The story of bees travelling across the Irish Sea has inspired new work from two renowned virtuosos who will be performing together at a music festival.
Welsh harpist and composer Catrin Finch and award-winning Irish violinist Aoife Ní Bhríain will take centre stage at the North Wales International Music Festival (NWIMF) at a concert at St Asaph Cathedral on Friday, September 29.
The formidable virtuoso duo will be among the star attractions at this year’s festival that’s on from Friday, September 15 to Saturday, September 30.
It’s all been made possible thanks to the support of the Arts Council of Wales, Colwinston Charitable Trust and the festival’s headline sponsor, the Pendine Arts and Community Trust (PACT), that was set up by the Pendine Park care organisation to provide funding for arts and community activities. Other sponsors include Arts & Business Cymru and Tŷ Cerdd.
The festival’s Artistic Director, Ann Atkinson, who is stepping down from her role after this year’s event, said: “Catrin has appeared many times at the festival and each performance has been truly memorable and that is why I was keen to invite her back for what will be my last North Wales International Music Festival as Artistic Director.
“She and Aoife will perform pieces from their forthcoming debut album, Double You, which features a collection of new compositions that draw inspiration from various genres, taking listeners on a captivating journey on the wings of the bees across the Irish Sea and inspired by the cultures of their home countries.
“Running through their stories – as individual creatives, remarkable women, and now as an inspirational duo – are universal themes of identity, self-belief and the courage to find yourself and follow your own path.”
Catrin and Aoife first linked-up for an online festival during the pandemic lockdown and discovered a professional and personal affinity.
“The journey across the sea between Ireland and Wales has been done for many hundreds of years and I’m sure the music travelled with it and so these links have been created across centuries and you hear it in the music.
“When you bring together musicians that’s when you can really join together two different nations in two different places.
“We called upon our traditional music, a wealth of beautiful Welsh songs and melodies and Aoife obviously knows every Irish song that exists so when we first got together we explored and merged these two different cultures,” said Catrin.
Aoife Ní Bhriain added: “Traditional music is really all about collaboration, it’s like a musical conversation, we’re chatting through the music about all the things we’ve played before and what we’re about to play next.
“We’re drawing on all the influences we have, our worlds are just kind of colliding and we’re creating this new language out of it.”
Born in Dublin, to a family of musicians, Aoife Ní Bhriain has established herself as one of the most versatile musicians of her generation and has played with a host of leading orchestras, including the Royal Philharmonic and the Royal Chamber Orchestra.
Aoife has a particular interest in solo violin works and curated a performance on the solo violin works of J.S. Bach and the improvisations of acclaimed Dublin fiddle player and soloist Tommie Potts.
She plays a violin by 18th century Parisian instrument maker Jean Baptiste Vuillaume and a Jurgen Manthey violin made in Germany.
Catrin Finch hails from Llanon, south of Aberystwyth, Ceredigion, and studied harp with Elinor Bennett from an early age.
During the 1990s, Finch won several competitions for young harpists including the Nansi Richards Prize and the Blue Riband at the National Eisteddfod.
She was the first Official Harpist to the Prince of Wales when King Charles III, the then Prince of Wales, revived a tradition of having a Welsh harpist in 2000.
In addition to her performing career Catrin Finch is visiting professor at the Royal Welsh College of Music & Drama, Cardiff and the Royal Academy of Music in London.
The theme of the festival this year is Horizons as the festival moves into a new era and the closing concert, on Saturday, September 30, will take the form of a farewell to Ann.
It will feature the NEW Sinfonia, the NEW Voices Community Choir and soloists Lisa Dafydd and Dafydd Jones. Also taking part will be Ann, an accomplished mezzo-soprano, and her husband Kevin Sharp, baritone.
“This orchestral concert will include the young instrumentalists from our Instrumental Project and a bit of Opera and favourite pieces. The programme will include our 2013 Commission by Paul Mealor ‘A Welsh Prayer’ and a follow up new commission from Paul Mealor for 2023 ‘A Welsh Blessing’,” said Ann.
The talented vocal ensemble, Tenebrae, who have performed at the festival twice before, will star in the opening concert on Friday, September 15.
Acclaimed Manchester-based acoustic quartet Kabantu aim to ‘celebrate the spaces where different cultures meet’ with their eclectic, folk-inspired original music at a concert on Thursday, 21 September.
On Saturday, September 23, NEW Sinfonia will be joined in concert by American violinist Tai Murray and Welsh pianist Teleri–Siân.
Canadian-born pianist Janina Fialkowska will perform a recital featuring pieces by Schubert, Brahms and Chopin, on Thursday, September 28.
In addition, there will be an extensive programme of daytime concerts and other events, including a “dementia friendly and inclusive concert”, a “Schools” concert and a “Tots” concert all with musicians from Live Music Now Cymru.
There will be morning concerts with classical guitarist Jonathan Richards and Ensemble Cymru, who will present a Chamber Music programme with poetry by Aled Lewis Evans, and there will be various masterclasses and workshops.
Tickets and further details about the festival programme are available online at www.nwimf.com. Tickets also available from Cathedral Frames, St Asaph – 01745 582929 (Weds – Fri, 10 – 4) and Theatr Clwyd by phone – 01352 344101 (Mon – Sat, 10 – 6).