Grace Notes: NYOW 2015 – Fancy Dress!

There wasn’t a concert for the majority of the orchestra yesterday. We spent the day in Aberystwyth having some free time while the composers rehearsed with their ensembles for their first concert.

After we’d finished watching their concert we had a mad dash back to Lampeter because the ‘Nash’ was having a feature on the BBC Radio Wales Art Show. I was interviewed along with Matt Jones (NYAW Manager (Youth Music)) about what it’s like on the course and why it’s such a special experience. You can listen to it for the next few days here.

Then in the evening was fancy dress, one of my favourite events of the course. I’ve talked about previous years here, but this year the theme was ‘La Peri’. So we decided to go as a submarine with a periscope (get it??… A tad tenuous I know, but it’s a hard theme!). We then all dressed as scuba divers and piled in the cardboard submarine.


The finished costume! The flippers were so hard to walk in!

I’m pleased to say we won! And I’m very proud of our efforts! The rest of the night was great, especially negotiating the SU with cardboard flippers attached to your feet!

We’re currently driving to Hereford and I’m really looking forward to the concert this afternoon!


Grace Notes: NYOW 2015 – One down…

Last night we had our first concert in the space we’ve been rehearsing in all week in Lampeter. Everyone was a little on edge and excited as it was our first one, so it wasn’t perfect, but the energy felt great! We’re currently travelling to Bangor for our next one this evening and I’m really excited as I haven’t been to this hall since my first year in 2009.

I feel the whole programme has really come together since Paul Daniel arrived to conduct on Friday. The pieces now make a lot more sense to me and I’m starting to feel like I’m able to get my teeth into them, rather than skating around, trying to play some of the right notes in the right place… I have grown to really enjoy playing Rite of Spring (I have to admit that I wasn’t 100% keen on it when I had my first listen) and I think it’s my favourite piece in the programme (and one of my favourites I’ve ever played on the NYOW)!


The first rehearsl with Paul Daniel (I do not own this image)

After playing in Bangor this evening, we’re heading to Aberystwyth tomorrow to listen to the composers concert, before on to Hereford on Thursday. I’m really looking forward to this concert as it’ll nice to be be back playing at the Three Choirs festival there.

Grace Notes: The beginning of the end.

On Saturday I had my last concert as a member of Cardiff County and Vale of Glamorgan Youth Orchestra. After seven years it feels strange to no longer be a part of it, but it also nicely marks the point where I’m technically no longer a ‘youth’ and I feel strangely free (although I can sense this ‘freedom’ starting to feel scary when I have to start thinking about life after college…..!). We ended the concert with Symphonie Fantastique and I can’t think of a more epic (for want of a better word) way to go.


My deskie Morven Graham and I waiting for our final concert. We’ve been sat next to each other for nearly seven years and it’s strange to think we may not desk partners in orchestra for a very long time!

I’m currently on my way to my final NYOW course. It’s strange to think that this will be that last time we load up the car and drive along the wiggly roads to Lampeter. I have spent the last seven summers of my life there and it’ll be strange to not spend any more time there. Over the next two weeks I’m going to be doing a number of short posts about the course. I’ll be talking about what we’re up to, the music, differences between this and previous years and how I feel about this being my last year as a ‘youth’.

Grace Notes: What next?… and some very exciting news!

So now my exam is over, I’ve been enjoying relaxing and having the time to go and watch some of my friends play in their final exams. Yesterday were the trombones, and today I saw my fellow violinist Horizon String Quartet and a fabulous percussion final. It’s been great to see the performances and celebrate their achievements with them.

Also, some very exciting (and completely non-musical) news has come out today. In Penarth in Wales, a new species of dinosaur has been discovered by Nick and Rob Hanigan. My Mum is a Palaeontologist at the National Museum of Wales and she has been helping to put together the exhibition around the new fossil which the brothers are donating to them.


A drawing of what scientists think the dinosaur would have looked like when alive. (I do not own this image)

I’m really excited to go and visit this exhibition on Friday (when I go back to Cardiff for the weekend) and it’s amazing that this sort of discovery has been made so close to home. Through my Mum’s job, and my brothers obsession with dinosaurs from a very young age (I have seen ‘Walking With Dinosaurs’ an infinite number of times!), I have grown up surrounded by them (just facts I hasten to add, our house isn’t something like Jurassic park) and so now love them too (just ask any of my friends, they think I’m obsessed. My next sewing project is dinosaur themed as well…).

So if you happen to be in Cardiff between now and September, you should check out the National Museum of Wales in the centre of Cardiff. Not only has it got amazing natural history and art exhibitions, but you can experience this brand new discovery for yourself!

Grace Notes: Photography tour of Cardiff

During the Christmas holidays I met up with one of my friends, Gez Charles, who is a school music teacher and photographer. She had kindly agreed to take some pictures of me with my violin, in and around Cardiff and although our first date got rained off, on December 30th we manage to get a beautifully sunny (yet freezing) day.

I wanted to have some high quality photos of myself for promotional use and as headshots for various things, including this blog! I like slightly more natural photos, not taken in a studio, and as Cardiff is so beautiful and has lots of interesting landscapes, we thought we should make the most of living in such a wonderful city.


One of the shots from Cardiff Bay

We started the day off in the bay, using areas around the Wales Millenium Centre and the docks before moving on. Later we took a few in Roath Park on a beautiful bridge. From the photos it looks like a warm summer day, but I can assure you it wasn’t! Gez was behind the camera well wrapped up the whole time and I was very jealous! Our final location for the day was in the wooded area around Castell Coch which was lovely, aside from having to dodge cars as they came along the road every now and then! I got some slightly strange looks standing there in my concert dress!


The beautiful ‘summer’ day in Roath Park

I have made a new page on my blog called ‘Gallery’ where you can see these photos. I love them and I’m so pleased that Gez agreed to take them for me. Here is a link to her website where you can check out some of her other photographs too.

I hope you like the new gallery page. I’m looking forward to seeing you all next week where I’ll be talking about some filming my quartet did last Sunday.

Grace Notes: A fusion of Welsh and Chinese music

For Christmas, I was given an album by The Gentle Good entitled ‘Y Bardd Anfarwol’ (the immortal bard). The Gentle Good is the stage name of Gareth Bonello, a Welsh songwriter who takes inspiration from the language and poetry of Wales to create beautiful music.

My Dad had spotted this album, thought it looked interesting and picked it up without ever hearing any of it before. When I read that it was bringing together elements from Welsh and Chinese music I was intrigued and when I played it on Boxing day I had no idea what to expect.


The album art (I do not own this image)

The album describes the life of the poet Li Bai during the Tang Dynasty who wrote around a thousand poems. We begin with him leaving home as a young man to look for a Taoist master in the mountains, travelling along the rivers in China while dealing with the loneliness of leaving his family behind. The poetry (and the music) follows his journey through mountainous landscapes, waterfalls of the Lou Mountain and the moon, a running theme throughout his poems. Then comes his failed career as a military strategist that forces him to travel further than he’d ever been before in exile. Time also comes into play as we see him accepting aging and then drowning as he (now a poet god) attempts to embrace the moon reflected in the water.

The album opens with the sounds of a busy street in China, before a traditional Chinese string instrument enters playing an improvisatory passage. About a minute in, the street fades out and a guitar playing a more conventional western rhythm enters with a flute and violin playing long held harmonies. After this first purely instrumental track called ‘Erddigan Chengdu’ the rest of the album follows with a mix of songs, in Welsh but with traditional Chinese harmony and instruments, and instrumental pieces. It’s a very beautiful and relaxing album that paints a magical picture of this poet’s journey.

(one of my favourite songs from the album)

If you look on ‘The Gentle Good’s website there is a link to their SoundCloud where you can listen to this whole album. Since Christmas, I have been listening to this album a lot, and it’s become one of my favourites. I thoroughly recommend it because it’s something different, but not so different that you feel like you can’t connect with the music. It’s an amazing fusion of cultures and I’d love to hear more like this in the future.

Grace Notes: Belting out ‘Zadok the Priest’…

Most concerts I do consist of orchestral music, usually large and occasionally with a guest soloist. I rarely have the chance to play with choirs so I particularly enjoyed this concert  because not only did I get  to play ‘Zadok the Priest’ (yes, you know the one) and other amazing works by Mozart and Handel, but I got  the chance to combine forces with a fantastic choir.

The concert was a collaboration between the National Youth Orchestra of Wales chamber orchestra (a smaller orchestra, so for example there are only 8 violins in total rather than the 32 you’d find in a symphony orchestra) and the Cardiff Ardwyn Singers . A small number of NYOW members were asked to perform in this concert in Llandaff Cathedral  with the choir, doing a programme of Handel’s Coronation Anthems and Mozart’s Coronation Mass in C.

The concert poster (I do not own this image)

The concert poster (I do not own this image)

The orchestra had a rehearsal on the Friday night to have a look through the music (there was little time to meet as we were coming from all over the UK. For me, this was a nice excuse to have a weekend at home in Cardiff!), but personally, nothing really fitted together until the choir joined us the following day. They had been rehearsing for a while for this concert and so sounded amazing.

I loved the music, but the highlight for me was playing ‘Zadok the Priest’. I had sung through it in a choir rehearsal years ago when I was at Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama Junior Department but playing in the orchestra, for me, was far better than singing. It starts with quiet semiquaver broken chords in the strings which gradually crescendo for about 22 bars until, when reaching the climax, the choir come crashing in. This is such a recognisable piece and you could tell the whole audience enjoyed listening. It was a great opener to the concert. I thought, after that high, the rest of the concert went well and we continued to bring a smile to people’s faces on a chilly Saturday night.

The Mozart was a short mass (only 25 minutes) but still was totally enthralling throughout the movements (it was my Dad’s favourite). I particularly liked the Credo because it was exciting to play (it’s almost all semiquavers for the violins) and had a beautiful slower middle section where the soloists got a chance to shine as the strings played descending chromatic passages.

I’m really lucky to have been involved in things like this over the years which differ from the larger works I usually do. For me, playing such brilliant choral music in a space like Llandaff Cathedral shows that you don’t need a huge orchestra, with unusual instruments and fancy electronics to create a beautiful and truly engaging experience.