Royal composer’s homage at North Wales International Music Festival


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A royal composer from Flintshire will be paying homage to his hero at a top music festival.

Professor Paul Mealor, who was raised in Connah’s Quay and wrote the music for the wedding of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, will have a starring role at this year’s North Wales International Music Festival.

The week-long festival that gets underway at St Asaph Cathedral on Saturday, September 20, is supported by the Welsh Arts Council.

One of the highlights of this year’s event will be a special concert to celebrate the life and work of his mentor, Professor William Mathias, who founded the festival.

The late Professor Mathias, who was head of music at Bangor University, would have been 80 years old this year.

Prof Mealor was described by the New York Times as “one of the most important composers to have emerged in Welsh choral music since William Mathias”, and the similarities between the two are startling.

In 1981 Prof Mathias was commissioned to write the anthem for the wedding of Charles and Diana.

In an uncanny parallel, 30 years later Prof Mealor, 38, shot to international fame when his composition for the royal wedding in 2011, Ubi Caritas, attracted an audience of some 2.5 billion people.

Since then he has gone on to have his work performed in Hollywood to a standing ovation and he also gained huge acclaim after writing the music for the chart-topping Military Wives’ Choir.

Prof Mealor, a reader in composition at Aberdeen University, was born in St Asaph and raised in Connah’s Quay and was last year made a Vice President of the North Wales International Music Festival.

According to Prof Mealor, he was briefly a pupil of Mathias when he taught him composition.

He said: “I grew up in North Wales and was always really excited about the festival. I could never quite understand how all these wonderful musicians, some of the world’s absolute best classical performers, would turn up in a small place like St Asaph, North Wales.

“It was an inspiration to me as a very young composer and there is no doubt it influenced me. As of course did William Mathias. I was very young indeed, just a boy, when I worked with Mathias. But even though I was just this little shy boy he treated me, right from the outset, as his equal and as a composer in my own right.

“I have tried to follow that example with my own students. But he also taught me so much more, especially about the spirit of music, its soul if you like. I only studied with him briefly but I will never forget the knowledge and understanding he passed onto me.”

Paul Mealor says the William Mathias CBE 80th Anniversary Concert will no doubt be the highlight of this year’s festival.

The evening will include an interview with Mathias’ daughter, Rhiannon, who now lectures in music at the University of Wales, Bangor.

He added: “It will be a wonderful event and a fitting celebration of a great Welsh composer. Mathias was perhaps the most important composer of choral music ever but it’s too often forgotten that he wrote a wide range of other important pieces, including opera.”

Prof Mealor likes to get back to North Wales as often as he can especially to the home he owns on Anglesey.

He will be conducting some of his own music at this year’s festival as well as taking to the pulpit for the first time to preach at the festival’s Eucharist service on the Sunday morning, as well as taking part in a late night act of remembrance for all the lives lost during the First World War.

He said: “We will perform and sing music that reflects the sadness of the lives lost. It promises to be a very poignant and special evening. But that’s the North Wales International Music Festival, there really is something here for everyone.”

The Festival’s Artistic Director, Ann Atkinson, said: “We are thrilled Paul Mealor will be conducting not only some of his own works but also the massed choir, who will perform some of Mathias’ most cherished choral compositions. It will be amazing to have a royal composer helping us celebrate the life and works of an equally important other royal composer.”

She added: “But it’s so important we remember William Mathias, not just as the festival’s founder, but as a wonderful composer and musician. He was so prolific and wrote such wonderful compositions, and not just choral works.

“I’m honoured to be the festival’s current artistic director and so thrilled the festival has continued to inspire for more than 40 years. William Mathias is buried at St Asaph Cathedral and I always feel his presence.

The internationally renowned piano virtuoso Llŷr Williams, who hails from Rhos, near Wrexham, is also among the star attractions, along with the young Chinese classical guitarist, Xuefei Yang.

The popular Tippett String Quartet will be returning to the festival together with pianist David Owen Norris, who will be playing a programme of newly discovered piano music from Jane Austen’s family collection. The week will also feature the BBC National Orchestra of Wales and Stan Tracey’s Under Milk Wood Jazz Suite, with renowned musicians and actors.

Mid Wales Opera will be performing Acis & Galatea, an opera that tells an enchanting story from ancient mythology, while the Aspire Inspire Concert will provide a platform for a host of talented young musicians and singers and will include only the second performance of a work called Adar Rhiannon (Rhiannon’s Birds), composed by harpist Catrin Finch.

For more information about the North Wales International Music Festival and for tickets visit www.nwimf.com

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