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The top picks of ‘22: Our writers select their cultural highlights of the year

11 Dec 2022 7 minute read
The giant bucket hat in Cardiff city centre (Credit: Anthony Riela)

Molly Stubbs

“I want a bucket hat,” I told my husband in late October, after seeing the huge sculpture of one in the centre of Cardiff.

I’ve always been partial to a bucket hat, so getting one that is synonymous with Welsh support for our footballing heroes seemed only right as we went into our first World Cup in 64 years.

Two days later and there arrived at my front door the crisp and fresh beauty in red, green, and gold, dragon standing proud as the crown jewel. Perfect timing, as later that night we’d be playing USA.

Oh, that didn’t go so well did it?

Well, we’re not out of it yet, let’s see how we go against Iran.

Oh well, there’s still a smidgen of hope, and how fitting that we may pull it back in a game against England. I must admit, though, that I wasn’t too confident.

“We are going to get absolutely battered,” I said, hiding behind my hands.

“I know!” My husband lets out a laugh in spite of himself.

We all know how well it went. You could say that the Welsh team are losers, that we lost as a country. But by the nature of the World Cup, every nation bar one must bear that title.

Achievement

The other Celtic nations didn’t even get that opportunity, as Wales full well know after 6 decades of not even being good enough to earn the right to be called losers.

As the second smallest nation there, there is no denying our achievement.

The achievement of the players, the Welsh footballing greats, whose presence in Qatar provides a grand send off in the twilight of their careers.

And of course, it meant we got to wheel out Michael Sheen from whatever Neathian grotto he inhabits, for another of those speeches that makes us all wish he’d been the next great Welsh politician.

Immense pride

The 2022 World Cup may not have been quite as successful as any of us had hoped.

But even though it didn’t go as planned, listening to the fraction of Welshies out in Qatar absolutely blasting the national anthem, to decibels the other nations couldn’t even hope to reach, is still a moment of immense pride.

Standing in front of the TV with our hands over our hearts, singing the Gwlads we’ve known since primary school, the fraternity is undeniable.

United we stand.

Yma o hyd.

You can read Molly Stubbs review of Midsummer night’s Dream here

* * *

Carys The Caterpillar Finds A New Home Book Illustration

Tom Maloney Abersychan Artist

For me the cultural highlight of the year has been working with the Foundation Pupils of Cwmffrwdoer Primary School, near Pontypool.

Together we created a short animated film and book ‘Carys The Caterpillar Finds A New Home’ about the journey of a caterpillar to find a safe habitat.

The name of the caterpillar was always going to be ‘Carys’, as ‘Carys The Caterpillar’ also just happens to be the school inspirational character behind ‘developing enterprising, creative contributors, ready to play a full part in life and work!’

The project was born at a time when Covid restrictions were in place and we began the project with online workshops.  I have to admit I was a little lacking in confidence at the outset, wondering whether I would have the skills needed to inspire these young pupils, but I soon gained in confidence as we worked collaboratively together.

It quickly became evident that these young minds identified with the problems that the caterpillar faced after being blown away from its first habitat. Their ideas captured the issues when faced with cars, litter and pollution –

“What horrid smoke! I don’t like pollution!”

“It makes me cough and I might get squished!”

“I don’t like the humans throwing their rubbish away!”

“It’s my home! What will happen if I get stuck in a crisp packet?”

Nature flourishes

For the caterpillar there is a good ending, Carys finds a new home on a Zig Zag Path next to Cwmffrwdoer Primary school where Nature flourishes with the help of the pupils.

As Covid restrictions eased we were able to extend the project with face-to-face art workshops in school. We used a variety of materials and techniques including painting with watercolours, creating images with oil pastels and printmaking.

At every stage I found myself so impressed by what had been achieved that I had to constantly think about making sure that the workshops were stimulating and challenging and did not underestimate what the pupils could achieve as we took the story forward.

The images produced by these pupils aged three to seven years were just lovely and have been used to create a short, animated film and storybook that we hope to launch in the New Year.

Carys The Caterpillar Finds A New Home’ is a story of our times, with a message of hope for the future. For me, cultural highlights don’t get any better than this!

Read Tom Maloney’s Letter from Abersychan here

* * *

Cardiff Philharmonic Orchestra

Peter Collins

Many of the world’s top orchestras have graced the stage at Cardiff’s St David’s Hall this year, bringing joy and comfort to thousands of music-lovers in these challenging times.

But one orchestra of dedicated amateur musicians has consistently impressed and inspired audiences with its regular appearances at the venue.

Cardiff Philharmonic Orchestra celebrated its 40th anniversary this year with a typically varied and satisfying concert in June.

The concert, which included a thought-provoking piece called Cardiff Bay Overture by Welsh composer Gareth Wood, followed a period of controversy which saw the orchestra make international headlines after it scrapped a programme of music by Russian composers in the light of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

The anniversary concert demonstrated the orchestra’s ability to quickly adapt to changing circumstances after pianist Martin James Bartlett withdrew at the eleventh hour.

His replacement, Gabriele Strata, played Gershwin’s Piano Concerto with refreshing gusto and elegance.

Memorable

The orchestra’s founder and conductor, the indefatigable Michael Bell, led the orchestra in a spirited performance of Rachmaninov’s Symphony No 2 which made one look forward with eager anticipation to the orchestra’s concerts next year.

If Cardiff Philharmonic Orchestra is the champion of amateur orchestra musicians in Wales, the Cantemus Chamber Choir, which performs classical music from The Renaissance to the present day, proudly flies the flag for amateur singers.

The choir gave a memorable concert, called The Glory of Italy, at the splendid Dora Stoutzker Hall, at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama, in April.

It was the first time in more than two years that many in the audience had listened to the choir live in concert. It was certainly an uplifting experience.

No exception

A highlight of the concert season in Cardiff is always the concert given by the Welsh National Opera Orchestra, and this year was no exception.

The slashing of the WNO’s funding is an obvious concern for opera lovers, but one hopes it will not stop the orchestra’s occasional emergence from the opera house pit to perform these wonderful concerts at St David’s Hall.

You can read Peter Collins’ music reviews here

You can catch up with other highlights here

 


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