Bangor New Music festival, held under the auspices of the university’s School of Music, celebrated its 10th anniversary with its most ambitious programme to date, and no concert signalled the event’s energy and range better than the one given by the BBC National Orchestra of Wales and featuring three firsts.
The school boasts three notable composers – Pwyll ap Siôn, Andrew Lewis and Guto Puw – and works by them made up the challenging first half.
Ap Siôn’s Gwales, dating from 1995, pays homage to the late William Mathias, under whose aegis music flourished at Bangor. Building on fragments quoted from Mozart’s Requiem, the work depicts a journey towards the mythical island of Gwales.
In the first of the new pieces, Andrew Lewis also took us on a journey, this time in and out of consciousness. Number Nine Dream explored the first movement of Mahler’s Ninth Symphony through the hazy veil of the contemporary electroacoustic sound-world, making for an absorbing aural experience.
Hologram, by Guto Puw, BBCNOW’s resident composer, exists emphatically in the present, with his ascetic approach to structure balanced by a sensuous engagement with sound. It was delivered with startling clarity by the conductor Grant Llewellyn.
Wales is the spiritual home of the composer Adrian Williams, and the contemplative, questioning vein that its landscape has permitted him to articulate was reflected in his Cello Concerto, premiered here by Raphael Wallfisch. The concerto seeks to reconcile in its single long span an introverted, blues-inflected expressiveness with a freer, unselfconsciously flowing idiom. It was indicative of Williams’s instinctive ability to communicate directly that this was so warmly received by the audience.