Festival goes virtual to pay homage to harp legend Osian Ellis

Festival goes virtual to pay homage to harp legend Osian Ellis

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.”

Class Teachers: Update

Class Teachers: Update

We are very sorry that Ann Jones will not be able to take part in the Wales Harp Festival this year for  sad, personal reasons. Very recently, Ann’s  husband passed away. We send our deepest condolences to her and the family at this difficult time. 

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.”    

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Let’s stay in touch!

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