Emotional concert will remember controversial drowning of village

Emotional concert will remember controversial drowning of village

A top harpist revealed the Welsh premiere of a new piece of music to remember the controversial drowning of a village will be a highly emotional occasion for her.

Huw T Edwards

Sioned Williams’ grandfather Huw T Edwards led the campaign against the submerging of Capel Celyn in the Tryweryn valley above Bala in 1965 to create a reservoir to provide water for the city of Liverpool and the Wirral.

Although ultimately unsuccessful, the mass protests were a touchstone political moment and are credited with sparking a rebirth of Welsh nationalism

The harpist, originally from Sychdyn, in Flintshire, who is stepping down as the BBC Symphony Orchestra’s Principal Harpist after nearly 30 years in the role, commissioned the work, The Drowning of Capel Celyn, on her 60th birthday.

She will be playing the piece, written by composer Michael Stimpson, at the Wales International Harp Festival at St Mary’s Church in Caernarfon on Easter Monday, April 2.

Other highlights of the festival, which is in its fourth year, include a celebration of the life and work of the globally-renowned harpist, Dr Osian Ellis, to mark his 90th birthday.

As well as being the Professor of the Harp at the Royal Academy of Music, Dr Ellis was for many years the Principal Harpist with the London Symphony Orchestra and he was held in such high regard by Benjamin Britten that he wrote his Harp Suite specifically for him.

More than 100 harpists from countries as far afield as Japan, America, Russia and Thailand will be coming to the festival, which has Galeri in Caernarfon as its main venue, Easter Sunday, on April 1, to Saturday, April 7.

Back in the 1960s, Huw T Edwards was an influential trade union leader with the Transport and General Workers’ Union in North Wales and he was elected chairman of the Save Tryweryn campaign, something of which Sioned Williams is extremely proud.

She recalled: “I remember sitting on the banks of Llyn Celyn as a young girl with Taid and I felt a huge sense of sadness which remains with me to this day. I have visited there many times since and reflected on the catastrophic events which should never have happened.

“The work by Michael Stimpson is so poignant and the Caernarfon concert will be the Welsh premiere of the work and will be performed in the presence of the composer as Michael Stimpson will be there.

“I hope people will have a chance to reflect once more as they listen to what is a haunting and beautiful piece of work.”

She added: “My Taid, Huw T Edwards, played a major part in trying to stop the flooding and three men, Owain Williams, Emyr Llewelyn Jones and John Albert Jones, who sadly died in November last year, attempted to bomb a transformer at the dam site.

“It was Taid who apparently paid the bail money to get one of the three men out of prison.”

“The Michael Stimpson composition is such an amazing and beautiful work and really does just justice to how people felt, the utter devastation as water rushed into the valley drowning the chapel, the post office, Quaker meeting house and cottages.”

And, at the start of the performance, Sioned will read a poem, Tryweryn, which was written by her grandfather Huw T Edwards and published in a book of Welsh language poems he penned called Tros F’ysgwydd (Over My Shoulder).”

A former pupil of the festival’s director, Elinor Bennett, Sioned went on to study at the Royal Academy of Music where she was taught by Dr Osian Ellis.

Sioned became only the second harpist to achieve the Recital Diploma, the most highly acclaimed performance exam, at the Royal Academy, Elinor Bennett having been the first.

She toured the world as a soloist for almost 20 years and had her own radio programmes on Radio 4 and the World Service, and became the first British musician to win the prestigious Concert Artist Guild Award in New York.

However, after signing a contract to be the Principal Harpist with the BBC Symphony Orchestra in 1990 Sioned was left devastated after being diagnosed with a rare genetic disorder – McArdle disease, a glycogen storage disorder.

She said: “I cannot express the emotions I went through. However, my heart decided to rule my head and here we are 28 years later and I’m still a harpist.

However, after 28 exciting years working with the most wonderful composers and conductors in the world, I will relinquish my position and have a final concert with the orchestra under the baton of Sir Andrew Davis in the Barbican on April 13. I will then concentrate on pursuing other musical adventures. I aim to never stop playing the harp. I simply couldn’t!’.”

According to Elinor Bennett the concert with Sioned at 7.30pm on Easter Monday at St Mary’s Church, Caernarfon will be an unforgettable and hugely poignant occasion.

She said: “The fact that Sioned’s grandfather led the campaign against the destruction and drowning  of Capel Celyn adds a real personal touch to what remains an emotive issue to many Welsh people.

“I share Sioned’s memories as my father, Emrys Bennett Owen, was also part of the campaign to save the village and, as chairman of the Penllyn Rural District Council, and was part of a delegation that went to lobby the Liverpool MP, Bessie Braddock.

“I’m thrilled that the concert will feature wonderful music for  treble voices and harp by famous composers  –  John Rutter, Benjamin Britten, Gustav Holst and his daughter, Imogen Holst who worked with Osian Ellis at Benjamin Britten’s Festival in Aldeburgh.

“It will be a particular pleasure to welcome the renowned Palestrina Choir of St Mary’s Pro-Cathedral,  Dublin with their Director, Dr Blanaid Murphy, to perform four  rarely-heard works for choir and harp  with Sioned Williams and  Anne Denholm, Official Harpist to HRH The Prince of Wales.

“It’s going to be an amazing evening!”

90th birthday tribute to harp legend Osian Ellis

90th birthday tribute to harp legend Osian Ellis

The life and work of a globally-renowned harpist who started playing again as he approached his 90th birthday will be celebrated at an international festival.

The fourth Wales International Harp Festival in Caernarfon will be honouring the legendary Dr Osian Ellis CBE who collaborated with leading British composer Benjamin Britten and played on the madcap radio comedy series, The Goon Show.

Sixty years on Dr Elllis, a native of Ffynnongroyw in Flintshire who now lives in Pwllheli, still receives an annual royalty cheque of £100 for his appearances with comedy pioneers Spike Milligan, Peter Sellers and Harry Secombe.

As well as being the Professor of the Harp at the Royal Academy of Music, Dr Ellis was for many years the Principal Harpist with the London Symphony Orchestra and he was held in such high regard by Benjamin Britten that he wrote his Harp Suite specifically for him.

His stellar career saw him play in the world’s finest concert venues and rub shoulders with film stars like the Oscar-winning Anglesey actor, Hugh Griffith, Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor as well as comedy legend Bob Hope.

According to festival director Elinor Bennett, herself an acclaimed harpist and teacher, Dr Ellis was a still a huge inspiration to her and fellow musicians around the world.

More than 100 harpists from countries as far afield as Japan, America, Russia and Thailand will be coming to the festival at Galeri in Caernarfon from Easter Sunday, on April 1, to Saturday, April 7.

The opening concert will see the premiere of a new poem, OSIAN,  by the accomplished poet Mererid Hopwood. It is the inspiration for an imaginative new work for soprano, tenor, harp quartet, percussion and strings by the young Welsh composer and harpist Mared Emlyn who is collaborating with singer and harpist Gwenan Gibbard to present music in praise of Dr Ellis.

Mererid Hopwood

Mererid Hopwood

He was grateful but “terrified” that he was being honoured for doing something he loves.

He revealed: “It’s growing as an event and that’s down to people like Elinor Bennett. It’s amazing how harp playing has blossomed in recent years. I’m proud Elinor was a student of mine.

“She has worked so hard stimulating young talented musicians and that is so important. It’s not just keeping music alive but breathing new life into music. To see harpists coming to North Wales from all over the world to celebrate the harp is wonderful.

“I’m playing the harp again after a 15-year break while I cared for my late wife Rene. I play the organ in the chapel at Pwllheli where I have lived for a number of years now.

“I’m enjoying writing music again and of course playing. I didn’t think I’d be able to play again but I surprised myself how easily I got back into playing.”

“When you play a great deal your fingers naturally harden but when they are soft and if you haven’t played for a number of years it can be quite tough.”

The son of a non-conformist minister, Dr Ellis was born in in Ffynnongroyw in 1928 and as a boy he was obsessed with two things – playing the harp and playing football.

He recalled: “I chose the harp because we had one at home. My mother, Jennie, was a good amateur harpist. My father was the Reverend Tomos Griffith Ellis so we moved around quite a lot as a family.

“We did spend some years living in Denbigh and I was the goalkeeper for Denbigh County School. The boys used to say I was better at football than the harp!

“I taught myself to play the harp to some degree and was encouraged by my mother. We played lots of little concerts around Denbigh during the war. I also had a wonderful teacher Alwena Roberts, who taught students right across North Wales.”

However, winning a competition at the 1943 National Eisteddfod at Bangor led to a scholarship at the Royal Academy of Music under Gwendolen Mason whom he succeeded as Professor of Harp between 1959 and 1989.

Then in 1960 he met celebrated composer Benjamin Britten with whom he had a long association.

He said: “I worked a great deal with Benjamin Britten and we were very close friends. He wrote a great deal of music specifically for me including his wonderful Harp Suite.

“In fact, he wrote the harp part of a number of his works with me in mind and I recorded a lot of his work.

“In 1961 I joined the London Symphony Orchestra as principal harpist and performed regularly at the London Palladium.

“I did two Royal Variety Performances in the pit at the London Palladium involving Bob Hope and many other top stars. I also joined the Wally Stott Orchestra and we played on the original Goon Shows starring Spike Milligan, Harry Secombe and Peter Sellers and, for a short time, Michael Bentine

“In fact, I’m a bit embarrassed that each year I still get a royalty cheque for around £100 from the BBC from playing on the Goon Show as it’s still repeated on radio so often today which is amazing.

“In 1951 during the Festival of Britain I was working in an orchestra for a season at Stratford-upon-Avon.

“I shared a house with two Welsh actors, Hugh Griffith and a good boy from the valleys, Richard Burton and his first wife Sybil. We even shared Christmas dinner together.

“I remained good friends with Richard Burton and in the early 1960s, as a family, Rene, our two sons, Tomos and Richard and I, visited Richard Burton, who was by then with Elizabeth Taylor, on the set of Where Eagles Dare at Elstree Studios.

“We watched them shoot a scene and then went back to his trailer. Elizabeth Taylor kept feeding Tomos and Richard chocolate which they not surprisingly seemed to enjoy!”

Elinor Bennett described Dr Ellis as an iconic figure whose contribution had been immense.

Elinor Bennett (Director, Wales International Harp Festival)

Elinor Bennett (Director, Wales International Harp Festival)

She said: “I am delighted we are celebrating the 90th birthday of my mentor Osian Ellis and enjoy celebrating his work and music-making during his long career.

“I know the standard of competition in the five categories this year will be exceptionally high and that in itself will be a tribute to Osian, a remarkable man with a remarkable talent.”

The festival will conclude on Friday, April 20, with the sell-out concert starring Sir Bryn Terfel which had to be rearranged because the superstar bass baritone is recovering from vocal distress.

It was originally due to take place on February 8, the date of Dr Ellis’s 90th birthday.

On the night Sir Bryn will be joined by his partner, the former royal harpist Hannah Stone, when they will be performing a new work by Dr Ellis, a Cycle of Welsh Folk Songs.

The concert will also feature four young emerging Welsh artists, harpist Glain Dafydd, trumpet player Gwyn Owen, soprano Gwen Elin and tenor Huw Ynyr Evans.

Choral Concert

Choral Concert

Easter Monday, April 2 2018 | 7:30pm
St Mary’s Church, Church Street, Caernarfon

The Palestrina Choir, Dublin (Director: Blanaid Murphy)
Harps: Sioned Williams, Anne Denholm

Rutter: Dancing Day
Imogen Holst: Welcome Joy, Welcome Sorrow
Gustav Holst: Rig Veda
Michael Stimpson: The Drowning of Capel Celyn (First performance in Wales)
Benjamin Britten: A Ceremony of Carols

Tickets available now from the Galeri Box Office.

The concert celebrates superb and less-often performed works by five English composers:- Imogen Holst, daughter of Gustav Holst, was assistant of Benjamin Britten at Aldeburgh and became joint Artistic Director of the festival, (also working with Osian Ellis). John Rutter as a young chorister took part in the first (1963) recording of Britten’s War Requiem in Coventry Cathedral under the composer’s baton, and Michael Stimpson grew up in London near to where Holst taught at St Paul’s School, and was aware of Holst and his music from a young age. All composers have written brilliantly for choir, though on this occasion, Stimpon’s work is a harp solo in remembrance of the tragic history of Tryweryn. (Note by Sioned Williams).

The concert starts on a joyous note with full choir in John Rutter’s Dancing Day , moves to the gentler sounds of Imogen Holst’s Welcome Joy, Welcome Sorrow, ending the first half with the wonderful Rig Veda of Gustav Holst. The reflective and evocative music of Michael Stimpson will surely strike an emotional chord before ending with the superb Ceremony of Carols by Benjamin Britten. The atmosphere and acoustic of the 13th century St Mary’s Church (which is part of the Caernarfon mediaeval town walls) will be the perfect setting for these musical treats.

This will be a poignant and brilliant choral concert.

Concert duration 90’ including interval.

A Celebration of the Music of Osian Ellis

A Celebration of the Music of Osian Ellis

Sunday, April 1 2018 | 8:00pm | Theatre, Galeri Caernarfon

Sioned Gwen Davies (Mezzo-soprano)
Rhys Meirion (Tenor)
Valeria Voshchennikova (Russia) 2014 Chief Musician
CGWM String and Harp Quartets
Senior Harp Consort Gwynedd & Môn
Dawns i Bawb dancers

Programme Includes:
The First Performance of a collaborative new work created by the poet, Mererid Hopwood, and two of Wales’ most talented young women composers and harpists – Mared Emlyn and  Gwenan Gibbard –  to celebrate Osian Ellis’ 90th birthday.

Valeria Voshchennikova

Valeria Voshchennikova

N.B. Valeria Voshchennikova, the  winner of the  prestigious Chief Musician Prize in the 2014 Festival returns to Caernarfon to perform music from her native Russia.

Tickets available now from the Galeri Box Office.

 “OSIAN”  A poem by Mererid Hopwood (main image above) is the inspiration for an imaginative new work for soprano, tenor, harp quartet, percussion, strings and dancers  by the  young Welsh composer and harpist, Mared Emlyn, who collaborated with singer/harpist  Gwenan Gibbard to present music in praise of the legendary  Welsh harpist Osian Ellis who now lives in Pwllheli, Wales.

Poet’s note: The poem comprises nine  song-scenes. In the first, the listener is taken from the beginning of sound to the moments when song was first given to man and woman. Next, from the voices of rain crystals, of blackthorn blossom bells and tree winds, the song calls out Osian’s name. Borrowing themes from the ancient tale of Osian and Nia Ben Aur, we then follow deer and doe through the woods to Tir Na Nog. Here we find Nia, in the form of a silent, empty, wooden harp, her willow and strings waiting for Osian’s fingers and hands to give her a melody. In the duet that follows, we move from the drumbeat of darkness to daybreak and the song of blackbirds. Osian and Nia are united as scene 6 burst into an exuberant fiesta. Their union conceives its own new song whose birth gives flight to the oldest traditions as we move through scenes 7 and 8, until finally, in scene 9, we hear how these new melodies, in turn, are passed from one generation to the next .

New commision by Wales International Harp Festival with funds made available by ACW, Ty Cerdd, RVW Trust, PRSF Fondation for Music, Foyle’s, Colwinston Trust.

Our Competition Entrants

Our Competition Entrants

The inspirational stories of our competition entrants provide an amazing insight into their dedication to become the very best musicians. Here we provide details of two young musicians and their musical journey.

Cassandra Tomella (Italy) – Youth Competition

This is the third time Cassandra (photo above) has competed in Wales.

She has always been enthralled by Wales as a land of music, magic, and mystery. The first time she visited Wales to compete she was welcomed so warmly that she commented that “I felt at home”

She has attended the Catrin Finch Academy twice and is now an honorary Welsh harpist!

Cassandra first started harp lessons at the age of 8 and since 2013 she has studied at the Milan Conservatory, where she decided to also learn the harpsichord. She has a love for the Baroque repertoire, and the instrument allows her to better understand that period and the music composed at the time. She feels that this will help her better interpret Baroque pieces while playing the harp.

Cassandra says that her most exciting harp experience so far was playing Shostakovic’s 5th Symphony with the Milan Conservatory Orchestra and “Puer Natus” with a wind orchestra last Christmas.

In 2016 she also had a series of charity recitals in Amatrice (where there was an earthquake the same year) She especially cherishes a recital at an old people’s home where she felt how powerful music can be.

Veronika Lemishenko (Ukraine) – Chief Musician Competition

Veronika started to play harp at the age of 7. After graduating from Kharkov High Music School in the class of Larisa Klevtzova, she enrolled in Gnessins Music Academy in Moscow in the class of professor Milda Agazarian.

Veronika is currently Principal Harp in UAPhO

Veronika returns to compete in the Chief Musician competition in which she came third four years ago, a disturbing time when troubles in her home country at that time caused many concerns.

We wish Veronika every success and a happy return visit to the festival.

World Music Competition attracts competitors from around the globe

World Music Competition attracts competitors from around the globe

Enter the World Music Competition – a wonderful experience with prizes of up to £1000

The Wales International Harp Festival attracts an amazing collection of musicians playing a diverse range of music. The World Music Competition is an excellent example of the international nature of the festival. We review two entrants for the competition below:

Josh Doughty – WALES

Josh started playing the Kora (a West African 21 string harp) at the age of 8 learning the instrument at home in Wales with his father. The 28-year old travels to West Africa every year to develop his playing skills and to learn more about the Kora.

Tutored by leading Kora players Toumani Diabate and Seckou Keita he describes his best harp experience as playing with Toumani Diabate’s band in Mali when he was just 18 years of age.

Tang Pui Man, Frances  (harp) & Suen Yin Shin, Eunice (soprano) – HONG KONG

Frances graduated at the Trinity Laban Conservatory of Music and Dance in London. Frances now runs her own studio in Hong Kong teaching harp music.

She has a passion for arranging harp ensemble specifically for children and enjoys playing harp with a wide variety of musicians and singers. She also enjoys her playing as part of the Honk Kong Symphony Orchestra.

She is competing in the World Competition with soprano Suen Yin Shin.

It’s not too late to enter the World Music Competition, more details can be found on the competitions page.

Let’s stay in touch!

Let’s stay in touch!

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