Royal composer returns home for Welsh premiere of new concerto

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A new work by royal composer Paul Mealor premieres at a premier music festival.

The concerto written by Professor Mealor, one of the world’s most performed living composers, who grew up in Connah’s Quay, was jointly commissioned by the North wales International music festival.

The event is taking place in a hybrid format for the very first time this year and resumes virtually later this month.

Organizers say the support of the Arts Council of Wales and festival sponsors has been crucial in moving the hybrid event forward.

The main sponsors are the arts loving care organization Pendine Park through the Pendine Arts and Community Trust which supports arts and community activities across Wales.

Professor Mealor, who divides his time between composing and teaching at Aberdeen University, wrote the piano concerto after being jointly commissioned by the festival and the JAM on the Marsh Festival in Kent.

The concerto was first performed to a live audience at the festival’s traditional home, St Asaph Cathedral, last month to a sold-out audience.

It was filmed and will play an important role in the festival which will resume as an online festival, starting November 15, with free concerts to watch.

Paul, taking a short break between writing musical pieces for several television productions, said he was delighted to hear the concerto performed in the cathedral by pianist John Frederick Hudson and NEW Sinfonia conducted by Robert Guy.

The concerto, Paul’s second, is a long movement, lasting just over twenty minutes and subdivided into three sections.

He said: “The room is a landscape piece and moves very slowly. He plots a day really starting with sunrise and there’s a storm in the middle and gradually it gets more complicated as the piece goes on.

“The end is so difficult to play that there is nothing else to do but stop.

“People should listen to the unusual things in it. There is a lot of percussion.

Paul added that there was also an unusual instrument, a flexatone, played in the concerto.

“It’s a metal instrument that makes a strange sound. It is a small flexible sheet of metal suspended in a wire frame ending in a handle and its sound is comparable to that of a musical saw, ”he explained.

Howling seagulls are however created by the cellists playing a harmonic glissando effect on one of the four-string instruments.

Paul commented: “During the performance in the cathedral, there were people turning around to see if they were inside the building. “

He studied composition from an early age and received lessons from another royal composer, Professor William Mathias, founder of the North wales International music festival, half a century ago.

Paul said he would visit the professor at his home in Bangor and often meet Aled Jones, the soprano boy turned TV presenter, on the doorstep.

“Aled was receiving singing lessons from the teacher’s wife, Yvonne, who was a world-class opera singer. We got to know each other pretty well, ”he said.

Paul’s connection to the North wales International Music Festival also dates back many years. He stood beside Professor Mathias as he performed his piano concerto himself, turning the pages of music as needed.

“I was delighted to have been commissioned to write this piece and I was delighted when it was performed in St. Asaph Cathedral, which has absolutely fantastic acoustics,” he said.

Among the sold-out crowd that evening were his parents and other family members.

Festival artistic director Ann Atkinson said the live performance was “spellbinding” and was performed “as it should” in front of a live audience.

“NEW Sinfonia gave a wonderful performance and John Frederick Hudson gave an electrifying take on the piece.

“We were delighted to commission the concerto in conjunction with JAM in the Marsh and delighted to have been able to give Paul, his family and the audience the opportunity to hear it perform live.

“I’m sure it will be just as good to hear the recording when it airs as part of this year’s hybrid event.”

Paul rose to prominence ten years ago when one of his compositions, Ubi Caritas, featured at the wedding of Prince William and Catherine Middleton.

He attended a wedding rehearsal at Westminster Abbey in London, but watched the event himself on television with his parents on Anglesey. The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Charles later wrote to Paul thanking him for his work. He also received two pieces of wedding cake in a special box from the couple.

Paul went on to compose the song “Wherever You Are”, which became number one for Christmas 2011 in the UK Singles Chart and also composed an opera, three symphonies, a concerto for euphonium and chamber music.

Recently his music was heard in the BBC One wildlife series Wonders of the Celtic Deep. Her atmospheric music mixed with dramatic scenes filmed by expert naturalists and voiced by veteran actress Dame Sian Phillips.

Ann Atkinson said recordings of the orchestral concert and others performed in the cathedral will be available online, along with a series of other performances recorded elsewhere.

She said these included performances by the BBC National Orchestra of Wales which were recorded at Hoddinott Hall at the Wales Millennium Center in Cardiff.

Acclaimed pianist Iwan Llewelyn Jones recorded pieces for the festival at Bangor University’s Neuadd Powis on their new Steinway piano and folk singer and harpist Gwenan Gibbard recorded several recently rediscovered Welsh folk songs at Sain Studios near Caernarfon. The St Asaph Cathedral Choir and the London Tango Quintet are among the other performers.

For more information on the resumption of North wales International Online Music Festival with free concerts to watch from November 15th, please visit www.nwimf.com

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