© John Liston 2019

A top music festival is going virtual for the first time in its 49 year history.

A top music festival is going virtual for the first time in its 49 year history.
Organisers of the North Wales International Music Festival are confident the new-look event will be a hit.

It’s usually held at the 13th century St Asaph Cathedral but the coronavirus pandemic put paid to that this year. Instead the festival will be hosted on the internet between the original dates from Saturday, September 12, to Saturday, September 26, thanks to support from the Arts Council of Wales and festival sponsors including the Pendine Park care organisation.

A launch concert to announce this year’s virtual event went down well with festival fans with the audience tuning in from as far afield as America. So far the concert has been viewed by 3,000 – 10 times the size of the usual audience. The musical aperitif for the festival was provided by six sopranos collectively known as Castor Voices.

Among those lined up to star as part of the festival in September are Sheku and Isata Kanneh-Mason, Australian guitarist Craig Ogden, stunning vocal group Voces8, piano virtuoso Luke Jones from Wrexham, the festival’s orchestra in residence NEW Sinfonia and the renowned trio Awen Celtica with folk band VRï.

According to artistic director Ann Atkinson, organising the 2020 virtual festival has been an interesting but enjoyable challenge.

She said: “We launched the festival with a virtual concert and had a live audience of 300 including some international viewers from the United States of America. The concert, which is still available to view on our website and social media pages, has been accessed 3,000 times already which is amazing. It seems having to hold a virtual festival has opened the door to a wider audience and presented us with an unexpected opportunity.”

“We have, as ever, an exciting line-up for this year’s festival. The theme was to be Visions but we have decided to rename it Visions from Afar, in recognition of the fact that it will be a virtual festival. We are very fortunate to be screening a piano and cello concert by Sheku and Isata Kanneh-Mason, two of seven siblings who all play either the violin, piano or cello. This will be a virtual concert not to be missed if you enjoy classical music and the highest standard of playing.”

“There will be virtual concerts featuring folk music by Awen Celtica and VRï, and a Côr Cytgan Clwyd concert with solo performances by Tesni Jones, Lisa Dafydd, Stephen Dafydd and Dafydd Jones. We will also have our resident orchestra, NEW Sinfonia, performing a virtual concert. The hope is we can record a smaller orchestral ensemble of 18 musicians performing, socially distanced of course, inside the cathedral. If that’s not possible then we will record and film the ensemble outside playing around the cathedral grounds. We will be doing the best we can under all the circumstances.”

“Harpist Bethan Griffiths will perform a Vision of Locations virtual performance along with poetry by Aled Lewis Evans. The fact this year will be a virtual festival does not mean community concerts, choral workshops and education projects have been cancelled. We will be recording community concerts aimed specifically at care homes, schools and community groups.”

“And chamber music Morning Coffee Concerts with Ensemble Cymru, NEW Sinfonia and Canolfan Gerdd William Mathias will be broadcast at 11am. Everyone will be able to tune in online to watch and listen. We will also be broadcasting discussion podcasts with musical clips featuring composer Paul Mealor alongside Bishop Gregory and Grahame Davies, and Choral Vision podcasts with Welsh National Opera and the Festival Community Chorus.”

“Our education projects are an important feature of every festival and this year is no exception. We will be running virtual steps in music classes, Camau Cerdd with Canolfan Gerdd William Mathias, for babies and children up to aged seven. We will also be working with St Asaph’s Ysgol Esgob Morgan on a recycled orchestra project alongside NEW Sinfonia players as well as artwork sessions. There will also be an instrumental project with NEW Sinfonia players and North Wales Music Services tutors.”

“I’m really happy and excited about this year’s festival programme. Under the circumstances we have done what we can and I really do believe the internet opens doors and allows us to reach a wider audience and will hopefully encourage people to join us at St Asaph Cathedral next year when we hopefully return to some sort of normality.”