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Page last updated at 14:46 GMT, Thursday, 1 April 2010 15:46 UK
Caernarfon hosts Wales International Harp Festival

Electric harpist Deborah Henson-Conant
Grammy-nominated Deborah Henson-Conant is known as the 'Hip Harpist'

Some of the world's top harpists are heading for Caernarfon for an international festival presenting music from classical to pop and traditional to experimental.

Wales is thought to have more harpists per head of population than any other country, so it's a natural setting for an international harp festival.

From Sunday 4 April the Galeri arts centre is the venue for the second Wales International Harp Festival, with concerts and competitions, lectures and master classes.

It also incorporates the celebration of an important anniversary as John Parry, the blind musician who put Welsh harp music on the map, was born 300 years ago this year.

"He was born in Nefyn to a poor family, but had a great talent," explained festival director Elinor Bennett.

"He came to the attention of Sir Watkin Williams-Wynn and went to London and mixed with the gentry, playing with people like the composer Handel. He published the first collection of Welsh harp music in 1742."

To commemorate his contribution each competitor in the festival must play one of his works, as well as a piece by a modern Welsh composer.

One participant is Rhodri Davies who famously set fire to a harp in Bangor to see what the strings would sound like when they burned. He's come up with a novel way of incorporating Parry's work.

Elinor Bennett

We wanted to lift the profile of the harp not only in Wales, but on an international scale

Elinor Bennett, Wales International Harp Festival director

"I've been experimenting with a laser cutter machine to cut 300 random circles from John Parry's score before gluing them together to create a whole new score," said Rhodri, who'll be performing in Caernarfon with a camera inside his harp to give the audience a different perspective.

Meinir Llwyd, manager of Galeri's William Mathias Music Centre, is also looking forward to hearing America's Deborah Henson-Conant on the electric harp.

"She's one of the best jazz harpists and will be doing a project with the Gwynedd county orchestra," said Meinir.

There will also be an amplified or pop harp competition, thought to be the first in Europe.

"Competitors can do jazz, pop, rock, blues - anything, on any kind of harp, as long as it's amplified," said Meinir.

Festival judges will come from Russia, France, Hungary and beyond and Meinir says it will be interesting to observe their different approaches to teaching in the master classes.

One competitor who's looking forward to this international mix is 19-year-old Glain Dafydd from Bangor, a competitor in BBC Young Musician 2010.

"It's not only a chance to perform, but in a festival like this you can meet new people which is great fun," she said.

She's also pleased that all the competition rounds will be in front of an audience, not just the finals.


"It's nicer performing in front of the public and not just three judges. The performance element is always important, right from the beginning."

But you don't have to be an experienced harpist to take part. There will be a taster session for adult beginners.

Meinir Llwyd explained: "It seems that a lot of adults wanted to play as children, but didn't get the chance, so now they're retired they've decided to fulfil their dreams."

Elinor Bennet now hopes the festival will be held every four years.

She said: "We've had a harp festival in the William Mathias Music Centre in Caernarfon since it opened in 1999, but we wanted to lift the profile of the harp not only in Wales, but on an international scale.

"That was the idea behind the festival in 2006 and it was so successful that we wanted to do it again."

Harpist in BBC Young Musician 2010
04 Feb 10 |  Music
Harpist experiments with elements
11 Mar 07 |  North west
Harpist helped to attend festival
16 Apr 06 |  Wales


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