Launching our first “Virtual” Wales Harp Festival

Launching our first “Virtual” Wales Harp Festival

A message from Elinor Bennett, the Festival’s Artistic Director:

The aim of this year’s Wales Harp Festival  is to remember and pay homage to the  great harpists whom we have recently lost and to transmit their love of the  harp to future generations.

It was with great sadness that we learnt of the death of the Honorary President of this Festival,  Osian Ellis,  one of Wales’ greatest harpists and musicians.  During the past year,  two other illustrious harpists passed away –   Ann Griffiths and Mair Jones – who taught generations of children to play the harp. We thank  them and remember their contribution to the culture of Wales and to the music of the harp internationally.

 In “normal” times during Easter, dozens of harpists of every age would descend upon Galeri Caernarfon with their harps, and would have lessons in classes, listen to other harpists, socialise and play music together.  Covid will not prevent us from keeping  the tradition alive, and the Festival will be transferred online to a new virtual reality.

Thanks to Zoom,  our teachers will be able to share their expertise with harpists and harp enthusiasts  in every corner of the globe. There will be many events  ( classes, concert, master class, lecture) to help us remember the Festival’s past President, Osian Ellis, including the  premier of his beautiful new  piece, “Lachrymae”, published last year .

Our aim  is to ensure that  ” the eternal muse”  is passed on to future generations and In the middle of our troubles,  the harp and its music can raise spirits and enrich lives.    

We warmly  invite harpists and harp lovers from every part of the world to join us here in Wales – virtually this time of course,  but next year in person!  Read about  the Festival events – and click on “register” straight away!  

Osian Ellis (1928-2021)

Osian Ellis (1928-2021)

It is with sadness and regret that we wish to record the death of harpist and scholar, Osian Gwynn Ellis at the age of 92. He was a great friend and supporter of the work of the William Mathias Music Centre and the Wales International Harp Festival & he will be sorely missed.

A native of Ffynnongroyw, Flintshire, Osian was brought up in Denbigh, the son of the Rev. T.G. Ellis, a Wesleyan minister, and his first harp teacher was Alwena Roberts (‘Telynores Iâl’). As a child, he sang and performed with his mother and other members of his family, in concerts throughout Wales.

Following a period studying the harp with Gwendolen Mason at the Royal Academy of Music (London), he succeeded his teacher as harp Professor at the institution from 1959 until 1989. Early in his career, he appeared in popular television programmes on BBC Wales, and gave numerous performances of poetry and music with actors such as Dame Peggy Aschcroft, Dame Sybil Thorndyke, Cecil Day-Lewis, Hugh Griffith and Richard Burton.

As the most prominent & outstanding harpist of his time, as harp teacher, composer, arranger, penillion singer and scholar, he contributed widely to the nation’s traditional music as well as to developments in the European classical music of his day. In his numerous recordings with Sain, Philips, Lyrita, Meridian and Decca, he highlighted the varied harp repertoire, including 18th, 19th and 20th century Welsh compositions. He travelled extensively during his career, promoting the harp and the music of Wales on all four continents.

Osian Ellis was Principal Harpist of the London Symphony Orchestra from 1961, and worked with the eminent conductors of the time, such as Pierre Monteux, Pierre Boulez, Colin Davis, Antal Dorati, André Previn and Claudio Abbado. He was a regular soloist with the LSO and, as the founding harpist of the Melos Ensemble, his recording of Ravel’s Introduction et Allegro won the Grand Prix du Disque in Paris in 1962.

From the early ’60s, he worked & collaborated with the renowned English composer, Benjamin Britten, & Osian played in several performances and recordings at the Britten Festival (Aldeburgh). This partnership resulted in the harp gaining its place in several of Britten’s works – including, the War Requiem (1962), Midsummer Night’s Dream, Curlew River (1964), The Prodigal Son (1968) and his most important harp work, Suite for Harp (1969).

From 1973 – 1980, following Benjamin Britten’s illness, Osian Ellis performed many concerts with Peter Pears (tenor), and several new works were written for them. He later performed with his son, the late Tomos Ellis (tenor), giving several performances in Wales and overseas.

Osian Ellis encouraged many contemporary composers from Wales & further afield to write new works for harp – including, William Mathias, Alun Hoddinott, Rhian Samuel, David Wynne, Malcolm Arnold, Robin Holloway, Elizabeth Machonchy, William Alwyn, Carlo Menotti and Jorgen Jersild.

As a scholar, he published several seminal works on the history of the harp in Wales, the Robert ap Huw Manuscript, John Parry (Ruabon) and Cerdd Dant. His volume, The Story of the Harp in Wales, was published by the University of Wales Press (Cardiff) and he contributed to a myriad of television and radio programmes in Wales and London.

He was a member of the executive committee of the Welsh Folk Song Society and Cymdeithas Cerdd Dant Cymru. He received numerous honours from the University of Wales, Bangor University as well as from the nation’s leading musical institutions and a CBE from the Queen. As a harp teacher, he influenced generations of aspiring musicians and harpists, including Elinor Bennett and Sioned Williams.

After celebrating his 90th birthday, he was further inspired to compose two new works: ‘Cylch o Alawon Gwerin Cymru’ (for Bryn Terfel and Hannah Stone) and his work for solo harp, ‘Lachrymae’.

We extend our deepest condolences to his son, Richard Llywarch, daughter-in-law Glynis, and grandchildren David and Katie in their sadness.

Announcement regarding the 2020 Wales Harp Festival

Announcement regarding the 2020 Wales Harp Festival

It is with a heavy heart that we inform you that the Wales Harp Festival which was due to take place from 8-9 April has to be postponed due to the Covid-19 virus situation. However we are determined to re-schedule and not cancel and will be in touch with you shortly with further details and hope that you will be keen to join us on the new date. If you have registered / bought tickets and are unable to attend on the new dates later on in the year, then we will arrange a refund. But please bear with us for the next few days as we are currently having to delay / re-schedule our entire work programme and adjust to working as staff from our homes. In the meantime keep playing the harp and follow this facebook page where we hope to post some videos etc to lift evereyone’s spirit over the next few weeks.
Best regards,
Elinor, Meinir and the team

Former royal harpist keeps promise to festival after recovering from cancer

Former royal harpist keeps promise to festival after recovering from cancer

A world renowned harpist who was forced to pull out of a major festival last year,  because she was battling breast cancer,  is keeping her promise to perform at this year’s event instead.

Former Royal Harpist,  Catrin Finch will have a starring role at the Wales Harp Festival at Galeri in Caernarfon on April 17 and 18.

After being diagnosed with stage-three breast cancer, she had seven rounds of chemotherapy over four months and underwent a double mastectomy at Velindre Cancer Centre in Cardiff.

In 2000 Ms Finch, who hails originally from Llanon, in Ceredigion, became the first person since 1872 to hold the post of Royal Harpist.

Her four years playing for the Prince of Wales provided a springboard to a glittering,  career.

Since then, she has performed extensively throughout the USA, South America, the Middle East, Asia, Australia and Europe, both as a soloist, and appearing with many of the world’s top orchestras. 

She said: ““I was determined to perform at this year’s Wales Harp Festival because Elinor Bennett, the festival director, was my harp teacher for many years.

“I’m so looking forward to it and I’m just sad I had to miss out on last year’s event. It just wasn’t possible due to the treatment I was having for my breast cancer.

“But that’s all done now and I feel that journey is behind me. I’ve come out of the other side. I’m back doing what I love and have an incredibly busy schedule ahead of me.  

“It was a horrible time, there’s no question of that. Unfortunately I have a faulty gene that left me susceptible to breast cancer.

“The worse thing, in some ways, was that I couldn’t play the harp for a couple of months, between September and October. That was difficult as I try and practice every day when my schedule allows.

“It was strange not playing but I can now put that behind me and get on with my life. I just have to be thankful.”

Catrin added: “ I will be performing works by French harpists who were composing at the time of the Treaty of Versailles, one hundred years ago, as well as music by Bach, Piazzola and William Mathias.

“While I’ll be performing a more classical programme, Monika will be performing more of her own jazz-based compositions. It will be an interesting mix of styles.

“I’m really looking forward to playing in Caernarfon as I’m currently heavily involved working on a project with Seckou Keita, a Senegalese kora player and drummer.

“We have together released two albums and are touring, bringing a collaboration of very different music styles to a wider audience. I couldn’t be more delighted with the way the music we perform has been received.

“I’m also working on bringing the World Harp Congress to Cardiff in 2020. That will be a similar event to those organised by Elinor Bennett in North Wales and it will be nice to see how she puts her very successful festivals together.”             

Just like the Olympics, the  International Harp Festival is held every four years and in the intervening years the smaller-scale Wales Harp Festival is to encourage young harpists and develop audiences.

Elinor said: “The festival grew out of the Easter harp schools my father (Emrys Bennett Owen)  and I organised more than four decades ago. 

“As well as welcoming Catrin Finch and Monika Stadler to perform in Caernarfon,  harp classes and workshops will be held during the day for harp learners of all ages,with a team of experienced teachers from North Wales – Dafydd Huw, Catrin Morris-Jones, Elfair Grug and Elinor Bennett.

“On  April 17t the competition to commemorate the renowned harpist, Nansi Richards, who died in 1979, will be held. The Scholarship, worth £1500, will be awarded to a young harpist from Wales or living in Wales.

 “The deadline to enter for the Nansi Richards Competition is Monday, March 15, and the deadline for a place in the classes and workshops is the following Friday, March 22.”

The theme of this year’s festival is the June 1919 signing of the Treaty of Versailles which helped bring an end to the Great War.

The then Prime Minister David Lloyd George, who represented Caernarfon, played a big role in bringing peace to Europe after the treaty was signed.

Festival Director Elinor Bennett said: “He was instrumental in the signing of the Treaty of Versailles which helped bring an end to the dreadful war.

“I think it’s important we celebrate the signing of the treaty and the role David Lloyd George played in the negotiations.

“Not long after it was signed, the legendary Welsh harpist Nansi Richards was invited to Downing Street to play the harp for David Lloyd George and his family so there is a real connection insofar as the festival is concerned.”

“We wanted to commemorate the centenary of the signing of the treaty which is why Catrin will perform the work of three very influential French composers and harpists during the festival.

“I’m also looking forward to hearing the work of and Monika Stadler who will be performing many of her own jazz-based compositions.

“Monika, who lives in Vienna,  is like a breath of fresh air and brings a whole new dimension to the world of harp music with her jazz, folk, classical and improvised compositions. She recently released an album of music entitled “Song of the Welsh Hills.”

“It’s going to be another amazing two-day festival packed full of concerts, classes and workshops.

“I’d encourage anyone who has a love of harp music to get a ticket for the concerts and anyone who wants to learn more about playing the harp to enrol in the classes or workshops.”    

Top harpist swaps Albert Hall  for Caernarfon care home

Top harpist swaps Albert Hall for Caernarfon care home

One of the UK’s most talented young harpists swapped the Albert Hall for a care home in Caernarfon.

Elfair Grug, 29, who has performed at the prestigious venue in London, gave residents at Pendine Park’s Bryn Seiont Newydd a virtuoso performance.

The concert came about as the result of a partnership between the Pendine Park Arts and Community Trust Canolfan Gerdd William Mathias (the William Mathias Music Centre) in Caernarfon which was made possible by funding from Arts & Business Cymru  via their Culture Step programme.

It is part of a series of 15 concerts at Pendine Park’s care homes in Wrexham and Caernarfon and at other venues in the community

The project will culminate with a concert by former Royal Harpist Catrin Finch at s Bryn Seiont Newydd on April 18, ahead of her performance at the 2019 Wales Harp Festival concert at Galeri in Caernarfon.

Elfair, who hails from Mynytho, in Gwynedd, is a former pupil of the renowned harpist, Elinor Bennett, at the William Mathias Music Centre at Galeri, Caernarfon, and went on to study at the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester.

She was a member of the National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain for a number of years playing in venues such as the Royal Albert Hall.

And in 2008 she was one of 60 harpists who played at the Royal Opera House when Prince Charles celebrated his 60th birthday.

Elfair went on to spend two years living in Bangkok in Thailand where she worked as a harp teacher and harpist in residence at the Tamnak Prathom Harp Centre which is supported by the Thai Royal Family and is twinned with the William Mathias Music Centre in Caernarfon.

She said: “I’ve thoroughly enjoyed today’s concert. It was lovely to see some residents joining in and singing along. The music clearly has a big effect on residents and we had lots of eye contact and one lady clearly enjoyed conducting me as I played.

Pictured is Elfair Grug with residents Vera Morris and Gwyndaf Williams and Nia Davies Williams, musician in residence at Bryn Seiont newydd. (Picture: Mandy Jones)

“This was purely a concert but I will be returning to Bryn Seiont Newydd as part of the project and will be working with residents as part of a workshop. I’ll then introduce some percussion instruments and we will work closely together.

“The music room at Bryn Seiont Newydd is a fantastic resource and it’s obvious to me that residents benefit a great deal from having the opportunity to listen to live music.”    

Elfair performed a mix of classical, traditional folk and popular songs including Elton John and the Beatles.

She said: “I always enjoy performing in care homes; it’s intimate and so rewarding. I work freelance as a harpist and perform with full orchestra’s or chamber groups but the reaction you get as musician from many care home residents is amazing.

“Over the Sea to Skye, a traditional Scottish folk song, certainly had residents singing along and it’s obviously a song they know well from the sessions that Nia Davies Williams as musician in residence has done with them.”

She added: “It’s been amazing and I’ve loved every minute of today’s concert. I’m really looking forward to returning and playing for residents again and working with them as part of the workshop.” 

Bryn Seiont Newydd resident and former Shotton Steelworks switchboard operator, Margaret ‘Peggy’ Morris, said: “The music is very soothing and it’s nice to have concerts like this. It’s something to really look forward to.”

“I really like it here. I come from Mancot, Flintshire but moved to Rhoshirwaun. Sali is my best friend and comes to see me every other day.

Peggy’s best friend Sali Williams of Rhoshirwaun, Gwynedd, added: “Bryn Seiont Newydd is such a wonderful place and there is always so much going on. Music enriches the lives of residents; it’s a real therapy and brings back memories. I know how much Peggy enjoys living here.”

Pendine Park’s Musician in Residence, Nia Davies Williams, said: “The concert series will take in a number of Pendine Park care homes as well as the Hafod Hedd Dementia Centre, Pwllheli and Bontnewydd Day Care Centre. The programme has been made possible thanks to funding from  Arts & Business Cymru.

“It will enable Canolfan Gerdd William Mathias (William Mathias Music Centre) and Pendine Park to build on their relationship following Pendine’s sponsorship of the 2018 Wales International Harp Festival.

“Professional harpist Elfair Grug is one of Canolfan Gerdd William Mathias’s alumni harp students.  She will deliver the 15 concerts and engage with residents in a series of workshops.

“Students will also have the opportunity to attend some of the concert sessions to have a taste of music in community settings and be mentored by Elfair.”

She added: “It’s a wonderful project and we know from past experience how much residents enjoy these concert events. It’s only been possible to put the project together thanks to the Arts & Business Cymru Culture Step Funding.

“It was clear to see how much residents enjoy listening to music and many of them joined in by singing and even whistling along. It’s lovely to see their reaction to familiar music and how they join in with songs and tunes they know.”   

Sandra Evans, the manager of Bryn Seiont Newydd, said: “This lovely project chimes perfectly with our ethos at Pendine Park because the arts in general and music in particular provide the golden thread running through everything we do to enrich the lives of our residents and staff alike.”

Let’s stay in touch!

Let’s stay in touch!

We’d love to keep you up-to-date about the latest news and upcoming events at Canolfan Gerdd William Mathias (organisers of the Wales Harp Festival).

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