The History of MusicFest

Hanes MusicFest

The beginnings of MusicFest by Margaret Williams

In the mid 1980’s and following the closure of the then UCW Music Department young professional musicians were brought in to teach students who wanted to continue their instrumental training. These musicians were Nicholas Jones (cello), Iwan Llewellyn Jones (piano), Mark Tromans (clarinet) and Richard Hewitt (oboe). They were all the product of various musical academies and starting out on their professional careers. Nick Jones. Knowing that I had spare bedrooms in my home, asked if I would be willing to accommodate them when they came to Aberystwyth to teach, and I agreed and so began, for me, some wonderful musical friendships.

Nick has the idea, in association with Aberystwyth Arts Centre, of starting a Family Music project to give families and their children the opportunity to enjoy music together in a relaxed atmosphere and for children to experience the excitement of hearing live music performances. Introducing the idea with a Family Prom in July 1986 given by the Aberystwyth Pops Orchestra the Family Music concerts took place between November 1986 and June 1987 and involved the musicians mentioned above along with other prestigious performers such as the Roth Quartet, The Fine Arts brass Ensemble and many others and were both successful and great fun.

Nick Jones had an annual booking for the Purcell Room at the South Bank, and in 1987, following a performance of Messiain’s ‘Quartet for the End of Time’ in the Purcell Room on the 17th June 1987, the guest violinist being Michael Bochman whom I had introduced to Nick. During the preparations for this concert conversations had been taking place about a ‘Music festival’ in Aberystwyth to be run as part of the Aberystwyth Summer Festival which was taking place from 25th> July – 9th August involving a myriad of organisations and activities around the town, musical, dramatic, sporting etc.

A fund-raising concert for the Music Festival was held in St. Michael’s Church, Eglyws Fach on the 19th July (rather late in the day!) and during the Summer Festival Nick and his friends put on 11 concerts or musical entertainment by the Entertainers Clarient Quartet (Mark Tromans and friends), the Bochman Quartet, Theatr Taliesin, The National Youth Orchestra of Wales, The National Brass Band of Wales, the Welsh Chamber orchestra, a Violin, Cello and Piano recital and a Piano recital bu Iwam Llewellyn-Jones. The venues included The Great Hall, The Old College, the Bandstand, St Michael’s Church (Aberystwyth) and various hotels and restaurants around the town. It was all regarded as a success, with local reviews full of praise, an article in ‘Welsh Music’ and even a mention in the Daily Telegraph!

The following year, 1988, the Second Aberystwyth Music Festival took place from 24th July – 6th August with proper brochures and posters and, importantly, the first Aberystwyth Festival Music Summer School was advertised with its own brochures and application from offering courses in Chamber Music Coaching, Sonata Classes, Chamber Orchestra, The Piano in Chamber Music and Piano Solo, Baroque String Playing, technique Workshops and Course Concerts.


The DC Years

The turn of the century was a significant moment for MusicFest, when David Campbell became Artistic Director. An eminent musician, his utter professionalism, his urbane charm and his wit mean that he enjoys the respect and affection of a very wide network of professional musicians. He has used these connections to Aberystwyth’s great advantage, bringing outstanding soloists to teach and play in MusicFest; and helping to attract the very brightest young musicians as students. Many of these have gone on to international fame.

Those personal qualities inform the festival, with good humour, affection and courtesy permeating the whole week, without the slightest compromise on musical standards. After the last concert of each festival the students perform an ad hoc cabaret for their own delight. It is heart-warming to hear them roar out the unofficial anthem of MusicFest – a scurrilous rewrite of the song ‘YMCA’, the over-riding theme of which is how much they all love David Campbell! There is a deeply felt sense of community, with David’s strict but genial father figure at the head. Young people always know when they are truly appreciated as human beings, and are apt to return the sentiment.

The happiness of the summer school is tangible to the audience who come for the concerts, showcases and master-classes; and over the last 17 years the sense of community referred to above has developed amongst them also, indeed more so. The music-lovers who come to nearly every event during the festival (100% attendance at all events has by now become physically impossible!) treat each other as family. We feel part of the festival in our own way, just as do the summer school students. People schedule work and holidays around MusicFest; they regularly come from far-flung places; and what is fundamental to the profound sense of well-being which the week engenders, they see each other as long-parted friends, coming together for a musical and spiritual treat. The musicians quickly sense this, and make no secret of how warmly it affects them to be a part of this community.

David has responded intuitively to this audience. His early career in the Fires of London and London Sinfonietta has made him a champion of new music, and he strives to include some that is comparatively inaccessible for laypeople; but he is always keen to include many great works of the classical and romantic repertoire from earlier times, and to have fun. The trademark sound of David in good times is his bubbly laughter when thinking of how to entertain people.

It should not be a surprise then, in view of what has been said, to realise that over the years the audience has been educated, has been taken on a journey of discovery. We have not only enjoyed the festivals, but we have gradually changed. We know more and appreciate more every year. We can take the new in our stride better than we once could! It is indeed striking how many world premieres have been given at MusicFest, with active commissioning becoming an accepted part of the festival’s mission. Long may it continue!

David’s unwavering commitment to MusicFest is a source of wonder and gratitude to us all. Thank you!


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