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Raft of world premieres at top music festival in North Wales

Afro Cluster

A remarkable 15 world premieres will be performed at a top music festival in North Wales.

Some of the pieces have been especially commissioned by critically acclaimed Bangor Music Festival and many have been written by young composers based in Wales.

The event which focuses mainly on contemporary music has been a cultural highlight on the city’s calendar for nearly a quarter of a century.

This year it will be staged mainly at the Pontio Arts Centre at Bangor University from Thursday, February 15, to Sunday, February 18.

Artistic Director Guto Pryderi Puw, who has been involved with the festival since it was launched in 2000, said the theme of the 2024 festival is New Music, New Experiences.

In addition to a series of major concerts, it also features a range of discussions, lectures, workshops and educational projects.

Launching the programme for 2024 Guto, a Reader in Music Composition at Bangor University’s Department of Music, Drama and Performance, said: “The new compositions will be performed during our main concerts in Theatr Bryn Terfel at Pontio on February 17 and 18.

“They promise to be exciting concerts with a range of musical styles being performed for the first time.”

The main concert on Saturday, February 17, will feature three brand new works.

Guto said the pieces, Motet IV – Accidental Activists by Richard Baker, The day following by Lynne Plowman and Nathan James Dearden’s The Wind Sweepers were commissioned for the festival by UPROAR, Wales’ main new music ensemble.

“These are three new bold compositions, inspired by, and responding to contemporary life in Wales by three very exciting composers working and living in Wales,” said Guto.

The concert, which starts at 7.30pm, also features music by well-known American composer John Adams’ Son of Chamber Symphony and Symphonie Diagonale by Austrian female composer, Olga Neuwirth.

Beforehand there will be a pre-concert talk with the three commissioned composers in the company of festival chair, Rhiannon Mathias.

Earlier in the day pieces written by emerging composers feature in a lunchtime concert at Pontio’s Studio theatre.

The pieces will be showcased by an ensemble from Canolfan Gerdd William Mathias (William Mathias Music Centre) and will include festival commissions by Aberystwyth born Niamh O’Donnell titled Gratitude and Cardiff-based Tayla-Leigh Payne’s piece, Polarity.

Guto said Niamh and Tayla’s compositions will be accompanied by new music by Gwydion Rhys, from Rachub, near Bangor, and the late Welsh composer Hillary Tann alongside two pieces selected from the call for scores for the William Mathias Composition Prize.

“Gwydion is a student at the Royal College of Music in London where he is studying composition with Alison Kay and the piece to be played at the festival is the one he won the Composer’s Medal at the Urdd National Eisteddfod at Llandovery, Carmarthenshire last May.

“He is also a fine cellist and is a former pupil of Canolfan Gerdd William Mathias,” he said, “and it’s great that the Centre is continuing his musical development, but this time focusing on his creative side rather than his performance!”

Later in the afternoon young talented performers currently at Canolfan Gerdd William Mathias will be performing an eclectic mix of music for soloists and ensembles in Pontio’s Bar Ffynnon.

Also during the afternoon and in various public spaces in the Pontio building, the Bangor New Music Ensemble will present new music by Bangor University student composers.

On Sunday, February 18, Electroacoustic Wales will take part in a live performance in Theatr Bryn Terfel at Pontio with the Sound and Image Research Centre at London’s University of Greenwich and Luxi Tian, a PhD student at Bangor University, who plays the Guzheng, a Chinese plucked zither.

The concert, which starts at 3pm, will also feature the World Premiere of Jo Thomas’ work, Cascade Infinity, commissioned by the festival.

Guto said Jo Thomas is a successful composer, sound artist, producer and performer who works primarily with electronic sound.

He said: “She often works with recorded sounds and creatively manipulate them into an interesting collage that is performed through an immersive PA system. Her inspiration often uses emotive thematic elements, such as feelings or personal reactions.

“For this year’s festival she has collaborated with Luxi Tian who plays the Guzheng, a traditional Chinese instrument, and will focus on writing a piece for meditation and relaxation that involves the wonderful sounds of the traditional instrument and some atmospheric electronic sounds.”

Guto added Jo, who is now based in London but hails from Bangor, studied music at Bangor University where she gained a Masters degree.

Earlier in the day, Electroacoustic Wales, directed by Andrew Lewis, will present a selection of pieces written by Bangor University student composers. This hour-long concert starts at 12.30pm

The festival’s opening concert on Thursday, February 15 features Cardiff-based Afro Cluster who will join local ensemble Banda Bacana in an evening of music from two continents that is inspired by African music and Samba rhythms.

Staged cabaret style at Pontio’s Theatr Bryn Terfel Guto said the auditorium seats will be replaced by tables and chairs but with plenty of space for dancing, which is encouraged.

“Banda Bacana’s music is great for dancing and the cabaret style setting will make it more of a gig than a formal concert,” he said. “They have a great local following and their set is always lively and full of rhythmic energy.”

During the festival Marie-Claire Howorth will host sessions introducing music to children aged six months to three years old and later with four to seven year olds. These sessions are staged in collaboration with Canolfan Gerdd William Mathias. Also, Ash Cooke will host an improvisation workshop as part of the Tŷ Cerdd’s Off-Grid activities.

In addition the festival will stage a day of workshops for local schools in early February.

Guto said local musicians Dewi Ellis Jones (percussionist) and Mared Emlyn (harpist) will offer Anglesey secondary school pupils “an eclectic mix of new music” in their composition and performance workshops.