The coastline of Cardigan Bay in West Wales is the perfect backdrop for one of the most vibrant music festivals in the UK - MusicFest Aberystwyth. Since 1986, the festival has hosted the exciting fusion of a world-class music festival and a summer school, attracting an international rostrum of artists, teachers, students and audience alike.
Tŷ Cerdd talks with the festival’s newest collaborator, their Associate Artistic Director, composer Nathan James Dearden, about what their 2021 season has in-store for us.
Tŷ Cerdd: Nathan, let’s jump right in. What does MusicFest Aberystwyth have planned for this coming summer?
NJD: For 2021, we are committed to provide you with the world-class MusicFest experience that people have grown to love. Although we are not able to host our summer school in-person, we are following our 2020 success with a digital summer school experience, and we are working hard to provide a selection of courses online with our internationally renowned tutors. I am also confident that we have reacted responsibly to the current climate as we are also excited to present a blended concert experience with a mixture of special online and in-person events. David [David Campbell, Artistic Director], Joan [Joan Rowlands, Festival Manager], and I have worked tirelessly to bring both local and international artists to our audiences this summer.
Tŷ Cerdd: The blend of a summer school and music festival is a unique aspect for MusicFest Aberystwyth, yes?
NJD: Absolutely. The festival was established exactly to blend concerts, featuring some of the world’s best musicians and thought-provoking programming (originally for families and young people to be able to enjoy all sorts of music-making the local area), with a series of specially designed courses for young musicians to experience first-hand in Aberystwyth. It creates such a unique community, where all of the musicians, students, tutors, volunteers, concertgoers, and the people of Aberystwyth live, work, listen, and collaborate with one another over the summer season.
Although we’re sad that we cannot all be in the same place this summer, it has opened another world of creative possibilities. We are now able to have a whole host of amazing musicians and teachers, from across Wales and the rest of the world, collaborate, mentor and inspire our ‘virtual’ students. This year, we have Karen Jones (Principal Flute with the London Chamber Orchestra and Professor of Flute at RAM), Patrick Rimes (fiddle and piper with Calan), Nico Muhly (renowned composer, coming live from his studio in new York), Dr Ron Morris (acclaimed pedagogue and speech therapist, beaming in from Melbourne), to name only a few. It is amazing to see what doors technology has opened for a festival like ours!
Tŷ Cerdd: You mentioned that MusicFest Aberystwyth has a ‘blended concert experience’ lined up for this summer. What does that mean?
NJD: Like many festivals across the country, for this summer, we had to make an important decision as to what we can safely yet creatively do for our community. Talking with collaborators, supporters and our resident artists, we have come up with a series of events and opportunities where some can be enjoyed from the comfort of your own home, and some that we are able to safely host at Aberystwyth Arts Centre. Our freelance artists have been so supportive, resilient, adaptable, and creative with the everchanging landscape, and we couldn’t do it without them.
We are excited to host nine festival concerts; we have three specially-commissioned, streamed events featuring Karim Sulayman and Kaleidoscope Chamber Collective, Solem Quartet and our 2021 Digital Installation response. Folks will not only be able to view these from their homes, but we are also working with Aberystwyth Arts Centre for these to be specially streamed at their newly refurbished Theatr-y-Werin, so that audiences can gain a little of that special concert experience with friends and family. We then have six concerts where both performers and audiences are in the same space TOGETHER (what a new novelty!) This was an important aspect for us and we are thrilled to welcome Catrin Finch back to Aberystwyth, plus two gorgeously intimate concerts of J. S. Bach with Guy Johnston, pianist Yshani Perinpanayagam premiering a Tŷ Cerdd commission from Sarah Lianne Lewis, plus rising-stars Thomas Mathias and Dominic Ciccotti.
Not only that, but we are also currently confirming a handful of pop-up and fringe events across the local area, as it was so important to us that we also platform as much local talent that we can safely do so this summer. For instance, we are excited to bring together a whole host of string players from across Ceredigion for a one-off special event, Strings by the sea, conducted by Isobel McGuiness.
Tŷ Cerdd: This may be a tough question, but are there any festival highlights for you?
NJD: (Laughing) That’s really tough! Hmm…
I am particularly looking forward to seeing what comes out of the woodwork for our Digital Installation collaboration. This was something new for us as a festival, where we placed a national call for early career creatives to have the opportunity to work together and respond to the culture and landscape of Aberystwyth. We have two wonderful creatives – Claire Victoria Roberts (music creator) and Sally Maclachlan (visual artist) – who are collaborating on this throughout June and July. We have already had a fantastically creative chat, throwing all sorts of amazing ideas into the air, so I am looking forward to seeing what they come up with together!
It’ll definitely be something special for our audiences to experience, engage with, listen to, and view this summer.
Tŷ Cerdd: That’s exciting – how can people buy tickets for these events?
NJD: People, far and near, can already check out a selection of our festival concerts on our website [www.musicfestaberystwyth.org], and general booking for tickets opens 25 June 2021. Even though we have this blended concert experience, all of our events, both online, streamed and in-person, will require a booking of some sort. If there are any queries, the lovely Box Office team are on-hand to help at www.aberystwythartscentre.co.uk or by calling 01970 62 32 32.
Information about MusicFest Aberystwyth, its 2021 festival and summer school courses, opportunities and pop-up events can be found at www.musicfestaberystwyth.org