Posted: Mon 6th Feb 2023

Appeal to honour for Flintshire harp legend Osian Ellis at international festival

News and Info from Deeside, Flintshire, North Wales
This article is old - Published: Monday, Feb 6th, 2023

The late Dr Osian Ellis CBE, the principal harpist with the London Symphony Orchestra, is being honoured by the Wales International Harp Festival, to be held in Galeri Caernarfon from April 5 to 11.

Dr Ellis, who was 92 at the time of his death during the Covid-19 pandemic, was a native of Ffynnongroyw in Flintshire and was brought up in Denbigh.

Festival director Elinor Bennett said that Dr Ellis was an “iconic figure in the harp world and his contribution has been immense.”

The Osian Ellis Prizes, totalling £8,000, will be awarded to the winners of the Chief Musician or Pencerdd competition for young harpists, born on or after September 1, 1987.

Bennett said, “By supporting young harpists, Osian’s friends, colleagues, and followers can show their appreciation of his work and ensure that future generations will remember his great contribution to music internationally.”

Elinor Bennett, who was a former pupil of Dr Ellis, said that he was her teacher at the Royal Academy in London and he mentored her at a time when it was most needed.

Bennett also stated that Dr Ellis collaborated with leading British composer Benjamin Britten, who wrote music especially for him.

During the festival, harpists will compete for three other prestigious titles.

The Junior competition is open to harpists born on or after September 1, 2009, and they will be expected to present a free choice programme up to seven minutes’ duration.

The Youth competition is open to those born on or after September 1, 2003, and entrants are expected to present two short programmes of their own chosen pieces and set works from Welsh and international composers.

The World Music competition features performances based on folk and traditional music from any country or tradition.

The opening concert on April 5 will see the premiere of a new work called “Llechi” (Slate) with music composed by Math Roberts and words by former national poet of Wales, Ifor Ap Glyn.

The work will be performed by vocal soloists and instrumental alumni of Canolfan Gerdd William Mathias to celebrate the World Heritage status given by UNESCO to the slate quarries of Gwynedd.

Also taking part in the concert will be the North Wales Harp Ensemble under its director Tudur Eames and Côr Godre’r Aran, the Llanuwchllyn-based choir under conductor Eirian Owen.

Meinir Heulyn will join Elinor Bennett in the harp duo “Scenes of Childhood” by John Thomas.

Nicknamed the “hip-hop harpist”, Deborah Henson-Conant, is one of the USA’s most popular and flamboyant performers on the electric harp.

She pays a return visit to Caernarfon on April 6, where she appeared in the first two Wales International Harp Festivals back in 2006 and 2010 when she delighted her audiences with her mix of music described as “cross-genre: jazz-pop-comedy-blues-flamenco-Celtic”.

Concert Harp Classics including music by Debussy, Tournier and J S Bach will feature in a recital by world -renowned French harpist Isabelle Moretti on April 7.

The following evening’s concert will bring two continents together by combining the Llanera harps of Latin America with harp music from Wales and Europe.

Former Royal harpist Catrin Finch, who has created wonderful musical partnerships with performers on many different styles of harps from many cultures, will share the stage with Colombian harpist Edmar Castaneda who the New York Times described as “almost a world unto himself”.

Renowned harpist Sioned Williams will present the lively story of ‘Pencerdd Gwalia’, John Thomas (1826–1913) ‘Harpist to the Queen’. The concert will include works by John Thomas, John Parry, Mendelssohn, Rossini, Schubert and others.

Sioned, who is originally from Sychdyn, in Flintshire, held the prestigious position of Principal Harpist of the BBCSO from 1990–2017, and continues to have a busy career with recitals, broadcasting, recording, researching and teaching and studied harp with Elinor Bennett at the Welsh College of Music and Drama.

The final concert on Monday, April 10, will feature Gambian instrumentalist and singer Sona Jobarteh and her band. She is the first female virtuoso Kora (African harp) player to come from any of the West African Griot dynasties and is the Founding Director of The Gambia Academy, an institution dedicated to educational reform for Africans on the continent of Africa.

The concert will also include performances by Pedair, a group which draws on the talents of four of Wales’ most prominent folk musicians – Gwenan Gibbard, Gwyneth Glyn, Meinir Gwilym and Siân James.

Their music has captured the hearts of audiences with their fresh interpretations of the Welsh folk tradition and their first recordings, having emerged during lockdown, gained instant popularity.

The festival will conclude on April 11 with an opportunity to listen to the performances of the three finalists in the Pencerdd competition with recitals of their chosen music.

Elinor Bennett said each finalist will collaborate with the violinist, Simon Chalk, in a performance of the beautiful “Fantaisie for Violin and Harp” Op. 124 by Camille Saint-Saens before a Panel of International Jury.

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