A Flintshire composer whose song made history at the coronation of King Charles is following in the footsteps of his lifelong hero to take the reins of a globally renowned music festival.
Paul Mealor, who was born in St Asaph and raised in Connah’s Quay, has been appointed as the new Artistic Director of the North Wales International Music Festival which was established by his mentor, Professor William Mathias.
He will be taking over from the acclaimed mezzo soprano, Ann Atkinson, who is stepping down after 20 successful years at the helm.
One of Paul’s big ambitions is for the festival to become a multi-arts hub with a ‘fringe’ running alongside the main concerts.
William Mathias, who was Professor of Music at Bangor University, was a Welsh cultural icon who began playing the piano aged three and composing music aged five, becoming an eminent composer of choral works and opera.
He founded the festival at St Asaph Cathedral in 1972 and directed it until his death, aged 57, in 1992. Such was his love of the festival that he’s buried in the cathedral’s cemetery.
As a student Paul studied with William Mathias and cites him as being the person who inspired his career in music and particularly his love of large scale choral compositions.
He said: “I sang in the Cathedral Choir as a kid and went to the festival right from my ninth birthday in 1984. So, next year will be a 40-year association as performer, audience member, composer and latterly as a Vice-President of the Festival.”
He says he can’t wait to further the vision of his champion, having already emulated him in composing music for royalty.
William Mathias famously wrote the anthem, Let the people praise Thee, O God, for the 1981 royal wedding of the then Prince and Princess of Wales, which had a TV audience of a billion people worldwide.
A generation later Paul was catapulted to international stardom in 2011, when 2.5 billion people – the largest audience in broadcasting history – heard his Motet, Ubi caritas performed by the choirs of Westminster Abbey and Her Majesty’s Chapel Royal, at the Royal Wedding Ceremony of Prince William and Catherine Middleton at Westminster Abbey.
In May of this year his song, Coronation Kyrie, was performed by opera star Sir Bryn Terfel at the coronation of King Charles, making history as the first-ever Welsh language song at a royal coronation.
Paul said: “As a composer myself, I really understand how and why William Mathias founded the festival and what it meant to him as it does to me.
“He is a true musical hero of mine and did so much for Welsh music and music in North Wales. His intellect and sense of joy with, and in, music was terrific and he had a great personality too which shines in his compositions.
“When I was growing up, the festival was the only place you could hear world-class classical musicians. That was the first place that I ever heard a professional orchestra live. And it is still one of the few places in North Wales where you can hear a professional orchestra in the flesh, so to speak.
“It was indeed the inspiration for my own musical career and I hope in future years it can help similarly inspire other young musicians locally and further afield.”
Despite his career taking him away from North Wales, Paul never lost his links with the festival and in 2013 both he and William’s daughter Rhiannon Mathias were appointed as Vice-Presidents.
He added: “I am keen to extend the reach of the festival to include people who have never been before or may not have thought it was/is for them.
“I hope to create a ‘festival fringe’ engaging the very best in Welsh pop and folk music and comedy too. Along with our important explorations into the very best in classical music performance and creation, let’s see what other art-forms offer to music and the human condition.
“I’d love to see a multi-arts event bringing dance, painting, sculpture, sound design, maths, physics and music all working together in a single unity expressing the 21st century’s many diversities. I have so many ideas!!”
Paul also paid tribute to his predecessor, Ann Atkinson, saying: “Ann is an amazing person and has done so much for music and the arts in North Wales, but what I do want to say in particular is that, as well as being an incredible director for the festival, she is a world-class singer and conductor and, perhaps more importantly, a truly lovely person.
“I have already met with her a number of times as we ‘cross over’ roles and she has been brilliant in her advice and warmth.”
According to Ann, she’s delighted that Paul is taking over from her.
She said: “Knowing of his deep personal passion for the festival, his long friendship with its founder, William Mathias, his own North Wales roots and his wealth of knowledge about music in all its forms, I know the future of this much loved festival will be in safe hands.
The Chair of the North Wales International Music Festival, the Very Reverend Nigel Williams, Dean of the Cathedral, paid tribute to Ann’s ‘immense contribution’, and said he looked forward to the festival flourishing even further under Paul’s artistic leadership.
He said: “I hugely congratulate Paul who I know has a deep affection for the festival. I am excited to hear his plans and see how it will evolve in the future.”
Vice-Chair Alun Jones, who led the recruitment process, was thrilled with the quality of candidates for the role and the eventual choice of Paul.
He said: “There’s no doubt that his long association with the festival, and personal knowledge of its history will stand him in good stead. He is well aware of the great work which has already been done and the challenges to be faced as he takes this wonderful event forward.”