An Art-sy Valentine…

While there was undoubtedly a Saint Valentine (in fact, there were probably several- including a pope!), the tradition of Valentine’s Day as a day in which you seek out a mate, give gifts to a loved one and celebrate the strong and meaningful relationships in your life was most probably initiated by the English poet, Geoffrey Chaucer. Chaucer wrote a poem around about 1375 in which he linked the concept of the saint day feast with seeking out love. This poem received widespread attention and fame, and it was after this that Valentine’s Day started to become what it is today.

Love is one of the biggest inspirational powers when it comes to creativity; if you were to try and name all of the songs, poems, plays, movies, books and musicals where love has been the main theme, you would grow old and miss your chance at love before you even scratched the surface. One of Shakespeare’s most famous quotes comes from his play, Twelfth night, and is the timeless line “if music be the food of love, play on”.

nicholas-collon-uo-valentinesThis Saturday, the Ulster Orchestra are taking this line to heart. Featuring some of the most beautiful music of the greatest romantic composers, the Ulster Hall will be filled with couples and friends enjoying the beautiful strains of Tchaikovsky, Korngold, Wagner and Schumann. Forget the standard gifts of flowers, chocolates and a mass-produced card – take that special person for a special evening with Nicholas Collon and the Ulster Orchestra!

…and we won’t tell your date if you click here to get the tickets for FREE from Test Drive the Arts.

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Polo at the Opera

Salome Flyer 1

A night out at the opera; it sounds so glamorous. The phrase brings to mind red carpets, ball gowns, paparazzi and glitz.

Have you ever been to the opera? Chances are you will have had some experience with the Grand Opera House in Belfast, but have you been to an actual opera? This weekend, Northern Ireland’s very own opera company is staging a production of one of the most provocative and sensational operas to be written in the past two centuries. Strauss’ Salome, with its heady mix of sex, violence and religion, has been causing waves since its premiere in 1905 but thanks to its glorious staging, outstandingly beautiful score and dramatic characterisations, it has become a firm staple of the standard repertoire.

And good news for those of us who don’t have a ball gown to hand- a night out at the opera, these days, means just the same as a night to the cinema. Salome, too, is free from any of the stereotypes you may fear; it is staged in English, like anything ever done by NI Opera; it is less than two hours long, and the story is more exciting than most movies in the cinema at the minute.

The fact that it is showing for only two performances, this Friday evening and a matinee performance on Sunday 8th, means you don’t have much time to get tickets! Friday is almost sold out and free tickets available on Test Drive for Sunday are going like hot cakes. An opera of this calibre is unlikely to be back to Belfast for a while so if you have no plans for this weekend, and want to experience the soaring beauty of the Ulster Orchestra playing a glorious opera, as well as see some of Northern Ireland’s finest musical talent… then get booking now!

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The mechanics of an Orchestra…

orchestra-conductorEver wondered how an orchestra works? What is it that determines its layout and how it plays together? Polo is going to see the Ulster Orchestra on Saturday night, so he’s been doing some research on the topic so that he can impress his friends and his wife Annie with his knowledge… although Annie says that he should just go and enjoy the music, and not worry about having to know what it happening, but when Polo gets an idea in his head, it’s impossible to deter him.

According to his reading, an orchestra is made up of four sections, called the strings, the woodwind, the brass and the percussion made up of the different instruments for each. The orchestra is led by a conductor, who has the job of making sure everyone is playing at the right time and that everyone is working together. The conductor stands at the front of the orchestra, and right in front of him is the string section, because the violins, which are string instruments, usually play the main part of the music and so need to work closely with the conductor. The brass instruments, like the trumpets and horns, and the percussion instruments, like the drums and xylophones, sit at the back of the orchestra the furthest away from the conductor. This is not because the need less help, but because they are the loudest and it is important for each section to balance properly to make sure all parts of the music can be heard.

Polo was amazed to find out that when the conductor dances on the podium, he isn’t getting into the music a bit too much… in fact, he is waving a stick called a baton which somehow makes all of the player know where they are in the music. Polo doesn’t quite understand how that works, but as long as his friends don’t ask too many questions about what a tempo is, he should be fine.

This Saturday, the Ulster Orchestra are performing a Burn’s Night celebration in partnership with the Ulster Scots Agency, starting at 7:45pm in the Waterfront Hall. With guest singer Emily Smith and many toe-tapping pieces to liven the evening, as well as drummers, pipers and dancers galore, Polo is assured of a great evening.

Tickets are on Test Drive the Arts NI now, click here to get your free tickets and join Polo for this fantastic evening!

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Out to lunch with Polo

Polo often thinks that the Cathedral Quarter in Belfast is quickly becoming one of the most exciting areas in the city. There’s always something happening, the food and entertainment is great and there is a buzz in the air that makes it an exciting place to be!

The Cathedral Quarter Arts Festival is a great celebration of arts and culture that happens polo@marketevery year and will be taking place at the start of May. Until then, we have the ‘Out to Lunch’ festival which happens all over January. We are already halfway through this excellent offering of arts, ideas, culture, music and literature, and it’s been incredible so far to see the response to what those in charge have drawn together. From opera to politics, from music to drama, there is literally something for everybody.

Polo, of course, has been to almost everything. This is one penguin who you can’t keep away from the arts. From the awesome music of Nine Below Zero way back at the start of the festival, to the comedy lecture by Robin Ince, Polo is having an absolute blast and very much looking forward to the upcoming Sea Road Sessions on Saturday, an international ensemble, and Opera for Lunch next Tuesday, a recital by NI Opera’s Young Artists.

If you’re about the city centre and don’t have any plans for lunch, then get along to one of these fantastic shows. You will not be disappointed!

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How many arts events can you get to this year?

It’s back to work, the sun is shining here outside the office and Polo is enjoying being back in the routine that comes with work. Over the Christmas holidays, he got lots of time in front of the telly watching some great old movies, sitting with Annie as she caught up on all her soaps, and watching that great masterpiece, David Attenborough’s Frozen Planet. If you look closely, you can see Polo’s uncle in episode 2.

Now that he is back at the desk, it’s a good time to start setting up the resolutions for the year so that he can get even more out of life. Some people try to lose weight. Some people try to exercise more. Some adventurous folk try to take up something new, like a foreign language or a musical instrument. For Polo, the only thing that will make the year better is to get more ARTS! Singing, dancing, art movies, galleries, festivals, operas, plays, concerts, cinemas, poetry… more and more of this throughout the year will make Polo a happy penguin!res

Have you got a New Year’s Resolution yet? Why not guarantee yourself a good time, a better mood, a chance to relax and some entertainment at the same time and make the resolution to attend more arts events in 2015?

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Merry Christmas!

Penguin Family

Hopefully you are having as wonderful a Christmas day as Polo is with his family… just look at what his nephews and nieces drew for him!

From Polo, Annie and all at the Test Drive the Arts NI team, we hope you have a wonderful Christmas filled with joy, relaxation, creativity and lots of food! See you in the New Year!

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It’s Christmas week, and the excitement has reached boiling point in Polo’s household! He has finally come to that glorious point where there is nothing to do but anticipate- presents are bought and wrapped; turkey is in the freezer; work finished until the 5th January; all Christmas TV schedules studiously examined and entertainment planned out for the next fortnight. Now there is nothing to do but wait for Thursday and maybe catch another panto (he does so love them!). Fingers crossed the Lyric or the Opera House have some tickets left!

In the meantime, Polo has finally had a chance to tidy the igloo, keeping in mind that the in-laws are coming to Polo and Annie this year- everything has to be absolutely SPOTLESS! As he dusts and polishes, he has the speakers blasting out yet more of his Christmas favourites. Getting closer to Christmas, he is more of a traditional mood, but Christmas wouldn’t be the same without ‘The Christmas Song’. Originally recorded by the Nat King Cole Trio, this is one of the most often played Christmas songs ever, and it’s easy to understand why- how can you not get into the Christmas spirit hearing about Chestnuts roasting, or Jack Frost nipping, or picturing those folks dressed up like Eskimos?

Next on the list is the timeless carol that everybody knows, O Come all ye Faithful. No explanation necessary, it reminds us of those innumerable nativity services that we performed in as children. It’s the only time of year that we can sing it so of course it brings some Christmas cheer!

And finally… the immortal classic and favourite song of many a singer- Oh Holy Night. Nothing better captures the magic, drama and emotion of Christmas, and the number of singers who have recorded this one only show us how loved it is

Whatever you do, whatever you listen to, make sure it gets you in the spirit for the season and if you’re even only half as happy as Polo then you’re well on the way to enjoying Christmas 2014!

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