One of the UK’s most distinguished conductors is going back to his musical roots to back an iconic theatre in a North Wales mining village.
Owain Arwel Hughes has been unveiled as Patron of the 90th Anniversary Concert of the Stiwt Theatre, in Rhosllanerchrugog, near Wrexham, which will be held in September.
The Stiwt opened in 1926 after being built with money raised by colliers in the village – including Owain’s grandfather and great-uncle – from a levy of a penny a ton on coal by the Miners’ Welfare Organisation.
It cost almost £18,000 and those miners in the desperate days of the 1920s and 1930s kept it going by raising another £20,000 from a subscription of tuppence a week from their meagre wages.
Owain was born in the Rhondda, the son of Rhos-born composer and musician Arwel Hughes, Head of Music at BBC Wales, but spent many childhood holidays at his grandparents’ home, just yards from the Stiwt.
He said: “You could see the Stiwt from the family home, Arwelfa, and it was a place I’ve known since I was a little boy so there was no doubt about it when I was asked to support it.
“It’s vitally important that venues like this should be supported and while this one is personal to me, these places give young people with talent somewhere to perform and get experience and hopefully inspire others to take up all forms of music, theatre and the arts.”
The board that runs the 490-seat Stiwt has secured vital funding through the help of Wrexham County Borough Council and the Arts Council for Wales.
Board member Sioned Bowen said: “We’re delighted that we have secured the support of someone of the stature of Owain Arwel Hughes who is one of the outstanding figures in music in the UK.
“It really is amazing the talent that came from this village where Owain’s father was born and underlines how important it is to make sure this wonderful building will be nurturing the arts here for years to come.
“This is a hugely important time for the Stiwt with an exciting new programme for the months ahead and ground breaking plans for the future.
“We’re sure that the spirit that built this place and saw it through so many challenging years will develop its future to meet new demands and interests for the community.”
Owain Arwel Hughes’s distinguished career has seen him present The Much-Loved Music Show on BBC television and found the Welsh Proms in 1986 while he has conducted orchestras all over the world – including at the Stiwt.
He said: “I remember in the late Sixties doing a concert there with the Northern Symphonia. It was the middle of winter and it was dark and cold.
“But the sound is wonderful there and the sight lines are good so it is excellent for theatre too and it means a lot to me.
“My father was the youngest of ten children and he first brought me to the Stiwt as a boy to play snooker and I can remember the queues of miners waiting in the mornings for the buses to take them to the pits.
“They’ve all gone now but the Stiwt is a beautiful building with wonderful facilities for concerts and theatre.
“I remember the clock on the Stiwt that used to chime every quarter of an hour. It was really distinctive and was something I grew up with.
“The Stiwt is vitally important and needs as many people as possible to rally round and I’m happy to support it and to be there for the anniversary concert.”
The Stiwt has experienced difficult times and was closed and close to demolition after 1976 but it reopened in 1999 thanks to the efforts of local volunteers and a £2.1 million Heritage Lottery Grant.
In all, a total of £4.3 million was spent refurbishing the Stiwt and 17 years later it approaching an important milestone with a rich programme of events and performances.
This week it will stage Opra Cymru’s new Welsh language production of Donizetti’s comedy L’Elisir d’Amore with a chamber orchestra led by Anthony Negus on Thursday at 7.30pm.
For the full programme of events at the Stiwt go to http://stiwt.com/
There is also the Stiwt’s new Programme Development Board to support Wrexham County Borough schools with outreach activities involving Clwyd Theatr Cymru, Opera’r Ddraig, OPRA Cymru and Striking Attitudes Dance project linked to the mining industry,
The Stiwt is supported by Rhos Community Council, Wrexham County Borough Council and the Arts Council of Wales.