Music and history will combine when a Belgian orchestra makes its debut visit to Wales this week.
The Speelschare Orchestra from Diksmuide arrives in Mid Wales on 6 July for a week-long tour and taking in some of the most poignant stories of the First World War, and concert venues ranging from a village hall to the Senedd.
The 45-strong orchestra, which is made up of young musicians, will perform a number of concerts in Wales including a special performance at the Senedd in Cardiff on July 11th, sponsored by Elin Jones AM, the National Assembly’s Presiding Officer.
Founded in 1980 by Gino Malfait – who at the time was a teacher at the Saint-Aloysius High School in Diksmuide – the orchestra describes itself as a ‘musical youth movement’ performing a varied repertoire from pop and rock music, to classical inspired works as well as jazz arrangements.
During its tour the orchestra will base itself at Tynrhyd Retreat in Devil’s Bridge – a former working farm turned-5 star luxury retreat owned by Gareth and Sian Price, whose family farmed its land for generations.
Said Sian, “We are delighted to host Speelschare Flemish orchestra to Tynrhyd Retreat, it’s the first orchestra to stay in our new accommodation in Mid Wales. Our location serves as a perfect base for the orchestra members to tour the whole of Wales while exploring our beautiful country. We were able to advise and guide them too as they organized their concert venues and tour activities.”
A very musically talented family, Sian and her mother Delyth Evans are renowned harpists. They along with Sian’s nine-year-old harpist daughter Alaw and cornet playing sons – Dafydd (11) and Tomos (9) – have been invited to perform with the orchestra during its tour.
The orchestra’s visit coincides with the centenary of the death of Welsh poet Hedd Wyn who was killed during the First World War at the Battle of Passchendaele. Among the venues where the orchestra will perform is the hall in Trawsfynydd – Hedd Wyn’s home village. Said the orchestra’s conductor, Gino Malfait, “The connection with Hedd Wyn is very important to our area. He died in 1917 in Boezinge, a small village near Ypres and which is only a few kilometres from Diksmuide.
About Hedd Wyn
Hedd Wyn was the bardic name of Ellis Humphrey Evans who was born in Trawsfynydd, Meirionydd on 13 January 1887 and was killed at the Battle of Passchendaele on 31 July1917.
He was posthumously awarded the bard’s chair at the 1917 National Eisteddfod for his ode ‘Yr Arwr’ (The Hero).
“Therefore, with it being his centenary we are very interested to learn more about Hedd Wyn and we are looking forward to seeing the exhibition at the National Library of Wales in Aberystwyth and his farm and museum at Trawsfynydd.”
Said Sian Price, “The tour coincides perfectly with the centenary of Hedd Wyn and we have developed a close connection with Gino who lives a mere five minutes from the cemetery where Hedd Wyn lies.”
The orchestra will also highlight another connection between Belgium and Wales when it visits Llanwenog and performs at the village’s church. During the First World War, Belgian artist and sculptor Joseph Reubens lived in the Llanwenog area.
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During its tour, the orchestra will perform at Aberystwyth Band Stand 7 July, Trawsfynydd Village Hall 8 July, Llanwenog Church 9 July, and the Senedd 11 July.
Explained Gino, “He was asked to make a wooden sculpture for the church so it’s a special place for us to play.”
The concert at the Senedd will be the final performance of the Speelschare Orchestra’s tour.
Said Elin Jones AM, “I am delighted to be sponsoring the Speelschare Orchestra’s performance at the Senedd. Music is a wonderful way to bring people together from across the world, and I am sure the orchestra’s visit will create many new friendships between Wales and Belgium.”
Gino added, “It is an honour to play at the Senedd. It gives us the sign that music is the most important international language. Music is the most wonderful medication for people.”
While this will be the orchestra’s first visit to Wales, it is no stranger to playing overseas, having performed in a number of countries including, Germany, England, the Netherlands, Austria, France, Denmark, the Czech Republic, Spain, Switzerland, Greece, Sicily, Portugal and Ireland.
The group will also take in sights such as Cardiff Castle and Pumlumon Fawr, the highest point in the Cambrian Mountains, and visit the Red Kite feeding centre at Bwlch Nant Yr Arian, visit the Silver Mountain Experience, and go dolphin spotting in New Quay.