A top music festival that’s going virtual for the first time in its history will be paying homage to globally renowned harpist Osian Ellis who died earlier this year.
The 2020 Wales Harp Festival had to be cancelled at the last minute following the onset of the Coronavirus pandemic but this year the organisers are determined that the show will go.
In a marathon effort of ingenuity and technical know-how, from their headquarters in Caernarfon, Canolfan Gerdd William Mathias (William Mathias Music Centre) orchestrated a way to transfer the entire programme of festival events online.
They were more determined than ever that the 2021 festival on March 30 and 31 should go ahead because it is dedicated to the memory of Osian Ellis, who passed away in January, aged 92.
The festival will also be paying tribute to two other illustrious harpists, Ann Griffiths and Mair Jones, who died during the past 12 months.
The event would normally be staged live at Galeri, Caernarfon, but ongoing pandemic and lockdown rules make this impossible.
It’s hoped the festival will reach an even wider audience this year with talented harpists from Hong Kong, Patagonia and Ireland queuing up to take part.
The festival concert will feature a performance of Osian Ellis’ final composition written in 2019, Lachrymae (Tears), by its director, Elinor Bennett.
She will also be joined by her former pupil at Canolfan Gerdd William Mathias, Elen Hydref to perform his “Diversions” for two harps. Elen Hydref will also play the Suite for Harp by Benjamin Britten which was written for Osian Ellis.
Another internationally acclaimed Welsh harpist, Sioned Williams, will give a performance of words and music reflecting on the inspiration she received from tutors including Osian, Mair Jones and Ann Griffiths.
The festival also includes a recording of a lecture given by Osian Ellis at the 2017 Wales Harp Festival about his collaboration with Benjamin Britten, and there will be dedicated sessions for friends, colleagues and fellow musicians to pay tribute to Osian
Meinir Llwyd Roberts, the director of Canolfan Gerdd William Mathias, said: “A consequence of the move online is that it opens up the festival to participants from all over the globe enabling harpists from Wales and other countries to join in with the online tutoring sessions which will be a key part of the programme.
“We have already had an application from a harpist in Hong Kong and there is another young Welsh-speaking pupil in Patagonia, Argentina, extremely keen to take part.”
“The festival offers beginners and more advanced harpists of all ages the opportunity to learn from the best”
They can apply to take part in 90 minutes group workshops taught by top professional tutors Elinor Bennett, her ex-pupil Elen Hydref and Ann Jones who were all taught by Osian Ellis at some stage of their musical career.
The harp tutor, Ann Jones, who was Osian Ellis’ pupil at the Royal Academy of Music and former principal harpist with the RTE Radio Orchestra in Dublin, will overcome lockdown travel restrictions by giving lessons online, direct from her home in Ireland.
Elinor Bennett was especially keen that the 2021 festival should go ahead so she and others could pay their personal tributes to Osian Ellis who was the Honorary President of the festival.
He was a talented musician from an early age and grew up to become an outstanding international harpist, teacher, composer and arranger. He was principal harpist of the London Symphony Orchestra and had the honour of having had classical composer Benjamin Britten write works especially for him.
Generations of harpists whom he inspired have themselves gone on to teach young students.
Elinor was one of his pupils at the Royal Academy of Music from which she graduated and went on to become a prominent harp soloist, master instructor and founder of the Harp College of Wales.
She has performed regularly with the English Chamber Orchestra, London Symphony Orchestra and Philharmonia Orchestra, as well as giving recitals on radio and television.
She said: “I am hugely excited that the festival is able to go on and at the prospect of it potentially reaching a global audience through the online technology being employed this year. The technical assistance I have had from CGWM staff has been invaluable. They have jumped all sorts of hurdles to make this happen.”
Elinor will be holding an online masterclass and there will also be an opportunity for harpists from grades 1-7 to join online Zoom classes in small groups with one of the harp tutors, Ann Jones, Elen Hydref and Elinor herself.
She said: “To make things easier this year we are asking participants of the workshops to send us recordings of the pieces they are learning so that the tutors can listen to their performances beforehand. This will ensure that each harpist gets the greatest benefit out of the classes and will also be a great back-up, should there be any connection problems or glitches on the day.”