One of Britain’s fastest rising composers, Michael Stimpson has been a resident in Barga Vecchia for some time now and has appeared on this site many times over the past decade (all those articles can be seen here)
The influence of Barga and this area on his work was put in front of the public for the first time during May 2007 (article here) with four performances of his compostion “Dall’Alba al Tramonto based on the poems of Giovanni Pascoli.
Recently he has been pointing his ears in a completely different direction and as you can hear in the short interview recorded in Barga Vecchia this afternoon, his interest has been taken up by another poet, this time, the poet Dylan Thomas and the destruction of the village of Capel Celyn – a rural community to the north west of Bala in Gwynedd, North Wales. The village and other parts of the valley were flooded to create a reservoir, Llyn Celyn, in order to supply Liverpool and Wirral with water for industry.
Michael Stimpson’s work ‘ The Drowning of Capel Celyn’ is released on a new CD alongside his acclaimed biographical song cycle based on the life and work of Dylan Thomas.
Dylan Marlais Thomas (27 October 1914 – 9 November 1953) was a Welsh poet and writer, whose works include the poems “Do not go gentle into that good night” and “And death shall have no dominion”; the ‘play for voices’ Under Milk Wood; and stories and radio broadcasts such as A Child’s Christmas in Wales and Portrait of the Artist as a Young Dog. He became widely popular in his lifetime, and remained so after his premature death at the age of 39 in New York City, but had by then acquired a reputation, which he encouraged, as a “roistering, drunken and doomed poet”
The harp solo began life as a commission for renowned classical harpist Sioned Williams. She approached Michael for a new piece to mark her 60th birthday.
Sioned’s grandfather, Welsh Trade Union leader, politician and poet Huw T. edwards, became the first President of the Welsh Language Society (Cymdeithas Yr Iaith).
He was also chairman of the ‘Save Tryweryn’ campaign that fought hard to overturn the decision to flood the Tryweryn valley.
It seemed the perfect opportunity to create a piece to honour the community of Capel Celyn and the harrowing story of the drowning of their village.
I had known Sioned for many years and knew about her grandfather’s tireless campaign against the flooding. I had long been interested in that chapter of Welsh history, and this proved the perfect opportunity to create music inspired by it. What developed was a harp piece for Sioned’s 60th birthday, in memory of her grandfather and all those of the Capel Celyn community who lived through that harrowing period.”
Set in five movements, the work evokes Capel Celyn in first light, the marching of protesters and the violence of the flooding. First performed last year the piece has now been recorded by Sioned.
She said: “Performing Capel Celyn is especially poignant for me. I sat as a young girl on the banks of Capel Celyn with my grandfather, listening to him explaining why Tryweryn was such a tragedy, and what he personally had tried to do to stop the reservoir being built.”
Capel Celyn is accompanied on the album by a biographical song cycle celebrating the life and work of Wales’ most famous poet, Dylan Thomas.
The works of Michael Stimpson have been performed and commissioned by some of the UK’s most distinguished artists including the English Chamber Orchestra, London Sinfonietta, Allegri and Maggini String Quartets, Bristol Bach Choir, Roderick Williams, Paul Agnew, David Campbell, Philippe Graffin, and Sioned Williams. The capital’s foremost venues have hosted his works, and international recognition has prompted performances in Europe, the USA, and Australia.
His works are varied in their subject matter, the stimulus often from contemporary events, favourite authors, and poets. String Quartet No. 1 (Robben Island) reflected the breakdown of apartheid; The Stars Have Withdrawn Their Shining (harp), the life of John Ruskin; The Angry Garden (choir and orchestra) explored the issue of global warming; and A Walk Into War (tenor and piano quintet) was based on the writing of Laurie Lee.
His major work to mark the 60th anniversary of the end of World War 2, Clouds of War (choir and orchestra) was presented at Cadogan Hall in the presence of HRH Prince Michael of Kent. This was followed by a four-stage work, Age of Wonders, to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the birth of Charles Darwin. Beginning as a piece for violin and piano, it evolved through string quartet and string orchestra to a work for full orchestra, commissioned by the Darwin Symphony Orchestra in Australia. Michael went on to write the opera, Jesse Owens, a work in four Acts for soli, chorus and full orchestra based on the life of the iconic US athlete. Both the Incidental Music from the opera and Age of Wonders have been recorded by the Philharmonia Orchestra for release on CD. Two others CDs, Journeymen (Allegri Quartet) and Dylan and The Drowning of Capel Celyn (baritone and harp) are already available
His site can be seen here