Art Beat: Belfast becomes Unesco City of Music and Northern Ireland Opera's sensational Old Friends and Other Days

Notes and musings from the arts scene as it emerges from lockdown, by Jane Hardy

Composer Hannah Peel has been appointed as a 'Belfast Music patron' - along with Snow Patrol's Gary Lightbody - after the city was named as an Unesco City of Music

OK, so who sees any kind of upside to the climate armageddon facing us on the planet we call home?

A new strand of climate change art maybe? If it features the peerless Jarvis Cocker, who released a topical dance number Let's Stick Around (which he's dubbed the first "sustainable banger") with DJ Riton during Cop26, I'm happy.

But I sort of feel that's what we common people need right now. The fact Belfast has become the latest Unesco City of Music is great news and a big opportunity on this front.

Eco-aware ambassador and composer Hannah Peel, whose most recent album Fir Wave tackles the issue, is on board.

Her tracks Carbon Cycle and Ecovocative make the point via quiet synth-led unease. She has spoken out about climate issues alongside Brian Cox and Brian Eno and is working with a group called Earth Per Cent: "Like when we had Live Aid, this is one of those moments when we need to come together and make a difference."

Which is important. In a way, any photograph or canvas that shows the beauty of our landscape and the natural world also does it. You don't need any more propaganda than that.

Look at the Christmas selling show at the ArtisAnn Gallery with a gorgeous splashy snowscape by Valerie Giannandrea McKeag and rounded pastel versions of the Mournes by Lenka Davidikova which runs until December 18.

Representational and proud. The gallery also has work by big names such as Brian Ballard and Neil Shawcross.

Now when is a filmed song cycle not a filmed song cycle? When it's Northern Ireland Opera's sensational Old Friends and Other Days, a new invention in which artistic director Cameron Menzies has added story and imagination to Irish composer William Vincent Wallace and Michael William Balfe's emotional songs.

The result is sumptuous, filmed against the crumbling backdrop of the Carlisle Memorial Church. Also clever, as the setting, props and make-up undercut the Victorian flutiness and sentimentality. It's intensity with a question mark.

There's a beautiful lullaby at the opening sung by soprano Emma Morwood with the lines "sleep and rest, my pretty one", but the actress cradling a black scrap of material closes it in a drawer. So you sense the big sleep.

The dramatic production, which Menzies describes as "like a beautifully messed up Merchant Ivory film", is nominated for two big awards already and a finalist in The British Short Film Awards 2021. It's viewable here from 7pm on Friday November 26.

Finally, there may be a revival of Euro-pop hits like Y Viva Espana (actually sung by a Belgian) with the news that Spain, in an enlightened move, is removing visa restrictions for UK musicians heading there for short tours. Sombreros on...

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