Royal composer’s musical odyssey

Royal composer Paul Mealor will be swapping the bright lights of Hollywood for the sacred surroundings of a cathedral when he takes on a prestigious new role.

Raised in Connah’s Quay, Professor Mealor, who wrote the music for the wedding of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, has been made a Vice President of the North Wales International Music Festival in St Asaph.

The festival, supported by the Arts Council of Wales, was created 41 years ago by another royal composer, the brilliant Professor William Mathias, who was Professor and Head of the Department of Music at Bangor University between 1970-88.

Appropriately, his daughter, Dr Rhiannon Mathias – the writer, broadcaster, lecturer, flautist and director of the William Mathias Music Centre – has also been appointed as a Vice President.

They will take up their posts at this year’s festival at St Asaph Cathedral from September.

Artistic Director Ann Atkinson was delighted that two such distinguished musicians had agreed to become vice presidents.

She said: “The festival is now firmly established as one of the main highlights in the UK’s cultural calendar and the fact that Rhiannon and Paul are joining us as vice presidents will help to cement our growing reputation.”

Prof Mealor, who shot to international fame when his composition for the royal wedding in 2011, Ubi Caritas, attracted an audience of some 2.5 billion people has gone on to have his work performed in Hollywood to a standing ovation.

He also gained huge acclaim after writing the music for the chart-topping Military Wives’ Choir.

Prof Mealor, a reader in composition at Aberdeen University, whose family home is on Anglesey, said: “This is a massive honour because this is where I received my early musical education. I came here to the concerts as a boy.

“There were very few rural places where you could get top quality music like this. William Mathias, who was the founder of the festival, taught me for a while so to come back to where I started as a vice-president, is fantastic.

“My role will be to support the festival, to promote it and to be its standard bearer. I’ve supported and attended the festival for many years and I will be here again this year, as will my mother and father and three of my uncles and aunts.”

And what a standard bearer Paul will be. Last October he was in Los Angeles for a performance of Ubi Caritas by the hugely respected Los Angeles Master Chorale at the Walt Disney Concert Hall.

“It was fantastic. This is one of the major choirs and it was a sold-out concert, performing my composition and it got a standing ovation. Unbelievable!”

He also heard his work performed at the University of Southern California’s Thornton School of Music. “I stayed in Hollywood Hills, just below the Hollywood sign. It was great meeting such interesting people. I’m also going back to hear my work performed in Princeton when there will be an American premier of my work Crucifixus.

“On home territory I have just recently been honoured by the Welsh Music Guild who presented me with the Glanville Jones Award for outstanding contribution to Welsh music.”

Paul Mealor was described by the New York Times as “one of the most important composers to have emerged in Welsh choral music since William Mathias” and there are amazing similarities between the two ‘Royal’ composers.

Professor William Mathias started the NWIMF at St Asaph Cathedral in 1972. He taught for a short while in a Scottish university, Edinburgh, and was commissioned to write the anthem for the wedding of Charles and Diana in July 1981. He also was a frequent visitor to the United States and was awarded an honorary doctorate by the Westminster College Choir of Princeton in 1988.

His daughter Dr Rhiannon Mathias, said on being made a festival vice-president: “It’s very exciting and it came as a complete surprise. I had a letter from the Dean inviting me to consider becoming a vice president. I was absolutely thrilled, it was a great honour to be invited and for me, it was very unexpected.

“The festival has played such an important part in my life. I’m not sure what my duties will be but I know the vice presidents are expected to attend many of the concerts which will not be a problem for me!

“I have probably attended virtually all the festivals since it started in 1972. Even though I was only small my mother would take me to the concerts, even the late ones and I would sleep all the way home in the car.”

Dr Mathias has had a busy year since the last St Asaph festival.

“In the last 12 months I have had a book published which looks at three contemporary British composers. It’s not about my father but he is in it because one of the composers is Grace Williams, who was from that older generation of Welsh composers.

“My father actually commissioned Grace to write a piece for the 1973 festival and she wrote a choral work Ave Maris Stella so there is that link between Grace, my father and the festival. It was her last choral work and she died in 1977.

“She did much to encourage my father as a young composer.”

The other two composers featured in the book are Elisabeth Lutyens, daughter of the famous architect Sir Edwin Lutyens, and Dame Elizabeth Maconchy.

“They all studied together at the Royal College of Music in the 1920s and each one of them made a mark on music in 20th Century Britain. The book was published last year and launched at the National Library of Wales and there was a London launch at the British Library. And I gave talks on the subject at Oxford and the Royal College in London so it was quite a busy year.”

Dr Mathias was also recently talking about Grace Williams when she took part in filming for an S4C series about women who have left their mark on Welsh history, presented by Ffion Hague – wife of the Foreign Secretary William Hague.

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