“The response has been fantastic. I know the choir feel honoured to be part of the project, and this is reflected in every single rehearsal. We’ve also had lots of fun practising, and everyone loves the music!“
The words of Mari Lloyd Pritchard, the co-ordinator of ‘A Oes Heddwch?‘ the opening concert at this year’s National Eisteddfod. Mari has been part of the project from the beginning, and with less than three months to go until the performance on the Pavilion stage, excitement is growing about the performance inspired by Hedd Wyn’s story, and the generation of young men lost in the Great War.
“I think we’ve been aware of the responsibility to create a memorable project from the very beginning. Commemorating the centenary of the First World War is extremely important, and the history belongs to every single one of us. And we’re all very proud that the commemoration will be held here in Anglesey.
“It’s so much more than a Hedd Wyn biopic, and Siwan Llynor, who’s directing the performance, has been researching the history, reading hundreds of newspaper reports and letters, some of them from young Anglesey men, to make sure that we’ve grasped the nuances of the period, remembering the experiences of so many people, be they soldiers or those living in the communities back home here in Wales.“
The musical project has been led by two brothers very well known in the Welsh music scene, Aled and Dafydd Hughes. The two musicians, members of Cowbois Rhos Botwnnog and a number of other bands, have spent the last year working on the project, combining elements of community work with history, to provide the inspiration for a memorable musical experience, which will be premiered on the Pavilion stage on Friday 4 August.
Aled says, “The experience will stay with us forever, not only because we’re creating the performance which will commemorate the centenary of the Great War on the Pavilion stage, the exact location of one of Wales‘ most iconic events, the Black Chair Ceremony at the Birkenhead Eisteddfod, but also because we’ve had the opportunity to create a totally new and different musical project.
“We’d never created an orchestral or choral work before, and seeing our melodies developing and being transformed into large-scale choral pieces has been fantastic. And hearing the whole work with the orchestra is sure to be the highlight, and we’re very much looking forward to this. Working with communities and looking at the response of children and young people to the history, as well as using historical sources from newspapers and letters, gave us plenty of inspiration along the way, and helped us to consider every single angle.
“The families left at home were an important factor. Life had to go on although the sons and the husbands were in the trenches, and there had to be an element of normality back here in Wales in the middle of all the killing and suffering. And we hope the performance will show this as well as the horrors of the War.“
Guto Dafydd has written many of the words, working with Aled and Dafydd over the past year. And like the two brothers, the project has had a profound effect on him. “It’s impossible to work on a project like this without connecting with the period and with the communities across Wales which lost so many of their young men. I’ve enjoyed working with Aled and Dafydd from Cowbois, and I’m sure the audience in the Pavilion and at home will enjoy the final performance.
“It was also very valuable to have Siwan Llynor on the project team, and seeing the music – and the words hopefully – inspiring her creativity has been an experience. Although I was asked to compose the words for the songs, I hope they’re also poems in their own right, and that people will have the chance to read them in the future, as part of our response to the Great War a century later.“
The evening will be an opportunity to remember and reflect on events a century ago, and to think about the effect of the War a hundred years later. The audience will be able to do this during the evening as the choir performs a brand new Requiem, composed specifically for the performance by Paul Mealor, the celebrated composer with his roots on Anglesey and poet, Grahame Davies.
Being part of a project inspired by the story of Hedd Wyn immediately appealed to Paul Mealor, who said, “Growing up in Wales, one is surrounded by the legend of Hedd Wyn. I am humbled and honoured to be able to contribute something, through the medium of music, to honour him and his work.
“My composition, to original words by Grahame Davies, is intended to offer a moment of reflection and peace, in this centenary year, upon the man, the legend, the poetry.”
Grahame Davies’ family has a close connection with the Great War, as his grandfather, John William Davies, fought in the Welsh Fusiliers, and he says, “Hedd Wyn’s story is an integral part of our experience as Welsh people. It’s one of the most poignant stories of the First World War, and a symbol of losing a generation of young boys.
“It was a great honour to create new words to reflect the loss and to yet again be able to work with such a talented composer as Paul Mealor.”
“The eight minute Requiem is a chance for the audience to contemplate on the events of a century ago,“ according to Mari Lloyd Pritchard. “It’s a beautiful choral work, remembering the loss and the effect this had on every element of society. It’s been a great honour for the Eisteddfod Choir to sing a choral piece by Paul Mealor and Grahame Davies.
“It’s not often that a choir gets to perform the premiere of a work by one of the greatest choral composers of our time, and we’re all very aware that we’re going to be performing something very special to open the Eisteddfod this year. And I know that both Catrin Angharad Jones and myself have had such pleasure rehearsing Paul and Grahame’s work as well as Aled, Dafydd and Guto’s songs with the choir over recent months. I’m looking forward to sharing this pleasure with the whole of Wales at the start of the Eisteddfod in Anglesey.“
The Eisteddfod Choir boasts almost 250 members who have been rehearsing weekly for more than six months, and joining them will be a number of well-known soloists. Osian Huw Williams, Casi Wyn, Emyr Gibson and Lleuwen Steffan will all perform, to the accompaniment of the BBC National Orchestra of Wales, conducted by John Quirk, who has also been responsible for the orchestration.
The project is a partnership between the National Eisteddfod of Wales, Snowdonia National Park Authority, Arts Council of Wales, Gwynedd County Council, Anglesey County Council and BBC National Orchestra of Wales.
Limited tickets are still available for the performance. These can be ordered through the Eisteddfod website, www.eisteddfod.wales or by ringing the Ticketline on 0845 4090 800.
The Anglesey National Eisteddfod is held in Bodedern from 4-12 August. Early bird tickets available until 30 June. For more information go online.