Memories of the open air centenary concert commemorating the death of Dr. Joseph Parry

By Carl Llewellyn

To mark the centenary of the death of Wales’s most famous composer, Dr. Joseph Parry, the Avanti Television Company arranged an open air concert at Cyfarthfa Park on 28th July 2002. The concert was to be televised the next February on S4C.
The guest soloists were Timothy Richards (Tenor), Rebecca Evans (Soprano), and Jason Howard (Baritone), accompanied by two male voice choirs – Dowlais and Pendyrus accompanied by the National Chamber Orchestra of Wales.
The location selected couldn’t have been more picturesque, with a stage backdrop against Cyfarthfa Lake, a sloping green carpet of grass flowing towards the concert platform, interspersed with trees, allowing a spacious sector to accommodate a very large audience of spectators. The weather signs were favourable as the day began with a clear blue sky and an array of lovely sunshine. There was a rehearsal arranged in the afternoon with solo artists, choirs, and the orchestra under the baton of Alwyn Humphreys MBE, conductor of Morriston Orpheus Choir. Alwyn became their Musical Director in 1979 and it’s thanks to his unique talent that Morriston Orpheus Choir has achieved its reputation with performances which include his own arrangements.

After the afternoon rehearsal had finished, the Avanti Company provided refreshments in a marquee erected close to the children’s paddling pool, for all performers taking part in the Joseph Parry Centenary Concert. Interestingly both Dowlais and Pendyrus choirs are associated with each other through John Samuel, the present musical director of Pendyrus Male Voice Choir, who was also the previous conductor of the Dowlais Male Choir. At about 17.30pm, people began arriving with their deck chairs, cooler boxes, and picnic baskets. After the audience had settled to watch the musical performance, the choirs and orchestra lined up at the rear of the stage, awaiting the stage manager’s signal to make an entrance. Due to the hot weather the choirs were given dispensation by the conductor to remove their jackets, allowing choristers to feel comfortable. When the choir and orchestra were assembled on stage, the guest conductor Alwyn Humphreys approached the rostrum, the sight of over 2000 people facing the stage; all sitting comfortably was a vision to behold.

Alwyn addressed the audience in Welsh, expressing a warm welcome and thanked all those present for their attendance to such a prestigious event. He reiterated a similar utterance in English. Alwyn then gave a brief account of Dr. Parry’s early life and his connection with the town of Merthyr Tydfil.

The concert began with the choirs, accompanied by the orchestra, singing Dr. Parry’s “Cytgan y Pererinion” (Pilgrims Chorus). The next item “Y Marchog” was sung by the Baritone Jason Howard, a local boy known to many of the choristers and the audience by his original name of Jason Jones. Jason has on affinity with the Dowlais choir having once been a member before pursuing a professional singing career. Also his brother Digby was the choir’s chairman before his untimely passing away. Jason delighted the audience with his rendition of “Y Marchog”. After Jason left the stage Alwyn invited the audience to join with the choirs in singing Dr. Parry’s well known hymn tunes “Blaen-y-coed” and “Siroldeb”. Rebecca Evans, the petite and stylish world renowned soprano graced the stage dressed in golden attire, her voice reverberated Parry’s “Yr Ehedydd” (The Lark). For such a petite lady she sang like a bird and her vocal cords projected a robust sound. To complete the first half of the concert the tenor Timothy Richards sang one of Dr. Parry’s less well known pieces of music – “Baner ein Cymru”(Our Welsh flag). The resonance, voice control, and range of this young tenor impressed the audience and choristers. Looking out from the stage, it was a pleasing sight to see the audience enjoying themselves in a relaxed atmosphere, with the imbibing of beverages and the consuming of comestibles being part of the of evening’s ambience. The bonus of the day was the glorious summer weather in which people were able to bask and enjoy in the warm pleasant evening’s performance.

The concert programme continued with choirs and audience participation in the singing of another well-known Parry hymn tune “Dies Irae”. In 1878 Dr. Parry wrote the first opera in Welsh, “Blodwen” which at the time had a special significance, giving Wales a place in the realm of opera. In this first ever Welsh opera there is a famous duet “Hywel a Blodwen”. Many years later in 1977 there was a TV series called ‘Off to Philadelphia in the morning”, depicting the life of Dr. Joseph Parry in which the duet of “Hywel & Blodwen” was sang by Beti Jones and Stuart Burrows. On this occasion the duet was sung by Rebecca Evans and Timothy Richards, whose voices rekindled the memories of the previous duet and delighted the large audience. To show the versatility of Parry’s composition Jason Howard joined with Rebecca Evans and Timothy Richards to sing Parry’s “Cenwch y Clychau”(Praise the Bells).

Alwyn introduced each item in both Welsh and English. Due to the programme being televised for S4C, when it came to introducing Wales’s most famous love song “Myfanwy”; there was an emotional sigh from the audience. “Myfanwy” is one of those songs that instil “Hiraeth” (longing) in the hearts of Welsh people home and abroad.

To finish the soloist’s contribution, Jason Howard and Timothy Richards sang a duet “Y Ddau Wladgarwr” (The Two Foresters). The last item the choirs sang was “Cytgan yr Helwyr” (The Huntsman’s Chorus) and to end the concert the orchestra accompanied artists, choirs, and audience to perform Parry’s most famous hymn tune “Aberystwyth”.
The Centenary Concert ended in a traditional manner with the singing of the National Anthem of Wales.
The Avanti TV Company sent out invitations to the town’s dignitaries, namely the Mayor, Mayoress, and members of the local council to the Centenary Concert. A most welcome and admired guest was Elizabeth Parry the great granddaughter of Dr. Parry who is a professional musician in her own right with a vast experience in vocal and instrumental music, having sang at the world renowned Glyndebourne Festival.

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