Globally successful composer Robat honoured on home turf


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The work of a composer whose song helped achieve a Guinness World Record for the fastest selling debut album in the UK will be celebrated at a music festival.

Robat Arwyn, from Ruthin, wrote the music for a song called Benedictus on an album by three Irish Catholic priests backed by the Vatican Choir which went on to be an international hit in 30 countries, selling two million copies.

His work as a composer, conductor and pianist will be honoured at a special concert at the North Wales International Music Festival at St Asaph Cathedral at 7.30pm on Saturday, September 23.

The concert, that’s being sponsored by the award-winning construction company, Jones Bros Civil Engineering UK whose head office is in Ruthin, will feature the renowned tenor Rhys Meirion who will also take on the role of interviewer.

The aim is to give the audience an insight into Robat’s musical journey, that started with the composition of a choral symphony while at college, up to his latest commission, writing a piece of music for cello and piano.

The festival, which starts on Saturday, September 16, and ends on Saturday, September 30, is being supported by the Arts Council of Wales, Tŷ Cerdd and the Colwinston Charitable Trust.

Among the other stars of the festival will be singers from Welsh National Opera with the newly formed Festival Community Chorus, vocal group VOCES8, the Aquarelle Guitar Quartet, baroque instrumentalists Red Priest, violinist Ye-Eun Choi, Ensemble Cymru, the National Youth Brass Band of Wales and Italian pianist Federico Colli.

The resident orchestra is NEW Sinfonia which was established by brothers Robert and Jonathan Guy who were regulars at the festival’s masterclasses and workshops when they were younger.

According to Robat, 57, who is set to retire early from his job as Principal Librarian with Denbighshire County Council, it’s a huge honour to have been asked to share his music at the festival.

Robat, who hails from Talysarn in the Nantlle Valley, said: “I suppose my greatest successes have come from commissions for new works for the likes of Sir Bryn Terfel. I prefer to get the words from lyricists or poets and then write the music. Although I do write lyrics myself too.

“I was given some words by Hywel Gwynfryn in 2003 called Arfonaf Angel (Guardian Angel). I composed a piece but quite frankly I didn’t like it and shelved it.

“Then, in 2008, I was commissioned to write a song for Sir Bryn Terfel. I remembered Arfonaf Angel and dug out the words. It only took me 20 minutes to rewrite the music, that’s just how it goes sometimes. The song was recorded by Sir Bryn.

“Since then it’s also been recorded by Rhys Meirion, Lisa Angharad and around 70 Welsh choirs. Arfonaf Angel is by far my biggest Welsh success so far.”

But Robat has also enjoyed international success with his work.

He explained: “I wrote a song, again for Sir Bryn Terfel, called Benedictus which Sir Bryn recorded as a duet with Rhys Meirion. This was in 2005.

“I then got a call in 2008 from an agent of The Priests, three Irish Catholic priests, who told me they wanted to record it for their eponymous debut album.

“But when I was told they were recording the song and were being backed on it by the Vatican Choir along with the Irish Film Orchestra, I had to pinch myself. I couldn’t sleep to be quite honest it was that exciting.”

He added: “The album was released initially in Ireland in November 2008 and has since been released worldwide in more than 30 countries. Actually The Priests managed to scoop a Guinness World Record for the fastest-selling UK debut for a classical act.

“The album went on to turn seven times platinum in Ireland, selling more than a million copies, as well as going platinum in the UK, Sweden and Norway and going gold in New Zealand, Canada and Spain. In the US it was at Number 2 in the Classical chart for a long time.

“The album is still selling today and has sold more than two million copies. I wrote just one song on the album but that has been by far my biggest commercial success outside of Wales.”

Arwyn says his musical journey has led him along a long road since his days studying composition at Cardiff University under Professor Alun Hoddinott.

He said: “After I completed my degree I went onto Aberystwyth University for a year to study librarianship and started working for Denbighshire County Council in 1981. But I’m taking early retirement so I can concentrate on my music and composing.

“I’ve been balancing two roles now for too long. There was a time when I could write music until 2am and go to work the next day but not anymore I’m afraid, I’m getting too long in the tooth! I compose a number of nights each week and some days but I need to really devote my time to writing music now.”

He added: “It really was a huge honour when Ann Atkinson, the artistic director of the North Wales International Music Festival, invited me to share my music and musical journey with the festival audience.

“I’m really looking forward to the evening. I’ll have my wife, Mari, son Guto and daughter Elan there with me. In fact my wife and son are both members of Cȏr Rhuthun so they will be performing on the night at St Asaph and I’ll be conducting them as the choir’s music director.

“I’m also excited to have the school choir from Ysgol Pen Barras in Ruthin taking part in the concert.”

Ann Atkinson was delighted that Robat agreed to showcase his work at this year’s festival.

She said: “The theme of this year’s festival is Journeys and Robat Arwyn’s personal musical journey is a story that needs telling. His compositions and songs have been recorded by so many top artists and I don’t think people are aware of his success with songs like Benedictus.

“To have written a song that has been included on an album that’s gone gold and platinum around the world is amazing.

“Of course, while we welcome artists to St Asaph from around the globe we should remember Robat is one of our own and has lived and worked in North Wales for many years.

“It’s going to be one of many highlights during a truly wonderful and amazing festival.”

To find out more about the North Wales International Music Festival please visit www.nwimf.com. Tickets are available online and from Theatr Clwyd on 01352 701521 or Cathedral Frames in St Asaph on 01745 582929.

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