Introducing the Gregynog Festival 2016

Rhian DaviesThu 2nd June 2016

The Artistic Director of Gregynog has a very special Festival in store...

Two weeks to go until we open? It’s the silence that might surprise you most. As well as directing the Gregynog FestivaI, I produce our glossy 80-page programme and am in my element at the moment, generating text, editing other people’s copy, sourcing illustrations and refining layouts with our designer. 'Éire' is this year’s Festival theme and it’s great to match the ideal image to the repertoire being revived: a folio from Trinity College Dublin’s Virginal Manuscript for Mahan Esfahani’s recital, and the Corelli portrait by Irish artist Hugh Howard for the Academy of Ancient Music’s exploration of Dublin’s Golden Age. But it’s work that needs concentration and attention to detail, especially against the clock, so intentionally – and blissfully – it’s as phone-free a zone as I can make it. 

Gregynog is the oldest extant classical music festival in Wales, founded by Gwendoline and Margaret Davies in 1933 at their residence Gregynog Hall, five miles north of Newtown in Powys. As a local girl who was lucky enough to attend the legendary recital given by Benjamin Britten, Peter Pears and Osian Ellis in Gregynog’s Music Room in 1972, and who turned the pages when my mother Jayne Davies accompanied Anthony Rolfe Johnson to launch his Festival series in 1988, there was perhaps an element of destiny in my succeeding Tony as Artistic Director in 2007. 

Drawing on my own experience as a singer, music historian and film-maker, I’ve sought to establish a niche for Gregynog as a deeply-curated festival that offers an annual sequence of 30 to 40 interconnected performances, talks and exhibitions on a theme drawn from the heritage of the Hall. From June 16-26, 2016, some of Ireland’s leading musicians and scholars, plus international artists who specialise in performing Irish repertoire, will be travelling to Wales to interpret narratives that link both nations. There’s more traditional music than usual, headlined by the sublime fiddle player Martin Hayes, Riverdance piper Ronan Browne and sean-nós specialist Róisín Elsafty, and more spoken word, including readings by the poet Sinéad Morrissey.

I’m drafting this blog, like our programme, in real time and the Bank Holiday sunshine has been perfect for visiting this season’s community venues: St Melangell’s, near Oswestry, where Aoife Ní Bhríain opens the Festival at the Shrine Church of the seventh-century Irish Saint; Montgomery, where Siobhán Armstrong unravels the mystery of the Irish harp pins excavated at the Castle; and Llandinam, where Rebel Rebel, a powerful drama based on the true story of two actors who abandoned the Abbey Theatre stage to join the Easter Rising, comes to us fresh from sell-out shows in Dublin and New York. The Rising is a major theme during the second half of the Festival, including a commemoration of Fron-goch Camp, near Bala, where Michael Collins was one of the 1800 Irishmen detained from June to December 1916. I can’t wait to hear the new score inspired by Fron-goch which the Festival has commissioned from Sam Perkin for the Fidelio Trio.

Tuesday morning and email’s gathering pace again now that everyone’s back at work after the long weekend. The hot new French ensemble Nevermind, making a Wales debut and UK season exclusive appearance with us, has been snapped up by BBC Radio 3's In Tune, and Jordi Savall will soon be ‘Facing the Music’ in the Guardian. Ailish Tynan, Daniel Grimwood, Finghin Collins and Chamber Choir Ireland are chatting about their Gregynog concerts on Facebook and Twitter. Just two more weeks until all these superb artists sweep into rural Mid Wales and the silence shatters into stunning sound.

This year's Gregynog Festival runs from June 16-26. For more information, visit: gregynogfestival.org

Rhian Davies

Dr Rhian Davies celebrates her 10th anniversary this season as Artistic Director of the Gregynog Festival, a signature event of Visit Wales (Major Events Unit, Welsh Government) and a member of the Réseau Européen de Musique Ancienne.

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