© John Liston 2019

World premiere to celebrate music festival’s 50th year

A top music festival will mark its 50th year with the world premiere of a new work to celebrate its illustrious history.

The piece written by Jon Guy will be featured in one of two concerts in May which will be curtain raisers for the North Wales International Music Festival, which in normal times is held at St Asaph Cathedral.

Like the main event last September, the concerts will be staged online – with the premiere of the music called ‘Shining Dawn’ happening at 7.30pm on Saturday, May 8.

At the same time the day before, the globally-renowned choir Tenebrae will be delighting the festival audience.

For those who fail to tune in on the night both concerts will be available to view on the festival’s website www.nwimf.com for 30 days afterwards.

There will not be a ticket charge but viewers will be invited to donate to festival funds.

The festival was founded by royal composer William Mathias, one of Wales’ greatest composers, who was Professor and Head of the Department of Music at Bangor University between 1970-88.

In 1981, Professor Mathias 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.

He chose St Asaph Cathedral as the venue because of its excellent acoustic qualities which, according to the festival’s current artistic director, Ann Atkinson, are better than Sydney Opera House.

Jon Guy’s new work, called ‘Shining Dawn’, will also showcase the talent of the festival’s resident orchestra, NEW Sinfonia, that’s based in Wrexham. The orchestra was founded by Jon, who is also a talented clarinetist, and his brother, Robert, the artistic director and conductor.

As well as ‘Shining Dawn’ the orchestra concert programme also includes Lyric for Strings by African American composer George Walker, written in tribute to his grandmother.

This is the fourth time Jon Guy has written for the North Wales International Music Festival and he was delighted to be asked to compose the piece celebrating its golden jubilee.

Jon, 31, said: “I was inspired by the idea of how water glistens on the horizon as early morning sun shines on it. I thought of someone maybe sitting high on a hilltop looking down at the shimmering water and I have tried to reflect in the music the way the light plays on the rippling waves.”

His brother Robert takes the baton for the piece which was recorded at St Asaph Cathedral.

Due to social distancing limits on musicians recording and performing during the pandemic the concert orchestra had to be spaced two meters apart and consists of nine violinists, three viola players, three cellists, two double bass and one harp.

Robert, who has guest conducted with orchestras all over the world, is Director of Ensembles and Choral Programme at the University of Manchester and leads their elite undergraduate conducting programme.

He and Jonathan have a lifelong shared passion for music and he said he is very proud of his brother’s latest musical creation and to be conducting its world premiere. He said: “It is a truly inspirational piece and one which conveys a sense of hope as we emerge from the dark times of the pandemic.”

The NEW Sinfonia concert runs for about 30 minutes and also includes works by Elgar, Vaughan Williams and Karl Jenkins.

The Tenebrae concert is another coup for the festival. Artistic Director Ann Atkinson said: “Their music is exquisite and admired by audiences the world over. The choir last performed at St Asaph in about 2005 and we have long looked forward to collaborating with them again. This concert was recorded especially for us in London but we are ever hopeful that they will be able to return to St Asaph in person.”

Tenebrae general manager Alexandra Davies said the concert was recorded at the St Jude-on-the-Hill Church in Hampstead on Easter bank holiday Monday.

She said: “We are very excited to be working with the North Wales International Music Festival and especially in such a momentous year. We’re delighted to join in its 50th anniversary celebrations at a time when we are also just coming up for our 20th anniversary.”

The choir was founded in 2001 by Nigel Short, previously a member of the famous King’s Singers. Its concert programme includes Nigel’s own arrangement of the American folk song The Dying Soldier, and several pieces by choral favourites Eric Whitacre and Bob Chilcott.

Ann Atkinson said: “We are able to present these wonderful concerts thanks to financial help from the Wales Cultural Recovery Fund support for the arts. But given the ongoing pandemic restrictions on performances it is as important as ever to raise funds to ensure the festival’s continued success for another 50 years.”

The festival went virtual last year, being hosted fully online for the time in its history as a result of the COVID-19 crisis.

Ann said: “This year things are still very much up in the air and dependent on the status of the pandemic over coming weeks and months. The festival format remains uncertain but it is highly likely that a number of our events will again be online.”

She added: “Going online last year gave the festival access to a global audience with viewers worldwide tuning into our concerts and workshops, prompting some fantastic feedback. It was a great morale booster given the difficult times we were all embroiled in. But we are ever conscious of our audiences closer to home and how much they love to come to St Asaph Cathedral and enjoy the live musical experience in such beautiful surroundings.”