Y Gogarth - Owain Llwyd’s love letter to North Wales

10 June 2022

Photographer Matthew Thistlewood

WNO Orchestra return to the concert platform this month, visiting four venues across Wales as part of their A Midsummer Celebration tour. Alongside works by Gerald Finzi, Vaughan Williams and Mendelssohn, the concert features a new commission by Welsh composer Owain Llwyd, entitled Y Gogarth (Great Orme). We caught up with the composer to discover how our homeland inspires his work.

‘I knew throughout my school days that I wanted to do something in music. I started composing at the age of 8 and by the age of 21 I had won the Urdd Eisteddfod Main Composers’ Prize three times and the Main Composers’ Prize at the National Eisteddfod twice.

Nature has always inspired my concert work. The stunning North Wales scenery has always played a big role in my life and music. Welsh history is also of great interest to me. It doesn’t matter where in Wales you live, there’s always a Castle within a short distance. Then of course there’s the Welsh language. We’re blessed with what I consider to be the most musical language of all.

The main impetus for Y Gogarth derived from the view from Beaumaris, Anglesey overlooking the Menai Straits, Snowdonia, Puffin Island and the Great Orme (Y Gogarth). From sunrise to sunset, concept through construction, the Great Orme stood out and inspired all aspects of the composition. The work consists of 3 movements, each constructed both harmonically and structurally from a height map of the Great Orme, simply mapped against time (duration) and a piano keyboard. Every ridge in the outline of the Great Orme’s rugged landscape became a structural point of importance (a double bar line or time signature change) and dictated the direction of the creative work.

  • From the sky

From an imagined thrill-seeking cable car ride, soaring above and around the headland, many other adventurous activities around the Great Orme inspired this movement - from the ski slopes, water sports and cycling to the tram journey and various walking paths. Anyone who has arrived at the summit, by any means, knows how steep and awe-inspiring the experience can be.

  • From the land

Sketched sitting on the picnic benches on the Great Orme overlooking St. Tudno Church, towards the wind-turbines, this is the emotional core of the work. The experience of being on the Great Orme is always magical, mesmerising, and mystical to me, hence the atmospheric aspects of this movement. Towards the end of this movement the strings take centre stage for what I can only describe as my love letter to North Wales.

  • The Kashmiri Goats

The third and final movement is all about the famous Llandudno Goats that became a bit of an internet sensation during the first lockdown taking over the deserted streets of Llandudno. They’re presented here in a comical, head-strong nature. The movement opens with a farmer’s whistle heralding a fanfare-like rendition of a well-known traditional Welsh tune called ‘Oes Gafr Eto?’ (‘Is there another goat’).'

A Midsummer Celebration visits Bangor, Newtown, Newport and Cardiff between 10 – 22 June