An internationally renowned pianist swapped Sydney Opera House for a care home in North Wales where he gave a stirring recital for residents.
Iwan Llewelyn-Jones, hailed as one of the finest pianists of his generation, went down a storm at Pendine Park’s Bryn Seiont Newydd centre of excellence for dementia care in Caernarfon.
He’s a popular performer at some of the world’s most prestigious concert halls including the iconic landmark venue overlooking the harbour in Sydney.
The visit to Bryn Seiont was originally due to take place in 2020 as a thank you to Pendine Park for sponsoring the Wales International Piano Festival via the Pendine Arts and Community Trust which supports arts and community activities.
Organised every four years by Canolfan Gerdd William Mathias (CGWM) the festival comprises concerts, competitions, masterclasses, workshops, lectures and interviews with guest artists.
A packed music room of residents and staff enjoyed an hour-long concert by the Anglesey-born pianist, who is the festival’s Artistic Director and also Director of Performance at Bangor University.
He played popular classics and hymns during which some of the residents joined in. There were tears of joy and of sadness as residents recognised some of the melodies from their past.
They were captivated by Iwan’s special arrangements of Dafydd y Garreg Wen. the Welsh musical air and folk song which is believed to have been composed by David Owen, a harpist and composer who lived near Porthmadog when he was on his death bed in 1741. The words were added more than 100 years later by the poet John Ceiriog Hughes.
Iwan’s version included elements of well-known pieces by other composers including Beethoven’s Moonlight sonata.
He also played a special arrangement of the Welsh folk song Ar Lan y Môr.
Iwan said he was pleased to have been able to visit the care home and told the audience: “I have enjoyed being here and I hope you enjoyed it as well. It is the first time I have been to Bryn Seiont Newydd but I can promise you it won’t be the last time.
“There are wonderful facilities here and the music room has wonderful views towards the Llŷn Peninsula.
Resident David Edwards, who hails from Dolwyddelan and was a police officer in Blaenau Ffestiniog, told Iwan he had been a member of Côr y Brythoniaid for many years and still enjoyed singing.
“I’m sure I speak for everyone here when I say that we are all grateful that Iwan made the time to come here and show us how to play the piano properly,” he said.
Another resident. Anthony Richards, who lived in Beaumaris, added: “I like listening to all music and could have listened to this piano playing for hours.”
Sylvia Hughes said she knew the words to many of the songs and said the event was “wonderful”.
Nia Davies Williams, Bryn Seiont’s musician in residence, was pleased Iwan had finally been able to visit the care home.
“The Covid-19 pandemic meant we had to postpone all manner of events and Iwan’s visit was one I was looking forward to very much.
“Music is very important to the residents of Bryn Seiont Newydd and they are as entitled as anyone else to enjoy seeing and hearing the piano playing of an acclaimed pianist such as Iwan.
“It was a magical afternoon,” she said.
It was a sentiment endorse by Bryn Seiont manager Sandra Evans who said: “The arts are an important, life-enriching part of daily life her and at all of Pendine’s other care homes to.
“It was a real treat for the residents and staff to have the opportunity to enjoy a captivating performance by Iwan.”
Born and raised in Amlwch where his parents ran a chemist’s shop, Iwan is a graduate of the University of Oxford and the Royal College of Music where he won several awards and competitions for both academic and pianistic excellence. He holds a doctorate in performance and musicology from Cardiff University.
His repertoire is wide-ranging incorporating keyboard music from the Baroque era to the present day. He has a special affinity with 19thC and 20thC French music and recently released a CD of solo works entitled ‘French Portraits’. In addition he is actively involved in promoting new music. Composers who have written works especially for him include Alun Hoddinott, John Metcalf, John Pickard, Pwyll ap Sion, Karl Jenkins and Lowell Liebermann.
Iwan appears regularly on television and radio and has been the recipient of several awards and honours, including the Sir Geraint Evans Award in recognition of his significant contribution to Welsh music.
He hopes the next Wales International Piano Festival will be staged at Galeri Caernarfon in just over two years’ time and plans for it are currently being drawn up.