Now that my son is almost eight years old I find that I am getting out to watch a lot more concerts than I have done in the past few years. When he was a baby it was hard enough to leave him to go to work (play the harp!) so I didn't watch any concerts for a while. However, as the years have gone on he has been in the audience for many of my concerts, both in the UK and abroad, and increasingly more of other people's. He also gets involved in the planning of concerts that I sometimes host for myself or my students and he certainly got involved with the preparations for Gwenllian Llyr's Stamford recital last Sunday. Along with the rest of the modest but appreciative audience, he enjoyed the concert very much indeed and was not bored for a minute!

That, of course, is down to Gwenllian's descriptive and refined music-making. Gwen took us through two beautifully crafted programmes; each half of the recital was one 'round' of the competition in Bloomington that she is about to compete in and she has put together a really mesmerising and very well prepared selection that I hope the international jury enjoy as much as we all did. The level of perfection and technical achievement that Gwen has reached is spell-binding and impressive in itself, although she is much more of a special musician than just perfection. Gwenllian has a natural flair for shaping the music as a sculptor deftly creates a masterpiece from clay or wood. She is always aware of the materials that she is working with and has a clear vision of the result and the reaction that she can obtain through her art - she is confident and vivacious too. In fact, if I was Gwen, I would have looked a lot more jubilant at the close of the recital, although with the intense heat of the day there was a slight element of relief that she must have felt, having mastered each piece with such control.

I particularly enjoyed Gwen's very well characterised rendering of Manuel de Falla's 'Spanish Dance No.1', transcribed by Marcel Grandjany. The rhythmic vitality was a sheer joy to experience live! This was followed by the most exquisite contrast - Bernard Andres's 'Elegie pour le mort d'un berger' (berger is French for shepherd) - which was incredibly atmospheric and delighted in the many timbres suggested in the score and brought to life by Gwen's fingers. She rounded off the first half with a unique and convincing interpretation of Parish-Alvars' Fantasy on Italian Opera Airs, making it sound fresh and personal with the melody always to the fore - just what is needed to communicate these virtuosic pieces in the opera style, impressing but still creating a beautiful experience for the listeners.

There were many other high points to this concert and Gwen certainly won the hearts of everyone in the audience. Gwen has been preparing a vast programme for the USA International Harp Competition (alongside graduating with a First in her degree!) and her studied yet intuitive understanding of the music that she plays created an extraordinary concert for us all. In the years to come, I hope that Gwen has the opportunity to play with more period instrumentalists (musicians who are expert in repertoire from different musical eras, for example 17th century harpsichord music from the Spanish baroque, or 19th century keyboard works for the early grand pianos). I have benefited enormously from studies with Douglas Hollick and Trevor Pinnock and have always been very inspired by Danielle Perrett's innate understanding of the 18th century single-action pedal harp, her expertise in the music from this time and her passion for its social and cultural importance. Over time, one gains a deeper knowledge of the authentic ornamentation, performance rhetoric and the freedom that only those who truly understand the style and purpose of the music can have with it. This liberates the musician to achieve a more dynamic, expressive performance with no fear of 'romanticising' the music. 

Gwen's playing is absolutely magical and this is only a suggestion of further improvement over the next few years, during which Gwen is bound to become really big news in the harp world! At only 22 years of age, Gwenllian Llyr has already achieved incredible heights with her playing and will, I hope, have the greatest possible success in the USA competition. A top prize in this contest would be richly deserved by this talented, fresh and charismatic individual.

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