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Review: Welsh National Opera Orchestra New Year Concert at St Davids Cathedral

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THE New Year concert by the Welsh National Opera Orchestra (WNO) at St Davids Cathedral in Pembrokeshire was an event of unparalleled majesty and musical brilliance, setting an exalted tone for the 2024 season of the Fishguard Festival of Music. Held on a Saturday, January 20, the concert was a resplendent showcase of Viennese music, masterfully delivered by an ensemble that has firmly established itself as a titan of classical performance.

With mezzo-soprano Beca Davies as guest soloist, the orchestra navigated through a sophisticated repertoire – vibrant showcase of favourites from Vienna. The selection included the works of Brahms, Delibes, Dvořák, Schubert, and the Strausses among others, each piece unfolding with an elegance and dynamism that captivated the audience from start to finish.

Full of fun, attractive and zesty rhythmic masterpieces, enjoy some of the most brilliant examples of Viennese music, from Weber’s romantic concert waltz and Strauss II’s riveting polka to Josef Strauss’s Dynamiden waltz and Lanner Der Romantiker waltz, complete with a few rousing, and familiar, surprises.

The acoustics of St Davids Cathedral, a venue steeped in history and architectural grandeur, played a pivotal role in the day’s success. The sacred walls of the cathedral seemed to breathe with the music, enhancing the orchestra’s sound to create an atmosphere that was both intimate and expansive. The natural reverberation of the venue lifted the performances, allowing each note to resonate fully and beautifully with the assembled audience.

The event was a testament to the WNO Orchestra’s reputation as a world-class ensemble. As noted by Gillian Green MBE, Artistic Director of the Fishguard Festival of Music, the orchestra’s return was highly anticipated and they did not disappoint. The afternoon was indeed a “feast of classical music,” with moments of toe-tapping joy and profound emotional depth that moved many to tears.

The extended applause that followed the final note was a fitting tribute to the musicians’ talent and the emotional resonance of the performance. It was clear that the audience was not merely applauding the day’s performance but also expressing their anticipation and excitement for future events. The WNO Orchestra’s ability to draw such a heartfelt response speaks volumes of their connection with their audience and their impeccable artistry.

The success of the concert also highlighted the importance of accessibility to such cultural events, with a festival bus ensuring that music lovers from Cardigan, Newport, Dinas, Fishguard, and Goodwick could join in this celebration of classical music. It was a reminder of the communal spirit that the arts can foster, bringing together individuals from across the region for a shared experience of beauty and inspiration.

As we look forward to the remainder of the Fishguard Festival of Music and beyond, it is with a sense of gratitude and anticipation. The New Year concert by the Welsh National Opera Orchestra at St Davids Cathedral was not just a musical event; it was a powerful reminder of the enduring beauty of classical music and its ability to uplift, unite, and inspire. We eagerly await the next opportunity to be moved by such world-class performances, confident in the knowledge that music, at its best, is a gift that continues to give, resonating within us long after the last note has faded.

The Music

Weber Aufforderung zum Tanze (Invitation to the Dance), Op 65 
Johann Strauss II Wo die Zitronen blüh’n (Where the Lemons Bloom) Waltz, Op 364
Josef Strauss Ohne Sorgen (Without Worries), Polka schnell, Op 271
Schubert Ave Maria, D 839
Brahms Hungarian Dance No 5
Johann Strauss II Ich lade gern mir Gäste ein (I love to invite my friends) from Die Fledermaus
Josef Strauss Dynamiden Waltz, Op 173 

Interval

Suppé Dichter und Bauer Overture
Dvořák Slavonic Dance No 2 Dumka Allegretto grazioso Op 72
Delibes Pizzicati from Sylvia
Richard Strauss Beim Schlafengehen from Four Last Songs
Lanner Der Romantiker Waltz Op 167 
Johann Strauss II Furioso Polka Op 260
Stolz Du Solsst der Kaiser meiner Seele sein from Der Favorit

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Pembrokeshire in oil and mixed medium by Mehdi Moazzen

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INTERNATIONAL consulting designer Mehdi Moazzen will feature his work at the Torch Theatre this March. Kateh, is a collection of digital artworks that captivate dramatic paintings of local scenes of mix mediums.

From 2-29 of March, visitors to the Joanna Field Gallery at the Torch will be able to view Mehdi’s evocative collection of works that capture the very essence of Pembrokeshire’s changing light and landscapes.
Iranian born and UK-educated, Mehdi, trained at the Tehran School of Fine Art and then in London and Manchester. After many visits to Pembrokeshire, he finally settled here in 1981 and ran his own gallery at the Coach House, Haverfordwest.

“My first commission was to design beach huts off the Caspian Sea for Farah, Empress of Iran. Coming full circle, my most recent project was to restore the former home of Queen Soraya, the Shah’s second wife in the South of France,” said Mehdi, who is also a painter and sculptor, often creating custom design furniture to align with his architectural designs. 

Mehdi’s career spans more than 40 years both within the corporate world – as a former design manager at Herman Miller – and his own private practice, spanning commercial and residential sectors in Europe and the Middle East.

“I’ve exhibited my work at the Torch Theatre before and I’ve had several exhibitions internationally,” added Mehdi.

Mehdi extends a warm welcome to all to his opening exhibition at the Torch Theatre on Saturday 2 March 5-7pm.

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Pembrokeshire’s true tales echo on stage in ‘Farmers Townies and Grockles’

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THE ARTS organisation SPAN Arts is one of 16 UK organisations partnering with Unlimited, an arts commissioning body that supports, funds and promotes new work by disabled and neurodivergent artists for UK and international audiences.

The commission has been awarded to actor, writer and founder of Popty Ping Productions theatre company, Ceri Ashe to create ‘Farmers Townies and Grockles’, a bilingual play telling the true stories of the people of Pembrokeshire, directed by Anna Sherratt.

Verbatim theatre is made from real people’s words. Ceri Ashe (Bipolar Me, Tales of a New Normal, Lockdown Tales: Making Bread and Babies) has been holding storytelling workshops and interviewing people from across Pembrokeshire about their lives. These true stories have been woven together to create a tapestry of voices that explores what it means to be a resident of this rural county.

From farmers in Marloes, retired Welsh teachers in Cilgerran, barmen in Little Haven, to zumba instructors in Milford Haven – this exciting new show explores the themes of belonging, community and change.

It is also an honest look at the issues facing people in Pembrokeshire today: the lack of affordable housing, the decline in Welsh speaking communities, and the future of farming.

Ceri says: ‘I have always been intrigued by the diverse range of people Pembrokeshire is home to, and it’s been a delight to go out into the community to speak to people from north and south of the county to create this play. I’ve worked with SPAN previously to create online verbatim plays during lockdown, and it’s so exciting to now be able to create a live theatre show with a fantastic cast of professional and community actors all from Pembrokeshire.’

Bethan Touhig-Gamble director of SPAN arts mentions “Being part of the Unlimited Commission which champions disabled and Neurodivergent artists has supported SPAN to invest in the creation of this extraordinary new work. We are proud to be able to create platforms for diverse creatives in Pembrokeshire to tell their own stories and make work that is rebellious, radical, adventurous, inspiring, and playful.”

This eagerly anticipated production will be performed in community venues for two shows only:

  • Friday 22nd March – Ffwrn, 6 Main St, Fishguard SA65 9HH at 7:30pm (limited spaces)
  • Saturday 23rd March – Pill Social Centre, Cellar Hill, Milford Haven SA73 2QT 3:00pm
  • Pay what you can for this exciting new show!
  • Book your space via the SPAN Arts website span-arts.org.uk
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Gogglebocs Cymru star Molara is local celebrity in home village of Crymych

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A HIT reality TV programme has turned a Pembrokeshire mum-of-two into a local celebrity

Molara Awen, 58, from Crymych, is one of the stars of the Welsh language version of Gogglebocs.

She appears on Gogglebocs Cymru with her daughter, Maisie, 21, and son Finn, 23.

The series  – where  ordinary people voice their opinions about a range of television programmes – is broadcast on S4C on Wednesdays at 9pm.

When she goes to her local shop or the garage for fuel near her home friends and neighbours often want to chat with her about the show

“They’ll say things like ‘Oh we saw you on the television last night’ or ‘I didn’t know you were on it’ and then they will ask me what programmes we’ve been watching and what I think about the programmes and what will be featured in the next show.

“Most of them are really interested in Gogglebocs Cymru and are fascinated about how the programme is made. They seem to think we film it ourselves and don’t realise there’s a film crew in the room as well,” she laughed.

“Because the children live outside Wales they don’t get the same attention as I do at home in Pembrokeshire but their friends have commented about it to them on social media or when they’ve met.

“It never occurred to me that we would attract any attention but it has been is pretty manageable,” she said.

A noted singer, choirmaster and diversity activist, Molara found a new love of Welsh culture through taking part in the popular programme.

Now some of the people she meets ask her for suggestions of what programmes to watch on S4C and other channels.

“I’m quite specific about what I watch and always record programmes to watch when I want and not when they’re on. I don’t enjoy quiz programmes at all and I’m certainly not a Pobol y Cwm type person but I enjoy quality drama series like Y Gwyll.

“I enjoyed Pren ar y Bryn, that was really good, a quirky, off the wall series and Gwesty Aduniad was good too,” she said.

Originally from Glossop in Derbyshire, Molara started learning the Welsh language after moving to Pembrokeshire more than 25 years ago.

“I’m a Welsh learner and am quite fluent although I still go to classes so it’s good for me to be watching TV in Welsh.

“It was quite funny when the tutor asked what we were going to be doing before the next class and I said I’d be going on national television to speak about what I’ve been watching on S4C.

Molara takes part in Gogglebocs Cymru in Bristol where her children now live and work. Maisie is studying to become a mechanical engineer at the Royal United Hospital in Bath and Finn works in a bar.

Gogglebocs Cymru is made by two Gwynedd-based television production companies, Cwmni Da, in Caernarfon, and Chwarel, from Cricieth.

It’s the first time Studio Lambert and Channel 4 have licensed the Gogglebox franchise to another UK-based broadcaster.

The programme is filmed in the homes of the as the cast as they view the week’s chosen programmes. 

They cover a broad spectrum of programmes from S4C, other channels and streaming services ranging from gripping drama to popular quiz shows.

The footage is then edited ready for broadcast on the Wednesday evening and narrated by comedian and broadcaster Tudur Owen.

Series Producer Huw Maredudd, of Cwmni Da, said: “This is a continuation of the series which started before Christmas with the same group of people as before taking part.

“There were some wonderful moments during those programmes and some great comments were made about the various television programmes and there was a warm response to them on social media.

“The viewing figures were also excellent and the programmes we feature enjoy a boost to their viewing figures as well..

“Of course, we don’t expect all the featured programmes to be enjoyed by everyone but we hope that the fact they are all having fun watching the programmes gathered around the TV set together comes through.”

Huw added because the series is continuing there will be no new elements to the programmes but he expects to provide the cast and viewers with a few surprises.

“Something we’re doing for the first time is watching a live programme. The annual Can i Gymru programme is broadcast live on S4C on St David’s Day, March 1 and we’ll be watching along with the regulars and we’ll have their reactions to that on the following Wednesday,” he said.

  • Gogglebocs Cymru is broadcast on S4C on Wednesdays at 9pm. English subtitles will be available and the programme can also be viewed on S4C Clic, BBC iPlayer and other streaming platforms.

Pictured: Molara Awen with her daughter, Maisie, 21, and son Finn, 23 (Image: S4C)

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