A YOUNG pianist has paid tribute to his late grandmother ahead of his first starring appearance at a top festival.

Ellis Thomas, from Penrhyn Bay, will be performing with the BBC National Orchestra of Wales at the North Wales International Music Festival at St Asaph Cathedral on September 20.

The 23-year-old Cambridge University Music graduate, who has just gained a Master’s degree from the Royal Academy of Music, will play festival founder William Mathias’s First Piano Concerto while the BBC National Orchestra of Wales will also perform Edward Elgar’s Enigma Variations.

Professor Mathias, who is buried in the cathedral grounds, established the festival in 1972 and was its director until his death in 1992 and composed the anthem, Let the people praise Thee, O God for the 1981 royal wedding of the then Prince Charles and Lady Diana.

The festival, which runs from September 12-21, has been made possible thanks to the support of headline sponsors, the Pendine Park care organisation via the Pendine Arts and Community Trust which supports community and arts activities, and main grant funders the Arts Council of Wales, Colwinston Charitable Trust and Tŷ Cerdd.


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This year’s festival is also part funded by the UK government through the UK Shared Prosperity Fund for Denbighshire.

According to Ellis, a former pupil of Ysgol John Bright, performing at the festival will be a bittersweet occasion.

He said: “My grandmother, Marion Hawley, was Head of Music at St David’s College and was a local piano teacher.

“She really introduced me to music and I doubt I would have started to play the piano if it hadn’t been for her.

“She used to pick me up from primary school when I was five and take me back to her house and we’d sit at the piano and sing and play nursery rhymes and she was always encouraging me.

“Sadly she died a couple of years ago but before that she used to travel to Cambridge and to London to see me play and I was pleased she was able to see me graduate from Cambridge.

“She was a big influence and my mum and dad, Stephen and Megan, have also dedicated a lot of time to taking me to concerts and supporting me.”

Ellis, who currently lives in West Hampstead, divides his time between teaching music and playing including trips abroad to play with other musicians in Spain, Italy, Finland and Germany.

It’s not his first time at the festival in St Asaph, either.

Ellis said: “I used to play violin as well, and saxophone, and played in the orchestra there as a violinist but this is my first time in the cathedral playing piano and I’m looking forward to it.

“I like the romantic composers, particularly Chopin, but I also listen to jazz and pop – it gets a bit boring if you just listen to one kind of music."