It was an evening to remember at Birmingham Conservatoire’s Bradshaw Hall on Sunday 5 May, with a bevy of musicians out in force to support and raise money for the Gwyn Williams Bursary fund. The Bursary, has been set up in memory of the late Gwyn Williams who, amongst other credits, was the leader of the Viola section in the jewel in Birmingham’s crown, the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra. The Bursary benefits and supports talented, up and coming young violists at the Conservatoire.
The concert featured a cornucopia of classical delights and quite rightly, the Viola was the star of the show. The first voice of Classic FM, Nick Bailey played host as we were treated to music from the superb John Wilson on piano, accompanying Chris Yates who now leads the Viola section of the CBSO – they kicked off the varied programme. Arpeggione Sonata, D.821 (Schubert) was the opening piece and set the tone for the rest of the inspirational evening. Wilson and Yates went on to accompany one of my all-time favourite performers, Yvonne Howard, who sang Two Songs for Voice, Viola and Piano (Brahms). Later on, she treated us to a stunning rendition of Casta Diva from the Bellini Opera ‘Norma’. The artists accompanying Howard’s memorable performance were a mesmerising Quartet by the name of The Behn Quartet. The talented girls who make up the string Quartet also played String Quartet No. 1 in E minor (“From My Life”) (Smetana). Peter O’Connor, flautist, was also a welcome addition to the accompaniment for Casta Diva and he entertained us thoroughly at the close of the evening in a double act with pianist, John Wilson, with Carnevale di Venezia, Op.78 (Briccialdi).
One of the most poignant performances (and there were many!) was courtesy of two nineteen year old students from Royal Birmingham Conservatoire. Yuxin Chen played Viola beautifully, with Yang Bai on piano – they gave us a rousing rendition of Dance of the Knights from Romeo and Juliet by Prokofiev. It was a fantastically dramatic display and quite literally music to my ears!
This amazing concert would not have been possible if it hadn’t have been for Gwyn Williams’ widow, Stephannie who organised the event. As a string player myself (although I’m a very rusty violinist!), I appreciate the support that such a Bursary provides for up and coming musicians and long may it continue to benefit all who need it.