Welcome to Eisteddfod

People at Eisteddfod BBC cameras film the 2010 Eisteddfod in Ebbw Vale

The Vale of Clwyd in North Wales is preparing itself for thousands of visitors who'll be making their way to this year's Eisteddfod, which begins on Friday and lasts for eight days.

For those who can't make it - the BBC is offering comprehensive coverage, with 160 hours of programming across S4C, BBC Two Wales, BBC Four, plus Radio Wales, Radio Cymru and online.

An Eisteddfod is a cultural celebration of everything Welsh, with its philosophy firmly rooted in the idea of community.

There'll be live performances of music, dance, plays and poetry, and although everything on stage is in Welsh, translation facilities (into English) are available. The organisers are keen to emphasise that everyone is welcome and there's plenty to enjoy, even if you've no grasp on the Welsh language at all.

Musicians at Eisteddfod Eisteddfod celebrates Welsh music and language

Siân O'Callaghan, who's producing Eisteddfod 2013 with Siân Williams for BBC Four, says that, although the Welsh language is an integral part of the Festival, each performance is accessible to a wide audience.

"It's a celebration of the Welsh language but it doesn't matter if you don't understand Welsh," she says. "Good music and competition translate into any language. There's something for everyone and you get the sense of fun wherever you're visiting from."

Second biggest OB

It's impossible to overestimate the importance of the Eisteddfod for Wales. Competition is at its heart, with performances judged throughout the week. Winning here, whether you're a choir, a brass band, an actor or a poet, is hugely prestigious. And visitors do attend from all over the world, often returning ex-pats who've settled abroad.

The performances take place in an iconic pink pavilion, surrounded this year by the particularly spectacular countryside of Denbighshire. Next door is a second site - or Maes B - designed for a younger crowd with the focus on emerging bands and artists.

The National Eisteddfod is the second largest annual OB for the BBC after Wimbledon. The main challenge for O'Callaghan in her highlights programme is choosing what to feature, given the huge scale and diversity of what's going on.

What is Eisteddfod?

Eisteddfod in 1968
  • An Eisteddfod is a Welsh festival of literature, music, dance and performance, dating back to the 12th century
  • The annual event is held alternately in north and south Wales
  • Around 160,000 people visit each year
  • Welsh language and culture is an integral part of the Festival, but everyone is welcome

"The BBC Cymru Wales staff who work on the Eisteddfod are living and breathing it at the moment," she says. "I love the collaboration, everyone coming together - sharing their knowledge and working around the clock to deliver all these programmes."

Presenter Siân Williams is a first-timer at the Festival.

"I'm very excited about going," she says. "My family told me many times about the wonderful poetry and music there and this will be a chance for me to enjoy and relish the sights and sounds of an incredible Welsh cultural event for the first time."

The Festival will get off to a rousing start on the first Saturday when the BBC National Orchestra of Wales joins with the Eisteddfod Choir and four renowned Welsh soloists, in a performance of Handel's Messiah.

Eisteddfod 2013 with Siân Williams is on Saturday 10 August at 7pm, repeated on BBC Two Wales on Monday 12 August at 7.30 pm.

When the credits roll it will be with a final flourish of Welsh identity. The show is presented by Siân Williams, produced by Siân O'Callaghan - and the researcher is Siân Lloyd Jones.

The website www.bbc.co.uk/eisteddfod will have a live video stream from the Pavilion all day every day, with an option to listen in Welsh or English

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