A new work by a royal composer about the death of Rudyard Kipling’s son in the First World War will have its world premiere in North Wales.
The poignant piece by Professor Paul Mealor, who was brought up in Connah’s Quay in Flintshire, will be performed in St Asaph Cathedral as part of the North Wales International Music Festival on Saturday, September 15.
It’s been inspired by Kipling’s poem, My Boy Jack, which will be narrated by Welsh poet, author and broadcaster Aled Lewis Evans.
The heart-breaking story was featured in the acclaimed 2007 film, My Boy Jack, with Harry Potter star Daniel Radcliffe in the title role.
It tells how 17-year-old Jack Kipling, the writer and poet’s only son, was initially rejected by the Royal Navy because of his poor eyesight.
After Kipling used his influence, Jack went to war and perished on his 18th birthday leading his platoon over the top during the Battle of Loos – something for which Kipling never forgave himself.
The festival, which runs from Saturday, September 15, to Sunday, September 30, is being supported by the Arts Council of Wales and Tŷ Cerdd.
Appropriately, the theme this year is Reflections which was chosen to remember the centenary of the end of the First World War.
Professor Mealor, who was born in St Asaph, has a long association with the festival and was a protégé of the event’s founder, Professor William Mathias.
He gained global fame after writing a choral piece, Ubi Caritas, for the 2011 wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton and later wrote the chart-topping Military Wives Christmas number one.
According to Prof Mealor, he’s always been fascinated by Kipling’s haunting poem.
He said: “It’s a tragic story. Kipling had a young son, John, who tried to sign up for the Royal Navy at the very start of World War One but was refused as his eyesight was so poor.
“John asked his father to pull a few strings to get him in and he reluctantly agreed and John was eventually allowed to enlist. However, he was killed almost immediately upon arrival at the front line.
“I don’t think Kipling ever forgave himself and although the subject of My Boy Jack is a sailor, or Jack Tar, and the poem was published as a prelude to a story in his book Sea Warfare, it’s clear Kipling was emotionally influenced by the tragic death of his son.
“He only had one son along with a daughter; and the loss of his son was something he never recovered from. For me, the poem, in many ways, sums up what the First World War was all about.”
The new work will be performed by players from the festival’s resident orchestra NEW Sinfonia.
Prof Mealor added:
“It’s been written for violin, viola, cello and piano and it’s an emotionally charged piece of music although only two stanzas in length.
“The narrator will speak the words rather than sing and it was important the music was written in such a way as not to detract from the words or interfere with the narration.
“I had to really think about the poem and the words and write the music to complement the message. It certainly wasn’t an easy task but I hope the St Asaph audience enjoys it. I do believe it’s a moving and thoughtful piece.”
He added: “I always enjoy visiting St Asaph and the North Wales International Music Festival, it’s an event I try not to miss.
“Having My Boy Jack’s world premiere in St Asaph will be a real highlight. It’s an evening I’m really looking forward to.”
The festival’s artistic director, Ann Atkinson, said: “No matter how successful Paul Mealor is he has never forgotten his roots. He began his musical journey at St Asaph and was a cathedral choir boy. It’s always a magical occasion when we are able to enjoy a world premiere at the Festival.
“My Boy Jack will be an emotional work and the fact we have the celebrated Welsh poet, author and broadcaster Aled Lewis Evans narrating the poem it really is a concert not to be missed.
“Along with the NEW Sinfonia players the concert will also feature Côr Glanaethwy and Telynau Clwyd from Canolfan Gerdd William Mathias and we will enjoy pieces by composers such as Olivier Messiaen, Gustav Mahler, Karl Jenkins, Brian Hughes, Caryl Parry Jones and Leonard Cohen. It will be an amazing opening concert.”
She added: “I’m delighted with the line-up for this year’s festival. We have a concert entitled Hymn to the Fallen, a programme of remembrance to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Armistice, featuring the popular vocal group Voces8.
“International pianist Freddy Kempf will perform a concert of music by Chopin and Rachmaninov and will also perform Ravel’s Le Tombeau de Couperin, which was written in 1917 and is dedicated to friends that perished in the Great War.
“Our community chorus will perform with Welsh National Opera and we have another world premiere, Materna Requiem, by composer Rebecca Dale.
“Reflections is a concert featuring soprano Elin Manahan Thomas, pianist Jocelyn Freeman and Family Affair. We also have an orchestral concert with NEW Sinfonia, which will include a performance of Smile, Smile, Smile with our instrumental workshop students as well as the Elgar cello concerto with celebrated cellist Raphael Wallfisch.
“Smile, Smile, Smile is based on the wartime song Pack up your Troubles which was written by two St Asaph-born young men, George and Felix Powell. George sang in the choir at St Asaph Cathedral while Felix played the organ.
“Reflections of Love is a concert that will see two artists, jazz singer Jacqui Dankworth and classical guitarist Craig Ogden perform a magical concert together.
“It’s going to be a very special festival this year.”
Tickets are available online, from Theatr Clwyd, Mold – 01352 701521 or Cathedral Frames, 28 High Street, St Asaph – 01745 582929. To find out more about the North Wales International Music Festival please visit www.nwimf.com.