Starring role for young Llandudno piano virtuoso Ellis at music festival

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A supremely gifted teenager from Llandudno who’s aiming to become a top concert pianist is to be one of the stars at a music festival later this month (May).

It will be the third year in a row that 18-year-old Ysgol John Bright pupil Ellis Thomas has appeared at Beaumaris Music Festival and follows his success in winning Young Musician of the Year and a £3,000 prize at the prestigious Gregynog Festival in Mid Wales.

His programme at the popular Anglesey festival will include works by some of his favourite composers including Rachmaninov, Brahms, Schumann and Debussy and he will also be preparing for his A-levels in Music, French and Maths and is bound for Downing College, Cambridge, in the autumn.

It’s a reward for a dedication to music that began under his music teacher grandmother’s tuition at the age of five and that sees him practice for five hours every day, starting at 6.30 each morning.

Ellis, from Penrhyn Bay, said: “Hopefully I would like to become a concert pianist but it’s very competitive and difficult.

“I think that having a Cambridge degree will open a lot more doors and give me more opportunities to do things.”

Cambridge wasn’t the only offer he received – he was also offered scholarships to the Royal College of Music in London and the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester but chose Downing College whose alumni include John Cleese and actress Thandie Newton.

His precocious talent was nurtured by his grandmother, Marion Horley.

“When I was about five I used to go to her house every day after finishing school and she would play music with me,” he said.

“I started piano lessons at six with a local teacher and then at 12 I started going to the junior Royal Northern College of Music at Manchester every Saturday but up to then I hadn’t really thought about music as a career.”

But Ysgol John Bright deputy head Hywel Parry, who is also a music teacher, had also spotted Ellis’s special talent.

He said: “The prestige of being taught by some of the world’s leading academicians at Cambridge is an opportunity not to be passed up.

“Ellis is remarkable, one of a kind. I doubt I will see another one like him in another 20 years of teaching.

“He has a unique combination of talent and incredible hard work and he has been really well taught, especially at Manchester.

“He is the first from Ysgol John Bright to study music at Cambridge since 2011 and he is also really good at supporting the school. You often think that musicians can be prima donnas but Ellis is always happy to provide accompaniment to anything the school does, we only have to ask and he’s there.”

Ysgol John Bright’s recent production of the Broadway musical Guys’n’Dolls saw Ellis and brother Callum in the orchestra, Ellis on piano and Callum, 15, on cello and their eight-year-old sister, Lucy, is also musical which makes for a tuneful home life for mum and dad Stephen and Megan.

Ellis, who also plays violin and saxophone, won the national final of the Rotary Young Musician of the Year competition in Edinburgh last year and has also chalked up successes at the Urdd Eisteddfod and the Beethoven Junior Intercollegiate Piano Competition.

He recently performed at a concert in Ulverston alongside saxophonist Jess Gillam, currently riding high at number one in the classical music charts, and cellist Sheku Kanneh-Mason.

This is the third year he is performing at the week-long Beaumaris Festival which this year runs from May 21 to May 28 with Ellis appearing on Saturday, May 25, from 11am to 12 noon at Canolfan Beaumaris.

Other highlights of the festival include the London Chamber Ensemble, a Welsh hymn-singing festival, a poetry reading from former National Poet of Wales Gillian Clarke and a concert of ranging from opera to musicals by American singers Karen Coker Merrit (soprano) and James Hall (tenor). Further details on http://www.beaumarisfestival.org

Ellis said: “I’ve always loved classical music though I’ve done a bit of jazz as well and I play the saxophone and the violin but the piano is my favourite.

“It’s just the most versatile of instruments. There’s so much you can do with it and a huge repertoire to choose from.”

His own favourites from the classical composers are Rachmaninov and Liszt from the Romantic school and he has also listened to jazz pianist Oscar Peterson as to modern pop and rock: “I listen to it,” he says: “But I prefer classical.”

Captions:

Pictured is Ysgol John Bright pupil Ellis Thomas with his music teacher Hywel Parry.

Pictures by Mandy Jones Photography