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Festival boss steps down after 20 years

23 Jun 2023 6 minute read
Ann Atkinson who has been made an Associate of the Royal College of Music. Picture Mandy Jones

The artistic director of an international music festival is stepping down after 20 years at the helm.

The announcement that Ann Atkinson is bowing out was made at the launch concert for the North Wales International Music Festival at St Asaph Cathedral.

The concert was a curtain raiser for this year’s festival that’s taking place from September 15 – 30, 2023.

The festival, which celebrated its 50th anniversary last year, was founded by the acclaimed royal composer, Professor William Mathias.

Ann became the third person to be the event’s artistic director, following in the footsteps of Prof Mathias and her immediate predecessor Geraint Lewis.

She said: “I have enjoyed the challenge immensely and there have been many of those along the way.

“The Covid-19 pandemic forced us to produce a virtual festival in 2020 and curtailed the 2021 festival for instance but being invited to become the Artistic Director all those years ago was a special opportunity.

“It was a privilege and an honour that I grasped eagerly with both hands when it was offered to me but now I feel I have served my time and it’s time to hand over to someone else.

“It is strange preparing for this year’s festival and not thinking ahead to next year which is what usually happens.

“The core programme of concerts and recitals remains as it always has done. William Mathias’s vision was to bring top class musicians to North Wales for local audiences to enjoy on their doorstep instead of having to travel to Liverpool, Manchester and beyond to hear them.

“But the community and youth programmes have developed dramatically in the past few years and this has been so exciting and satisfying for me. I feel I have been so lucky to be the custodian of such a superbly special event.”

Mezzo soprano

Ann, a celebrated mezzo soprano who hails from Corwen, gained her B.Ed degree from the University of Wales and initially pursued a teaching career before winning a scholarship to study singing at the Royal Academy of Music in London.

Since then she has sung with many of Britain’s leading opera companies, Scottish Opera, Glyndebourne Festival Opera, Wexford Festival Opera, WNO to name but a few, and performed all over the world including a memorable concert at Sydney Opera House.

In addition to her being the Artistic Director of the North Wales International Music Festival she is also the Musical Director of Côr Meibion Trelawnyd and Côr Meibion Bro Glyndwr.

From 2002 to 2009 Ann was also Musical Director of the Fron Male Choir who found fame and became known as the “Oldest Boy Band in the World” releasing several albums which topped the pop charts as well as the classical chart.

Ann was honoured by the Gorsedd of Bards at the 2009 National Eisteddfod in Bala and a year later was made an Honorary Fellow at Glyndŵr University.

In 2011 she received the Welsh Livery Guild’s Merit Award in recognition of her outstanding achievements to the world of music in Wales and beyond.

She was once again recognized for her contribution to Welsh Music in 2019 when she received the prestigious Sir Geraint Evans Award from the Welsh Music Guild in Cardiff.

Then last year Ann received an honorary Associate of the Royal Academy of Music in recognition of her contribution to music.

The Chair of the North Wales International Music Festival, the Very Reverend Nigel Williams, Dean of the Cathedral, paid tribute to Ann’s “immense and invaluable contribution” and revealed the search for her successor is now underway.


He said: “Through Ann’s enthusiasm, creativity and total dedication, the festival has survived and thrived by responding positively to the changes in society and the musical tastes of audiences.

“The community of the festival in terms of audiences, musicians, composers, singers and the festival committee owe her a great deal and the legacies she passes on are testament to the incredible talents she has.

“We now launch our search for a new artistic director and the successful candidate will have some big boots to fill because Ann is a real force of nature. Anybody interested in applying for the role should contact [email protected]

This year’s festival is based on the theme of Horizons and the closing concert on Saturday, September 30 will take the form of a farewell to Ann.

It will feature the NEW Sinfonia, the NEW Voices Community Choir and soloists Lisa Dafydd and Dafydd Jones.

Also taking part will be Ann herself and her husband, accomplished baritone, Kevin Sharp.

“The orchestral concert will include the young musicians from our Instrumental Project and a bit of Opera and favourite pieces.

“The programme will include our 2013 Commission by Paul Mealor ‘A Welsh Prayer’ and a follow up new commission from Paul Mealor for 2023 ‘A Welsh Blessing’,” said Ann.

Among the highlights during the two week festival will be a return to St Asaph of the Mugenkyo Taiko Drummers. Ann Atkinson said their return to the festival is by popular demand after raising the Cathedral roof last year.

The acclaimed Manchester-based acoustic quartet Kabantu will present their eclectic, folk-inspired original music while talented vocal ensemble Tenebrae, who have visited the festival on two previous occasions, will feature Renaissance music and mark the 400th anniversary of English composer William Byrd’s death.

A bilingual concert, entitled Gorwelion y Gair (The Horizon of Words), will feature the Trelawnyd and Bro Glyndwr Male Voice Choirs – both are led by Ann Atkinson as their musical director. They will be joined by the Dee Sign BSL Choir and the very popular folk group, Pedair. Poet Aled Lewis Evans will also take part in the event.

The NEW Sinfonia orchestra, the festival’s Orchestra in Residence, will be joined by American violinist Tai Murray and pianist Teleri Sian from Wales in concert. And former Royal harpist Catrin Finch and Irish violinist Aoife Ni Bhriain’s programme is inspired by bees travelling over the horizon from Wales to Ireland in the 6th Century.

Online concerts from the 2022 festival are now available to view for free on the festival’s website, with donations gratefully received. Red Priest’s ‘Truly Madly Baroque’ programme and Paul Mealor’s Community Opera ‘Gelert’ in both English and Welsh have now been added.

Tickets for the launch concert and further details about the festival programme are available online at Tickets also available from Cathedral Frames, St Asaph – 01745 582929 (Weds – Fri, 10 – 4) and Theatr Clwyd by phone – 01352 344101 (Mon – Sat, 10 – 6).

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