'The city’s major arts festival has to change with the city itself': Richard Wakely on the Belfast International Arts Festival

ASUNA – one of the acts performing at this year’s Belfast International Arts Festival

'The city’s major arts festival has to change with the city itself': Richard Wakely on the Belfast International Arts Festival

The 57th Belfast International Arts Festival takes place this autumn. The Journal of Music spoke to Artistic Director Richard Wakely about this year's event.

The Belfast International Arts Festival has recently announced its 2019 programme. A multi-disciplinary event over 20 days, from 15 October to 3 November, this year is Artistic Director Richard Wakely’s seventh since he took the role in 2013.

The festival was previously held in association with Queen’s University Belfast, but has been independent for the past four years. Speaking to the Journal of Music, Wakely said that ‘in 2015, we decided to depart from Queen’s… to refocus and re-energise the festival as a more civically oriented event, but with… an international outlook’. The move allowed it ‘to connect more meaningfully with the entire city’.

We produced a new remit… and that was really in response to the changing city around us. The city’s major arts festival has to change with the city itself. That remit reflects … the importance of global connectivity, of community, participation and access, and contemporary arts practice. We really wanted to focus on reinterpreting what civic responsibility means within a city that’s as fast-changing as Belfast.

In practice, this means in part that the festival is curating events across different parts of the city, in order to connect with communities in East and West Belfast, as well as in city centre venues. St Mark’s Church in East Belfast, for example, will host the classical group the Albion Quartet for a series of free concerts, and An Cultúrlann in West Belfast will stage SPLICED, a play about the GAA. The festival, says Wakely, wants to reach out to communities ‘irrespective of geography, of political tradition or education’. 

100 Keyboards
As regards the music line-up, the festival is taking a particularly interdisciplinary approach.

One of the major focal points is that we’re looking at the key role that music plays in the creation of new hybrid works. So it’s about interdisciplinary work, and it’s about fusion, and particularly about the role of music in creating these new fusion-based works. 

This can be seen in events such as the sound art installation 100 Keyboards, the music and spoken word performance Beloved Clara, and a new play written and performed by Pat Kinevane, which has music and story at its core.

100 Keyboards (17–19 October, The MAC) is a site-specific sound art installation by Japanese experimental artist ASUNA. He will work with one hundred battery-operated keyboards to create a varied sonic experience, with attendees fully immersed in its sound and visual elements through sitting in a circle around the performer, and being encouraged to walk around and experience the acoustics in different parts of the space. 

Beloved Clara (27 October, The MAC) tells the story of the relationship between the musician and composer and her composer husband Robert Schumann. The performance will combine the music of Clara, Robert and Brahms, with readings from personal letters and diaries of the three interspersed throughout. British pianist Lucy Parham will perform the works on piano and actors Juliet Stevenson and Tim McInnerny will enact the readings. ‘It’s been conceived as a concert performance with readings – a cross between a concert recital and a play’.

Also performing at the festival will be La Dame Blanche (18 October, Empire Music Hall). The Cuban singer, flautist and percussionist blends hip-hop, reggae and dance hall in her songs, which tell stories of female empowerment and spirituality. Wakely suggests that she belongs to the denomination of artists who ‘don’t see themselves pigeonholed to a particular genre or discipline… that made their careers of hybridisation, around fusing different styles and approaches to produce something new and fresh… this is what so much of this year’s festival is about’.

Indie, contemporary, ska and folk
The music programme also includes ska act The Selecter (The Limelight, 1 November); Northern Irish songwriter Joshua Burnside will perform at Belfast Empire Music Hall on the same date, and The Hard Rain SoloistEnsemble will play Messiaen’s Quartet for the End of Time and Takemistsu’s Quatrain II on 25 October. 

Indie pop band Two Door Cinema Club will be in the Telegraph Building on 16 October, Glen Hansard will perform on 22 and 23 October in the Grand Opera House, and there will also be performances from violist Garth Knox, the Ulster Orchestra, traditional singers Brian Ó hEadhra and Fiona Mackenzie, violinist Darragh Morgan and pianist Ruth McGinley, and flautist Kristan Swain and pianist Máire Carroll. 

For full details and booking information, visit: https://belfastinternationalartsfestival.com


Published on 3 September 2019

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