Grace Notes: Hedd Wyn in Berlin

In the summer of 2013 I went on tour with the National Youth Orchestra of Wales to Germany, performing a series of concerts in a number of stunning locations. This was one of the first tours I had been on that had been this intense. We had a concert every night and spent large chunks of the days travelling on coaches. This meant, sadly, that we didn’t have much time to explore, but in a way this didn’t matter as we were caught up in the excitement of the concerts and the venues.

One of the pieces was a commission written by the harpist Catrin Finch. It is a harp concerto based on the life of Hedd Wyn (the Welsh poet who won the Bard’s Chair at the National Eisteddfod in 1917 posthumously after being killed during World War 1) and the different sections represent different events in his life. Over Christmas, a program was broadcast on S4C about how Catrin Finch wrote the work by finding out about Hedd Wyn’s life. Having only seen the piece in its finished form, it was very interesting for me to watch it being constructed.

The program charts how she visits his old house and talks to the caretaker to find out about his life. It then shows Catrin collaborating with a teacher at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama to realise her ideas into a full orchestra score. Then we (the NYOW) make an appearance. It shows how Catrin worked with the orchestra to fine tune the piece and show us how much this work meant to her.

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Recording the concerto with Catrin

The second half of the program is the performance in the Berlin Konzerthaus. I think that concert is one of the best I have ever taken part in. The audience filled the whole hall and we got an incredible response from everyone. The concerto went down particularly well and the audience enjoyed the Welsh theme running throughout the program. The concerto features extracts from Hedd Wyn’s poetry (in Welsh) at the start of each if the four sections and the two encores were also special because both are Welsh songs and feature the orchestra singing (Grant Llewellyn the conductor decided to include the singing after hearing us belting out welsh songs in the bar in the evenings) in the Welsh language.

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Recording the concerto with Catrin

I think the piece is very effective and showcases the orchestra and harp beautifully. The program is still available to watch on S4C Clic and BBC iPlayer as I post this and it will be for another 20 days or so. However if you’re watching from somewhere not in the UK I’m not sure the link will work for you, so here is the piece on soundcloud, using the same recording from the Berlin concert.

I hope you enjoy hearing this concerto as much as we enjoyed performing the concert. This piece is particularly poignant now because of the 100 year anniversary of the First World War, and I think expressing one of the many stories from that time through music is a particularly effective memorial.

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