It’s almost time for the curtain to rise on this year’s Swansea International Festival, our city’s annual celebration of music and the arts, and with over 20 events taking place in venues across the city, we’ve been talking to the Festival team to plan out our diary for Festival Fortnight!
Now one of Wales’ major cultural events, the Festival aims to bring the best of the world to Swansea and share the best of Swansea with the world. And this year’s festivities will be no different!
Chair of the Festival, Mal Pope, certainly knows what he’s looking forward to. “I know the power the arts can have and as a proud Swansea Jack I’m thrilled that this year’s Festival is such an exciting one. From the immersive experience of the groundbreaking Now the Hero in our first week to witnessing the maestro Sir Karl Jenkins in action, plus everything in between, I’m counting down the days now. There’s so much going on that I’ve even had to start keeping a copy of the Festival programme in my car just so I can remember all the different events I’m going to!”
The one that’s really got the city talking is Sir Karl Jenkins homecoming concert at the Brangwyn Hall on 6 October. Partly a reflection on the centenary of WWI, but also a response to more current conflicts, this thrilling gala concert will be conducted by the great man himself and features the world premiere of his latest work, Lamentation, especially commissioned by Festival. Based on a poem by 13-year-old Syrian refugee, Amineh Abou Kerech, the premiere promises to be one of the musical highlights of the year and its taking place right here in Swansea. “I’ve always been a fan of Sir Karl Jenkins,” Mal told us. “The fact that he was born and raised in Penclawdd had nothing to do with my initial interest. It was the music – he just didn’t sound like anyone else. Seeing him in action will be an absolute dream come true.”
Other fans of Sir Karl will also be excited to hear that they don’t just have the chance to hear his music and see him conduct that night though. No – tickets to the concert also include a very special pre-concert talk, with Sir Karl Jenkins being interviewed by BBC Wales’ Beverley Humphreys at 18:30 in the Brangwyn Hall.
And after the concert, the Friends of the Swansea International Festival will host a post-concert reception – a unique opportunity to meet Sir Karl and members of the BBC National Orchestra of Wales too.
But don’t hang around if you haven’t got your tickets for either of these events yet – with people coming from far and wide to see Sir Karl, we’ve heard they’re both very nearly sold out!
With two weeks of events though, there’s plenty more to enjoy. Sir Karl Jenkins isn’t the only Welsh composer the Festival will be recognising – Mal told us all about Celebrating Daniel Jones on 23 September too. “Daniel Jones was one of the most important composers of the 20th century, but his work has very sadly been overlooked in recent years. Dan wasn’t just a composer – he was a genius, a Bletchley Park codebreaker and a lifelong friend of Dylan Thomas. We’re hosting a whole day celebrating his life, words and music and will travel between two great High street venues, The Hyst and the Unitarian Church, something I think Dan and the rest of the Kardomah Boys would approve of.”
Mal’s also looking forward to The Boy and the Lion’s Head at the National Waterfront Museum on 27 September. “I’m delighted that we have the work of Swansea-born poet Peter Thabit Jones at this year’s Festival. I managed to catch up with Peter earlier in the year to chat about how we could involve him in our 70th anniversary year, just before he set off for another writer’s residency in California. I feel that sometimes, like with Dan Jones, we have a tendency to overlook our own talents and our own stories in Swansea. The Boy and the Lion’s Head is set right here and nothing will give me greater pleasure than seeing this work come to life.”
Fans of chamber music will want to book their tickets for the Welsh premiere of Huw Watkins’ Four Fables, performed by the Gould Piano Trio and virtuoso clarinettist Robert Plane at the National Waterfront Museum on 30 September. Also on the billing that night will be one of the greatest artworks of the 20th century, Olivier Messiaen’s epic, transcendent Quartet for the End of Time, written in 1941 while he was a prisoner-of-war held at Stalag VIII-A.
Another musical treat will be the Marmen Quartet’s performance at All Saints Church in Oystermouth on 27 September. Winners of the 2018 Royal Overseas League Competition, the quartet’s Steffan Morris hails from Neath, but this will be their very first visit to Swansea. Another member of the Festival team, Artistic Director Lyndon Jones, told us all about the programme for that concert, which includes Beethoven, Adès and Debussy, whose single string quartet is one of the most charmingly lyrical quartets ever composed. As Lyndon said, “all in all, it’s difficult to imagine a more delightful evening’s music-making!”
Mal’s also keen to point out Elin Manahan Thomas’ concert on 2 October. “Elin is simply the best. Her performance at this year’s Royal Wedding was enjoyed by millions, but Elin will be hosting an intimate performance for us at the National Waterfront Museum on 2 October, charting the struggles and progress of women in Welsh society in the 100 years since they won the right to vote. It’s another night that’s just going to be really special.”
Also not to be missed is classical music’s guitar hero Miloš Karadaglić, performaning at the Grand Theatre on 5 October. “Miloš is one of those great artistes that has managed to crossover,” says Mal. “He takes the music he loves and shares it with an audience that doesn’t know it could possibly like ‘classical’ music. He has graced concert platforms around the world and when he steps out onto the Grand Theatre stage he will add a touch of glamour to our Festival which I know the people of Swansea are going to love.”
“And that’s just the start of it – we’ve got Now the Hero, the Swansea Fringe, Rob Brydon, Steve Balsamo at the Hyst…and more! It’s going to be a busy couple of weeks!” says Mal, laughing. “But what a thrill to be able to experience all this right on our doorsteps…”
The Swansea International Festival starts on Saturday 22 September and runs until Sunday 7 October. You can find out more and book your tickets here.
This post is also available in: Welsh