Royal Composer to Honour Musical Giant at Top Festival

One of Wales’ greatest composers will be remembered at the festival he created nearly 50 years ago.

Among those paying tribute to the late Professor William Mathias, who founded the North Wales International Music Festival in 1972, will be one of his proteges, Paul Mealor, who is also a globally renowned royal composer.

Paul Mealor will be discussing the life and music of William Mathias with his daughter, Rhiannon Mathias, during a special evening at St Asaph Cathedral to mark what would have been his 85th year.

Prof Mathias, who died in 1992 at the age of 57, was head of the music department at Bangor University.

The event at St Asaph Cathedral on Sunday, September 22, will feature works by Prof Mathias and also music that he loved, by composers including Mozart, who was one of Mathias’s favourite composers, Grace Williams, Debussy and Gershwin.

Among the performers will be the acclaimed harpist Elinor Bennett, the hugely talented pianist, Iwan Llewelyn-Jones and mezzo-soporano Ann Atkinson, who is the festival’s artistic director.

Ann Atkinson will sing three of Mathias’ arrangements of Welsh folk songs – Y Gwydd (The Loom), Dafydd y Garreg Wen (David of the White Rock) and Tôn y Melinydd (The Miller’s Song), accompanied by Elinor Bennett on the harp.

The festival will run until Saturday, September 28, and is being supported by the Arts Council of Wales, Tŷ Cerdd and Colwinston Charitable Trust.

Prof Mathias, who died in 1992, was born in Carmarthenshire and was a child prodigy who started playing the piano at three and was composing music by the age of five.

In 1981, he famously wrote the anthem, ‘Let the people praise thee, O God’, for the royal wedding of Prince Charles and Princess Diana which had a worldwide television audience of one billion people.

Fast forward to 2011 and his former pupil, Prof Mealor was commissioned to write Ubi Caritas by the Duke of Cambridge for his marriage to Catherine Middleton, which was viewed by 2.5 billion people, the largest audience in broadcasting history.

The occasion will be an emotional one for Dr Rhiannon Mathias.

She recalled: “The festival was very, very important to my father’s life. As today, things had to be planned well in advance and he very much enjoyed contacting the artistes. The festival remains a wonderful celebration of music, which is very much how he regarded it.

Dr Mathias, a flautist, is a trustee of the Caernarfon-based centre, Canolfan Gerdd William Mathias, founded in her father’s memory – of which her late mother Yvonne was patron. Dr Mathias now teaches flute there and is also a lecturer, writer and broadcaster.

“My father wanted the best and I am sure he would be proud of the festival in its current form. What is interesting is the variety in the programme, which Ann Atkinson has maintained.

“I hear his music, it is still played and performed so often, and whenever I hear it, naturally, I think of him. As a man he was warm and generous yet he could be serious and thoughtful and I think that comes through in his music. I’m looking forward to discussing my father’s life and music with Paul, Elinor, Iwan and Ann.

Artistic director Ann Atkinson said: “William Mathias was without doubt one of Wales’ greatest composers and I am so glad I actually got to meet him. He was prolific and wrote so many wonderful compositions.

“Imagine the body of work he would have written had he not died so young. His death was a huge loss to music and to Wales in general.

“I’m sure the festival audience will be thrilled to hear his daughter, Rhiannon, talk about her father, his music, his legacy and the music he loved.

It will also be wonderful to have one royal composer helping us celebrate the life and works of another royal composer, especially as Paul Mealor has been described as the most important composer to have emerged in Welsh choral music since William Mathias.”

To find out more about the North Wales International Music Festival please visit www.nwimf.com or email caroline@nwimf.com. All evening concerts start at the new time of 7pm this year. Tickets are available online, from Theatr Clwyd, Mold – 01352 344101 or Cathedral Frames, St Asaph – 01745 582929.

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