestra. Proposals for this second amalgamation attempt were met with resistance from the players of both orchestras, though in 1981 the BBC NI musicians were recruited into an enlarged Ulster Orchestra of 55 players.
    Date of AwardJul 2014
    Original languageEnglish
    Awarding Institution
    • Queen's University Belfast
    SupervisorJan Smaczny (Supervisor) & Sarah McCleave (Supervisor)

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