Welsh classical performers scoop major prizes

There's been a flurry of successes for Welsh classical musicians in the last couple of weeks, with two leading young musicians winning major national awards.

Llŷr Williams

Pianist Llŷr Williams beat classical music titans Sir Colin Davis and Sir Harrison Birtwistle to win the Classical Music South Bank Show Award on 1 May at The Dorchester in London.

This self-effacing, serious performer does not seek the media spotlight, but his rare insight and musicality are winning him an increasingly large worldwide fan base for his solo performances and chamber music and song collaborations.

The award was for Llŷr's Beethoven piano cycle at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 2011, in which he performed all 32 sonatas at Greyfriars Kirk over a two week period. This is a mammoth undertaking, ranging across Beethoven's output from the early, classical-style pieces to the incredibly intense, introverted sound world resulting from the composer's total deafness.

The cycle was the surprise hit of the 2011 Fringe, attracting the attention of all the major national press. Reviewers included The Guardian's Fiona Maddocks: "I heard three of Llŷr Williams's complete Beethoven piano sonatas recitals at Greyfriars Kirk, each yet better than the last. Inward and serious... Williams communes with the piano as if seeking new layers in a palimpsest. The results, as in the Op 10 set last Monday, can be revelatory." The concerts soon became sell-outs.

After the ceremony, Llŷr said: "It is a great honour for me to receive this award and it is particularly fitting that is should be presented for a big project of substance."

He plans to repeat the Beethoven marathon in London and Glasgow.

Leaders of the contemporary British arts scene gathered to celebrate the awards, now in their 16th year, representing the entire spectrum of British arts. Other winners this year included Michael Frayn, Grayson Perry, Kate Bush, Claire Tomalin, Terry Gilliam and the BBC's Sherlock team.

Llŷr Williams was born in 1976 in Pentrebychan, north Wales, read music at The Queen's College, Oxford and went on to take up a postgraduate scholarship at the Royal Academy of Music where he won every available prize and award. As well as his recital work, he performs as soloist with orchestras across the world, collaborates with violinist Alexander Janiczek and has a strong interest in the Lieder and song repertoire. Since 2003, he has been one of the official accompanists for BBC Cardiff Singer of the World.

Natalya Romaniw

It was also a very good week for soprano Natalya Romaniw, who represented Wales in the 2009 BBC Cardiff Singer of the World competition, reaching the song prize final.

On 27 April, she received both the main and song prizes in the prestigious Kathleen Ferrier Awards, the first time any singer has won in both categories. Rupert Christiansen was there for the Daily Telegaph: " ...there can be no argument that the winner of both the first and song prize is potentially a world-class talent... Natalya Romaniw has a thrillingly large and resonant soprano, which one day could enable her to embrace the big Verdi roles."

Natalya comes from Swansea and studied at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, receiving the coveted gold medal in her final year. She is currently associate artist with the Classical Opera Company and joins Houston Grand Opera's prestigious Young Artist Programme in autumn 2012.


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