A giant bust of Beethoven is wowing visitors to an arts centre – and heading for the record books.
The huge pȃpier-maché and timber sculpture at Galeri in Caernarfon is believed to be the world’s biggest version of the stellar composer’s head.
The massive model, 5ft 6ins tall and weighing in at five stone, was made for the International Piano Festival that’s dedicated this year’s event to a belated celebration to mark the 250th anniversary of Beethoven’s birth
Organised by Canolfan Gerdd William Mathias (William Mathias Music Centre) every four years, the festival showcases recitals by professional musicians, and hosts prestigious piano competitions – with prizes totalling nearly £10,000.
Originally scheduled to take place in 2020, it had to be postponed due to the Covid-19 pandemic and is now taking place between October 15 and 18.
But organisers are continuing with their tribute to the German music icon whose works rank among the most performed in the world.
The hypnotic installation was created by acclaimed North Wales artist Catrin Williams and her husband Bedwyr ab Iestyn who also used wire and recycled materials to make it.
With eerily dark eyes and wildly dishevelled hair, it hangs from the main foyer ceiling at Galeri where it is already causing a sensation.
It was nearly two years in the making, created during the height of the pandemic and national lockdowns and took up most of the couple’s garage at their home in Pwllheli.
Catrin said: “It was an unusual time, and we came to have quite a strange relationship with this giant figure in our garage. He was part of our ‘lockdown bubble’.
She said: “I painted it in the garden during fine weather over summer and it caused intense curiosity among our neighbours who could see it from their bedroom windows. They must’ve wondered what on earth was going on.”
International concert pianist Iwan Llewelyn-Jones who is the piano festival’s artistic director said the sculpture is unique.
He said: “Artistically it is like a Damian Hurst style experience, a little bit scary, but you just can’t take your eyes off it. That is exactly how we wanted it when we asked Catrin to do her magic.
“Beethoven had a tormented life, being a magnificent composer but suffering the torture of going deaf early in adulthood. We wanted the statue to convey some of that torment.”
Iwan and Catrin have also been leading creative workshops in local schools, linking art and music interpretation.
Iwan said: “The goal of our piano festival is to focus on three areas – performance, competition and education. There has always been a rich culture of music and music education in Wales and through our community outreach projects we aim to build on this, helping nurture an interest in music among pupils from an early age.”
During the workshops at Ysgol Llanrug, Caernarfon, and Ysgol Glancegin, Bangor, Iwan played played Beethoven works and Catrin led an arts session in which Year five pupils interpreted the music through drawing.
A large paper canvas was laid across the floor and children used ink pots, paints and other colouring materials to intuitively create original designs.
Ysgol Llanrug teacher Alaw Tecwyn said it was a delight to welcome Catrin and Iwan into school after so many months when they have had to forgo music lessons and group singing due to pandemic restrictions.
She said: “To have the sound of live music in our hall again and see pupils so inspired is heart-warming. It brings a sense of normality back into school.”
A graduate of the Royal Northern College of Music, Alaw is an accomplished operatic singer and teaches music. At the end of the arts session she sang a soprano solo piece for the group, the Meirion Williams composition, Mai, accompanied by Iwan on piano.
Two other schools, Ysgol Cybi, of Holyhead, and Ysgol Edmund Prys, of Blaenau Ffestiniog, were also involved in outreach projects developed by Canolfan Gerdd William Mathias with funding from Arts and Business Cymru’s Culture Step programme in support of the partnership with Roberts of Portdinorwic who are sponsoring the main prize at the Festival. This project will culminate with a virtual concert on the theme of Saint Saen’s Carnival of the Animals, featuring musicians Elin Taylor on cello, Teleri-Sian on piano and Glian Llwyd also on piano.
The concert will be available to watch online on Sunday October 17, at 6.30pm, as part of the festival’s hybrid format devised to adhere to pandemic social distancing.
Other concerts available to view online feature top classical musicians including globally famous Wrexham-born piano maestro and Beethoven specialist Llyr Williams. He headlines the festival opening night concert, streamed on Friday, October 15.
Also on the virtual programme is a concert of chamber music by violinist Sara Trickey, cellist Sebastian van Kuijk and Iwan Llewelyn-Jones, and world premieres of four newly commissioned works by prominent Welsh composers Pwyll ap Sion, Joseph Davies, Sarah Lianne Lewis and Bethan Morgan-Williams featuring Soprano Alys Roberts.
In addition audiences are invited to Galeri to watch live as a series of thrilling competitions take place. There will be 16 competitions in each of three categories for junior solo pianists, senior solo pianists, and accompanists. Competitors include talented young pianists from different corners of the world with the potential to be big names of the future.
There will also be an opportunity to enjoy live performances in Galeri’s atrium by duo Sian James and Sioned Webb and CGWM alumni student Gwenno Morgan.
Organisers emphasised that it would not be possible to stage the festival without support from its sponsors including the Arts Council of Wales, Bangor University, Colwinston Trust, Foyle Foundation, Gwynedd Council, Pendine Park care organisation via the Pendine Arts and Community Trust, Roberts of Portdinorwic, Ty Cerdd, Snowdonia Fire Protection, A&B Cymru and several individual donors.
For more details about the festival timetable, to order virtual concert tickets or find out how to sponsor a note visit www.pianofestival.co.uk