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.”
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.
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!
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.
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
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.
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,
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.
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
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.
was a horrible time, there’s no question of that. Unfortunately I have a faulty
gene that left me susceptible to breast cancer.
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.
was strange not playing but I can now put that behind me and get on with my
life. I just have to be thankful.”
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.
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.
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
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.
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.”
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
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
“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.
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,
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.
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
“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.
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
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.
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
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
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
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.
“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
Elfair performed a mix of
classical, traditional folk and popular songs including Elton John and the
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
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
“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.”
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.”
An acclaimed teaching centre is hoping to tug at the heart strings of music lovers by offering them the chance to support the studies of talented young harpists.
Canolfan Gerdd William Mathias in Caernarfon, which is currently providing tuition for over 400 aspiring musicians, has launched its Sponsor a String appeal which aims to raise cash by inviting people to “buy” one or more of the strings on a traditional Welsh triple harp.
All the money raised will go towards creating three scholarships of £1,500 each to be offered as prizes to winners of the Youth Competition during this year’s fourth annual Wales International Harp Festival to be staged at Galeri Caernarfon from April 1-7.
And festival director Elinor Bennett says she can’t think of a better way of helping to nurture young talent.
She said: “The Youth Competition at the Wales International Harp Festival is for young harpists aged 19 or under and the prizes of three equal scholarships of £1,500 are meant to help the winners pay for a series of lessons from a specialist tutor of their choice.
“The cost of specialist music tuition can be prohibitive to many families and this amount of money would make a great deal of difference to develop a young harpist’s potential. As a guide, one hour’s lesson can cost between £40 and £100, which some people would be hard pressed to find.
Pictured are: Festival organiser, Catrin Morris-Jones and Festival Director, Elinor Bennett
“Canolfan Gerdd William Mathias, which currently offers high quality tuition in a range of musical instruments at its centres in Galeri Caernarfon as well as Denbigh and Ruthin, came up with the Sponsor a String appeal to help get the careers of young musicians off to a flying start by offering these very valuable scholarships.”
Elinor added: “Entries for festival’s Youth Competition are going very well at the moment and we eventually expect to attract up to 25 young musicians. Although several will be from Wales and pupils of the William Mathias Centre, others will be coming from far as away as the USA and Russia specially to take part.
“Stage one of the Youth Competition will be held from 9am on the third day of the festival, Tuesday April 3, with the final at 3pm on the Wednesday.
“It will be a real showcase of musical talent and do much to raise the profile of harp playing. It will also bring top international artists to Galeri Caernarfon so that people can enjoy their playing in their own locality.
“The harp brings people together through the power of music. In previous years a number of lasting friendships have been formed amongst entrants of the Youth Competition.”
Elinor added: “In the run-up to the festival a copy of an 18th century triple harp, with 90 strings, is being exhibited at Galeri.
“A label with the name of a sponsor will be tied on to one of its strings when a pledge of money is received from a kind and generous individual.
“We have suggested a donation of £50 but we will be extremely grateful for any other sum, large or small, we receive for such an excellent cause.”
Gwenan Gibbard, who has been a harp tutor at the William Mathias Centre at Galeri Caernarfon for over 10 years, is strongly in favour of the Sponsor a String appeal.
She said: “It’s always a challenge to find new ways of raising money for the study of music and I think this is an excellent idea.
“The three scholarships that the sponsorship money will help finance are the perfect way to help nurture the best young harpists of the future and the appeal deserves to win as much support as possible.”
More than 100 harpists are heading to the festival and the opening concert will see the premiere of a new poem entitled Osian, by chaired poet Mererid Hopwood, which honours the life and work of globally-renowned harpist Dr Osian Ellis CBE, who started playing again as he approached his 90th birthday on February 8.
At the height of his career Dr Ellis, who is the Harp Festival president, collaborated with leading British composer Benjamin Britten and played on the madcap radio comedy series, The Goon Show.
The festival will conclude with a sell-out concert by Sir Bryn Terfel, accompanied by his partner and former royal harpist Hannah Stone, at the Bryn Terfel Theatr, Pontio, Bangor, on April 20.
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.
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.
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)
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.