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National Youth Ensembles commission's 2015

We are delighted that two prominent Welsh composers have agreed to write for our national youth ensembles in 2015. Tŷ Cerdd is responsible for 5 of the 7 national youth ensembles in Wales. In October of 2015 we take the National Youth Choir to Argentina in celebration of Patagonia 150, marking a century and a half since the first Welsh settlers arrived in Puerto Madryn. We have commissioned Paul Mealor to write for this ensemble of 70 young singers.Hilary Tann small image

Also in 2015, and for the first time, Tŷ Cerdd has created a new role – that of Composer-in-Residence. Hilary Tann was invited to be our first such composer. During the year she will work with all the ensembles, composing for them, rehearsing with them and work-shopping her music with the young people.

Here Hilary Tann writes of her impressions of being closely associated with some of Wales’s most talented young musicians.

To be a composer-in-residence means that, from the beginning, the composer has a special connection with the institution that has offered the invitation. And it means that this special relationship continues over time. In my case, I received the invitation in July 2014 and the residency extends through 2015. What could be better for a composer? Bach was "in residence" at Thomaskirche and Haydn was "in residence" at Esterházy. I like the idea of the composer as a "hired hand". Gardener, cook, composer … we all try to make things grow and work to please our patrons.

For me, this residency has the additional feature of deepening all my ties to home. I was born in Rhondda Fach and I attended the University of Wales at Cardiff. I was a member of the Glamorgan Youth Choir, Glamorgan Youth Orchestra, and, briefly, the National Youth Orchestra of Wales. It gives me great joy to be reconnected to the places and ensembles I love.

As I write, I’m just half way through my tenure. In April I heard the training choir sing Wales, Our Land. I loved the quality of the young voices and the way in which the choir captured the hiraeth of the piece. I was also privileged to be present as the National Youth Wind Orchestra of Wales rehearsed my alto saxophone concerto, In the First, Spinning Place. This was a leap for me into the wind orchestra domain – and I’m hooked! Rob Buckland’s imaginative, virtuoso performance of the solo part was wonderfully exciting, but the NYWOW performers have made me a fan of their sound world and I treasure the memory of the première at the Dora Stoutzker Hall at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama.

Still to come are three concerts in July. The National Youth Choir of Wales will be performing an a cappella piece, Paradise, and taking it on tour in South America. The original meaning of the word "paradise" is "walled garden". This is what attracted me to George Herbert’s poem, plus the "pruned" end lines – start, tart, art (for example).

All The Moon Long is the big new piece expressly composed for the National Youth Brass Band of Wales with premières in Neath and Cardiff ( . This has been a challenge! I’ve written orchestral music before, but the only instrument in the brass band I "know" is the bass trombone – coincidentally, the only one notated at pitch. In April it was my good fortune to meet with Philip Harper, conductor of The Cory Band and for 2015 the NYBBW. Together, we listened to the "Finale" version of the piece and pored over the score. It was a memorable learning experience for me, and another advantage of the continuing experience of being composer-in-residence.

The commission for this new piece came with the request that it should not be "a conventional piece for brass band" and with the reminder that "all the instruments can be muted". I’ve found it fascinating to enter this new world of tone colours. The piece is inspired by five lines from Dylan Thomas’ poem, Fern Hill, beginning "And nightly under the simple stars". The dominant image is of a starlit night over the ocean and I’ve asked for "pebble drum" percussion to suggest the sound of waves on a pebble beach. Each phrase of the poem is reproduced in the score and parts so that the performers can see/hear the successive scenes, some with owls, some with nightjars, and some with "horses flashing into the dark".

With this brief overview, you can tell what the Tŷ Cerdd residency has meant to me – a continuing connection, a homecoming, and the creation of new sound worlds.

When the National Youth Choir of Wales meets in July to prepare for its concert at Llandaff Cathedral (July 24), we will have two composers working with our young singers. It would appear that Hilary Tann is not alone in being challenged by Tŷ Cerdd to write for instrumental combinations which are new.

Here Paul Mealor reflects on his commission.

I was delighted to be asked to write a work for chorus and accordion for the National Youth Choir of Wales. It was a particular challenge as I had not written for the instrument before. ‘Sounds and Sweet Airs’ was commissioned by the National Youth Choir of Wales for their tour to Patagonia in 2015 and is dedicated to Gwyn L Williams (Tŷ Cerdd Director). As the young people travel to the far ends of the world during their visit they will encounter people and landscapes completely new to them. It was that feeling of awe and wonder that beautiful landscapes in particular can often give us that I have attempted to capture in the music.

In The Tempest by Shakespeare, Caliban attempts to convey this in these famous lines which form the basis of my work:

‘Be not afeard. The isle is full of noises,Paul Mealor with NYCW 2014

Sounds, and sweet airs, that give delight and hurt not.

Sometimes a thousand twangling instruments

Will hum about mine ears, and sometime voices

That, if I then had waked after long sleep

Will make me sleep again; and then in dreaming

The clouds methought would open and show riches

Ready to drop upon me, that when I waked

I cried to dream again’ (III.ii.130–138).

These lines by Caliban are by way of an explanation to Stephano and Trinculo of mysterious music that they hear, created by magic. The speech is generally considered to be one of the most poetic in the entire play, and it is remarkable that Shakespeare chose to put it in the mouth of the drunken man-monster. Just when Caliban seems to have debased himself completely and to have become a purely ridiculous figure, Shakespeare gives him this speech and reminds the audience that Caliban has something within himself that Prospero, Stephano, Trinculo, and the audience itself generally cannot, or refuse to, see. It is unclear whether the "noises" Caliban discusses are the noises of the island itself or noises, like the music of the invisible Ariel, that are a result of Prospero’s magic. Caliban himself does not seem to know where these noises come from. Thus his speech conveys the wondrous beauty of the island and the depth of his attachment to it, as well as a certain amount of respect and love for Prospero’s magic, and for the possibility that he creates the "sounds and sweet airs that give delight and hurt not."

It begins loudly, a cappella – a demonstration of true, pantheistic joy and fervor. This fervor continues until it suddenly transforms into a ‘Welsh tango’! The tango and the work itself are my tribute to Patagonia, its people, beautiful culture and wonderful landscape.

In 2015 the National Youth Choir of Wales gives concerts in Llandaff Cathedral, Cardiff on July 24, Colegio Nacional de Buenos Aires on October 26, Teatro Gran Rex, Buenos Aires on October 28, Teatro Verdi, Trelew on October 29, Predio Ferial, Trelew with BBC National Orchestra of Wales on October 30, and Capel Bethel, Gaiman on October 31.