May - The Gregynog Festival and the Harlech Group

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Published : 30 Apr 2017

This year, the inspiration for the oldest extant Classical Music festival in Wales comes from the Summer of 1917, and the gathering of a most remarkable artistic community around Harlech Castle. We are delighted that Chirk Castle is to play host to the second weekend of this prestigious Festival, as the castle’s past occupant and benefactor, Lord Howard de Walden, was part of that inspirational ‘Harlech group’.

It was on his return from a visit to Harlech, with his long-time friend and musical associate, Joseph Holbrooke, that Lord Howard de Walden first saw and fell in love with Chirk Castle. Throughout his residence at Chirk (1911 – 1946) he and Margot, Lady Howard de Walden, who was a talented soprano in her own right, were hosts to a series of major contemporary figures from the Arts, some of whom are represented in this year’s programme.

Whilst at Chirk Castle, ‘Tommy’ Howard de Walden was for fifteen years the President and principal funder of the ‘British Music Society’ - a group founded to promote British composers - he was also Honorary President of the London Symphony Orchestra from 1920, but in Wales his enthusiastic and far-sighted patronage was (and still is) most keenly appreciated: a believer in the power of music, he funded a successful LSO tour of the South Wales coalfields during the Depression, to raise morale.

One of the frequent names in the Visitors’ Book at Chirk castle has to be Joseph (or ‘Josef’) Holbrooke, but even casual reading reveals many other musical notaries of the period, including Gervase Elwes, the renowned tenor, who was one of Tommy and Margot’s favourite singers: the early death of this immensely talented singer led to the founding of the still-active ‘Musicians’ Benevolent Fund’, of which Tommy was the President and principal financial supporter. This far-sighted policy led to the Fund’s ability to spend today over £2m per year, and help over 1,500 musicians in need.

A hugely creative individual himself, Tommy had established himself as a keen librettist for Holbrooke’s music long before coming to Chirk, in a collaboration which saw the two men frequently seeking inspiration from the stories of the Mabinogion - not always to universal contemporary critical acclaim, but at a much later concert to celebrate the centenary of Holbrooke’s birth, Harold Truscott declared their operatic trilogy as ‘one of the glories of British opera’.

Typical Chirk house parties might end with guests entering the Music Room (today called ‘the Chapel’) to be entertained by names like Ivor Newton, Oggie Lynn, Louise Edviner or even by Margot Howard de Walden herself, one of the leading social luminaries of the time.

" …it is fitting that the National Trust celebrates the Howard de Walden era at Chirk in memory of Tommy and Margot, outstanding and life-enhancing patrons of British and Welsh culture and the Arts. How thrilled Tommy would be to see the Welsh language and culture brimming with vitality…"
- Thomas Seymour, grandson of 'Tommy' Lord Howard de Walden

We hope that you are able to attend what promises to be a star-studded and memorable weekend (23rd – 25th June) at Chirk, with performances in the Chapel from Australian saxophonist Amy Dickson, Welsh pianist Llyr Williams, and clarinettist Robert Plane with the Gould Piano Trio, as well as the chance to hear more about ‘Tommy’ from his grandson, Thomas Seymour. Eminent historians Hazel Walford Davies and Peter Lord will also be discussing Lord Howard de Walden as a literary and artistic patron.

For tickets and further information visit www.gregynogfestival.org, call 01686 207100, and at the door, subject to availability.