Festival honours musical giant

One of Wales’ greatest composers will be celebrated at the festival he created and which has become the “hallmark” of the nation’s musical life.

This year is the 40th anniversary of the North Wales International Music Festival – and the 20th anniversary of the untimely death of its founder William Mathias.

The festival, which starts  September 22 at St Asaph Cathedral, has become a lasting legacy, left by the prolific and innovative Professor Mathias.

He was professor of music and head of department in the University of Wales, Bangor.

His life and work will be celebrated in a special concert by the BBC National Orchestra of Wales which will include a performance of his Anniversary Dances.

It was a piece written in 1985 to mark the centenary of the founding of Bangor University, where William Mathias was Professor and Head of the Department of Music 1970-88.

The work will be performed by the BBC Orchestra under conductor Andrew Gourlay on Saturday, September 29, starting at 7.30pm.

In 1981, Professor Matthias famously wrote the anthem, Let the people praise Thee O God, for the royal wedding of Prince Charles and Princess Diana which had a worldwide television audience of one billion people.

In another tribute to the festival founder, the work will be performed by the Aberdeen Chamber Choir under the baton of another royal composer, Professor Paul Mealor, who wrote the music for the wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton, now the Duchess of Cambridge.

Professor Mathias’ daughter, Dr Rhiannon Mathias, will deliver the Eucharist address at the festival on Sunday, September 23.

Someone who has had a huge impact on the musical and cultural scene of Wales for decades, paid tribute to his old friend William Mathias.

Roy Bohana, the former deputy director of the Arts Council for Wales and director of Llangollen International Eisteddfod, has donated £1,000 in his memory to the festival.

Artistic Director Ann Atkinson said: “We are very grateful for this generous donation from Roy Bohana to honour our founder on our 40th anniversary.

“It is a very special year in our history and I am sure the concert with the BBC National Orchestra of Wales and the performance by Paul Mealor’s choir will provide a fitting tribute to a true musical giant.

“Appropriately, the BBC Welsh Symphony Orchestra – as it was then known – played at the first festival in 1972 and has been with us ever since.”

The BBC National Orchestra of Wales will also be marking another anniversary during their performance on September 29, the cello concerto by Pembroke-born composer Daniel Jones, who was born 100 years ago in 1912. The concert will also feature cello soloist Paul Watkins.

Jones was a close friend of writer Dylan Thomas and composed song settings for his work Under Milk Wood. Jones read English literature at Swansea University but went on to study at the Royal Academy of Music in London during the 30’s, where one of his tutors was Sir Henry Wood.

A brilliant linguist, Jones joined the Intelligence Corps in the war and became one of the Bletchley Park code breakers.

BBW NOW will also perform Meistersinger Prelude by Wagner and Beethoven’s Symphony No4.

The occasion will be an emotional one for Dr Rhiannon Mathias.

She recalled: “The festival was very, very important to my father’s life. As today, things had to be planned very much in advance and he very much enjoyed contacting the artistes.

“The festival remains today a wonderful celebration of music which is very much how he regarded it.

“It was an opportunity to attract some of the most famous names in music, many of whom were quite close friends, to come to this wonderful place in North Wales and fall in love with the Cathedral, with its special acoustics, and experience the wonderful camaraderie and spirit.

Rhiannon, a flautist, is a trustee of the Caernarfon centre founded in her father’s memory – her mother Yvonne is patron – and now teaches flute there. and is a lecturer, writer and broadcaster.

“My father wanted the best and I am sure he would be proud of the festival in its current form. What is interesting is the variety in the programme, which Ann Atkinson has maintained.

“Anniversary Dances is a very engaging piece with a prelude introduction and five contrasting dance movements with a wonderful conclusion. It’s a completely original work, exuberant.”

Roy Bohana, 74, who lives in Cardiff, is delighted that the memory of his old friend is being honoured this year.

He said: “I wanted to make a personal contribution to mark my friendship with Will. We kept in constant touch through the Arts Council.

“Will and I had the same ideas about values and about how music in Wales should develop. He was a very strong member of the British Arts Council and spoke up for Wales all the time. They were very surprised, they tend to think the Welsh are downtrodden and shy but Will and I were not!”

In his role with the Arts Council Mr Bohana helped secure the funding for the first NWIMF at St Asaph in 1972.

Dr Mathias added: “Roy had a fundamental role in the festival through the funding, and in the 70s the Arts Council of Wales released a series of recordings of Welsh composers, including my father, it was  major initiative because these recordings brought the music of Wales’ finest composers to a much wider audience.”

At 27 Mr Bohana was the youngest ever adjudicator when he started at Llangollen Eisteddfod in 1965 and its longest serving adjudicator by the time he finished in 1998. He was also adjudicator at 16 international choral competitions all over the world – a record probably not surpassed.

“The St Asaph festival is still the hallmark of musical life in North Wales as long as standards are kept high,” said Mr Bohana, who will attend the festival to hear Julian Lloyd Webber and the Eucharist.

This year’s festival will also feature the world premiere of a new work by the internationally acclaimed composer Karl Jenkins.

The work was commissioned by the festival to celebrate their anniversary and the granting of city status to St Asaph by the Queen to mark her Diamond Jubilee year. It will be played by royal harpist Hannah Stone.

Tickets range in price from £28 to £10. To book call the Box Office on 0800 411 8881 or visit www.nwimf.com/whats_on/programme2012.html

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