SURPRISED shoppers got more than they bargained for with a touch of café culture thanks to a top chamber orchestra.
Ensemble Cymru accompanied a youth choir in a performance of Bach’s magical music in the middle of a busy Llandudno department store.
To mark the 330th anniversary of the birth of the German classical composer and to bring his work to an even wider audience Ensemble Cymru played live at a host of venues across Bangor and Llandudno.
One of the most striking of these free ChamberFest 2015 performances, which were part of the global ‘Bach in the Subways’ festival, was an impromptu appearance in the mezzanine café of the BHS store at Parc Llandudno.
As they tucked into their afternoon tea, customers suddenly heard the eight-strong ensemble strike up with some of J S Bach’s most captivating compositions, including one of his Brandenburg Concertos and Badinerie.
And surprise turned to delight when around 20 members of Llandudno Youth Music Theatre, who had been seated at tables around the café, suddenly burst forth with their moving version of Bach’s timeless Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring.
In fact, it went down so well along with the sandwiches and cakes that applauding customers demanded an immediate encore.
Ensemble Cymru was founded in 2001 by its artistic director Peryn Clement-Evans to champion the cause of chamber music in Wales and beyond.
Over the past few years it has reached over 20,000 in Wales alone through its national tours, television broadcasts and a CD. It is also resident ensemble at Bangor University, where it is based, and also at Venue Cymru in Llandudno.
It performs in groups of between one and 20 musicians and as a registered charity puts any surplus from its appearances across Wales straight back into work experience schemes and workshops for schools.
Peryn Clement-Evans said: “Bach is one of the most important figures in the chamber music that we play and for us he represents the pinnacle of human achievement in the music of his time.
“It is such amazing music that to mark his birth in 1685, Ensemble Cymru wanted to play at lots of different venues in our area of North Wales, alongside a range of different groups, to bring it to as wide an audience as possible.
“The aim of ChamberFest 2015 has been to put Wales on the map through the global ‘Bach in the Subways’ Festival and over the two days various parts of the ensemble had performances as diverse as playing for a pre-school group in Llandudno to performing with hundreds of local primary school children as they sang Bach’s Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring, at Bangor Cathedral and Holy Trinity Church, Llandudno.
“Playing in a busy store was a real first for us and we were delighted to have the talented young singers from Llandudno Youth Music performing alongside us.
“Judging by the applause we received, I think it worked very well and everyone seemed to enjoy themselves.”
That was certainly the case with 16-year-old choir member Kelly La Trobe from Llandudno.
She said: “I’ve been a member of the youth music theatre for nine years but we’ve never done anything like this before. We’ve sung in venues like theatres and community centres but never in a big shop before.
“We were practising what we were going to sing for a few weeks and I think it went down quite well with the people in the café who seemed quite surprised to hear us start singing. But they seemed to enjoy it and I definitely did.”
Another choir member pleased with the performance was 15-year-old James Hutin, from Glan Conwy, who has been a member of the youth music theatre for the past five years.
He said: “We’ve sung in lots of different places but never in a café before. But I found the whole thing really enjoyable and would love to do it again sometime.”
The youth music theatre’s assistant musical director, Catrin Wright, of Llandudno, said: “Singing in a store wasn’t the only thing that was really different for us but so was the type of music we were doing.
“We normally sing songs from West End shows, so performing a piece of classical music by Bach was something special.
“But it was really exciting to try something as different as this.
“I’m glad we got involved and I think the audience enjoyed us performing for them out of the blue.”
That was certainly true in the case of Pat Scully who had come over from her home in Kidderminster, Worcestershire, to spend the weekend in Llandudno.
She said: “When I came into the café I wasn’t expecting to see anything like this but I really enjoyed the performance by the orchestra and the choir, especially as I’m a member of Kidderminster Operatic Society.”
Another café customer enchanted by the flash mob recital was Phillip Aucutt, from Colwyn Heights, who was taking a break for afternoon tea with his two daughters, Hanna and Helen.
He said: “It was totally unexpected but very pleasant. The music helped chill me out after a morning’s shopping.”
As part of its vision to support schools and organisations through music and the arts, Ensemble Cymru set itself a goal back in 2009 to work with musical groups and young people not just in Wales but also in countries across mainland Europe by 2020.
It has just established a new international cultural exchange programme, which had a recent fanfare launch at Tre Ysgawen Hall, with a choir from Switzerland with which it aims to jointly commission a new piece of music to be performed across the world.
The ensemble’s first official link has been forged with the choir Vokalensemble Incantani from the canton of Grisons.
Its conductor, Christian Klucker, is currently in North Wales and has been closely involved with ChamberFest 2015 and conducted a number of ChamberFest 2015 performances, including the one at BHS.
He said: “I think it was a very good experience to have the young people singing with the orchestra in somewhere as unusual as a store.
“When you work in music it’s really important to get feedback about what you are doing and the reaction from people who have heard the Chamber Fest 2015 performances, including at BHS, has been really good.”
Professional musician Sara Roberts, 28, from Llanfair PG, on Anglesey, who has played viola with Ensemble Cymru for the past five years, said: “I’ve played in all sorts of venues right across Wales with the orchestra but performing in the café was a very innovative approach to presenting the music we love.
“It’s always very interesting to been involved in this kind of collaboration with other groups and I think everyone really enjoyed the morning.”
Speaking about the new exchange programme, the Ensemble’s Artistic Director Peryn Clement-Evans said: “Establishing this first link with Switzerland is of major importance to our vision of promoting international understanding through music and comes as the fulfilment of a dream that goes all the way back to 2009.
“After working closely with Vokalensemble Incantanti we intend to seek out further European partners in Ireland, the Netherlands, Brittany and elsewhere and work with other chamber ensembles, including choirs, on projects that will take music into schools and communities.”