AMMANFORD AND DISTRICT
CYMDAITHAS GORAWL RHYDAMAN A'R CYLCH
1.2. Early History from 1917
3. The Choir since 1947
4. Here and There Hwnt ac Yma
7. Past Opera Stars
The scene is a local village hall or miner's hall; or one of the larger churches or chapels; maybe a local cinema or theatre anywhere, in fact, where a few hundred people can gather for a common purpose. For a while there's just the usual hum and buzz and laughter you'd expect from such a sizable gathering. Neighbours, friends and relatives are spotted and acknowledged; news and gossip are exchanged, overheard or even invented. But gradually the hubbub subsides as the people slowly make their way to their seats. Then, a procession of people wearing evening dress, each carrying a musical instrument, comes onto the platform and sits down. The hum of voices decreases a little now, for this is the orchestra arriving. Another, much larger group of people the choir and dressed much the same, arrives next and takes its place behind the orchestra, until finally the orchestra's leader, the soloists for the evening, and the conductor walk onto the platform to the first, though not the last, applause of the evening.
The hum of voices stops completely now, and as the coughing finally subsides, the conductor poises, baton in hand, to launch orchestra, choir, soloists and the audience into the sole purpose of the evening: the annual concert of the local choir. The first chorus causes the hair on the back of the neck to stand up, as the sopranos, altos, tenors, baritones and basses strut their stuff with pride and aplomb, some with their noses buried deep in their scores, others, more confident, looking straight at the conductor all the while, watching every move of his baton and every expression on his face.
Whether it's an intricate, mathematical fugue by Handel or Bach, a passionate, thunderous Dies Irae from the Verdi or Mozart Requiems, one of Haydn's elegant, gentle choruses from his great oratorios, or perhaps a comic chorus from Gilbert and Sullivan, the effect on the audience is the same. The orchestra, chorus and soloists then spend the rest of the evening vying for our attention, but none of this would have happened at all if it hadn't been for the choir, whose members booked the orchestra and soloists, paid them, hired the hall, printed the programs and sold the tickets.
This scene has been going on somewhere or other, in some shape or form, from time immemorial and nowhere with such fervour and passion as the Welsh valleys. This music-making started formally in our little town of Ammanford in 1917 when Ammanford and District Choral Society, (or 'Cymdaithas Gorawl Rhydaman a'r Cylch' as it's called in Welsh), was first formed, but it had been happening in the chapels and village halls long before that.
Ammanford's choir from that time on has been a Choral Society, that is, a mixed choir of male and female voices, and not a single-voice male choir. Not only is the sound of the two types of choir different as a result, but so is the repetoire which they can perform. The male voice repetoire is surprisingly varied and encompasses hymns, traditional songs, operatic choruses, works written specifically for male voices, barber shop, sprituals, gospel and, increasingly, arrangements of popular songs. Some of the Welsh male voice choirs (Côr Meibion in Welsh) are justly famous but we have plenty of them in the Amman Valley and surrounding area too Llandybie, Cwmamman, Brynamman, Llandeilo, Tumble and Pontardulais, to name just a few.
The staple diet of the mixed choirs consists of orotorio such as The Messiah, Samson, Solomon, Elijah, The Seasons, The Creation and various Requiem masses; secular works include Gilbert and Sullivan or concert versions of operas, plus the lesser well known, but no less stirring oratorios and choral works.
1.2. Early History from 1917
3. The Choir since 1947
4. Here and There Hwnt ac Yma
7. Past Opera Stars
2. EARLY HISTORY FROM 1917
The choir's early history from 1917 is somewhat fragmented, as the choir was disbanded during the 1930s, not reforming until 1948. But we have a more complete history from 1947, thanks to the detective work of current choir member Olwen Richards. Fortunately, an almost complete set of the choir's programmes from that date have enabled a fairly complete picture of the choir's activities from then until today to be pieced together. We do know however, that the earlier Ammanford and District Choral Society had won the chief choir prize at the 1919 National Eisteddfod held in Corwen, North Wales and again in 1920 when the National Eisteddfod was held in Barry. All this within just two years of the choir's formation in 1917.
The chance to really shine, however, came in 1922 when the National Eisteddfod came to Ammanford for the first time (it returned again in 1970). Now the choir could show what it could really do in front of their own people. Leading Amman Valley historian, Dr Huw Walters of the National Library of Wales, muses on:
"... that warm fine Tuesday evening of 8 August, 1922, when the Ammanford Choral Society, under the baton of Gwilym R. Jones, performed the Bach B Minor Mass in the National Eisteddfod Pavilion, to the accompaniment of the London Philharmonic Orchestra. It was the first public performance of the B Minor Mass in Wales. The choir and orchestra had given a fine performance of the Brahms [German] Requiem, the previous night. The choir's members numbered around 350 men and women, most of whom were miners and their wives, who sang the work in the original Latin from tonic sol-fa copies. It is this 'peasant culture' or 'diwylliant gwerin' which has enthralled me over the years, eisteddfodau, local orchestras, amateur operatics, silver bands and sacred concerts, in an age when the great oratorios of Handel and the works of Mendelssohn, Spohr and Dvorak were familiar among the proletariat. These were ordinary people who sought to participate in the culture and artistic expression of higher forms of society, and more complex and developed forms of civilised living. Not that the Aman Valley community was any different to other valley communities in south Wales at the time, and it is something which we have in common with some of the large industrial areas of the north of England, such as Workington and Darlington, Middlesborough, Halifax and Huddersfield". (from an e-mail sent to this web site)
Dr Walters also kindly provides a review of that 1922 concert published in the Manchester Guardian:
"A beautiful summer evening made it possible to listen to Bach's B Minor Mass with an exqusite sense of comfort in its softly fading light. The performance of this work was the first to be given in Wales, and it was the finest we have heard of a great choral work at the Welsh National Eisteddfod. The choral singing, which was done from copies in tonic sol-fa notation, had both freedom of natural expression and correctness, and was a triumph for this type of reading in the diatonic style". The Manchester Guardian.
Gwilym Richard Jones
Thanks to the wonders of the Internet search engine, we have the following brief biography of that first conductor, Gwilym R. Jones:
Gwilym Richard Jones was born in 1874 at Siop y Bont [shop on the bridge] in Brynaman, parents Richard Jones (from Tycroes) and Elizabeth (Mathew). The census of 1881 gives a pretty good glimpse into a typical household of the time: nine in all, with the two parents, five children, a niece and a lodger.
.......Gwilym Jones, the fourth born, received music lessons from Joseph Parry, then choirmaster at Ebenezer Chapel in Swansea. In Brynaman at the time was a famous choir conducted by John Jones (Pen-crug) with David Vaughan Thomas, the accompanist; a rich musical background which inspired the young Gwilym Jones who was born to be a conductor of choirs.
.......His first choirmaster post was at Weast Independent Church, Manchester, where he stayed 15 years. In January/February 1914 he came to Ammanford where he became the organist and choir-master at the Christian Temple, Ammanford, which post he held with great success for 40 years. He conducted the Ammanford and District Choral Society for 30 years; this choir won major prizes at the National Eisteddfodau at Corwen in 1919 and Barry in 1920. This success helped to bring the National to Ammanford itself in 1922 at which the choir was again most successful with a performance of Bach's C Minor Mass, accompanied by the London Philarmonic Orchestra.
.......1924 was another startlingly good year for the choir and at the Eisteddfod at Clunderwen, Gwilym Jones was awarded a silver crown for his work as the choir's conductor.
.......Gwilym was also a born conductor of music festivals, and he helped to train many soloists and musicians in the Ammanford area as well as acting as music teacher at the county school. He was a member of the Gorsedd y Beirdd, (Gorsedd of Bards) and a skilled writer of englynion (Welsh poetry).
.......In 1925, he married Blodwen, daughter of Evan Jones and Jane (Edwards) of Gellimanwydd. He died in 1953 and was buried at the Gellimanwydd cemetery, Ammanford. (Partly based on The Dictionary of Welsh Biography, 1941-70; Honourable Society of Cymmrodorion, 2001)
[Note: 'Gellimanwydd' is the alternative name for the Ammanford chapel more commonly known as 'Christian Temple'. See the 'Churches and Chapels' section of this web site for a brief history of Christian Temple].
1.2. Early History from 1917
3. The Choir since 1947
4. Here and There Hwnt ac Yma
7. Past Opera Stars
3. THE CHOIR SINCE 1947
The depression years of the thirties, followed by the war, disrupted music making in Ammanford for a while until the reformation of the choir in 1948. This, along with an imperfect record of the choirs activities, means the musical history of Ammanford contains many gaps. But in 2001 an important step was taken to remedy this by the publication of Llyfr y Lloffion Cymdaithas Gorawl Rhydaman a'r Cylch' 'Ammanford and District Choral Society: a Scrapbook', written by the choirs accompanist Olwen Richards. This scrapbook contains an impressive record of the main concerts up to the year 2001, but, as Olwen Richards cautions us, the history of the choir contained therein is a little fragmentary:
"The contents cannot be regarded as a history of the choir, but merely a listing of facts available from past concert programmes and from columns of local newspapers. It is highly possible that there are omissions caused by programmes having been mislaid. I have tried to compile information as accurately as possible, but the human error factor is ever present in work of this nature.
....... I am indebted to Menna and Ceinwen, daughters of the late Mrs. E.J.Edwards for the gift of programmes collected and treasured by their mother.
....... Wedi dod o hyd i dwr o raglenni wedi eu casglu a'u trysori gan Mrs. E.J.Edwards, a fu'n gyfeilydd i'r côr dros gyfnod hir, teimlwn mai teg fyddai rhannu'r wybodaeth gyda'r rhai sydd a diddordeb yng ngwaith y côr dros y blynyddoedd. Mae yma restri o'r prif gyngherddau a detholiad o'm dewis personol i. Mae'n bosib y bydd rhai yn gweld bylchau, a'u cof yn well na'm cof i. Efallai fydd hyn yn ysbardun iddynt nodi eu cofion ar bapur."
With this in mind, we'll let Olwen Richards take up the story, from the preface to her scrapbook of the Choral Society:
"Ammanford and District Choral Society, conducted by Gwilym R. Jones came into existence in 1917, and the 1967 performance of the Verdi Requiem was a celebration of the choir's fiftieth anniversary, despite the fact that there had been long gaps between performances. In programme notes of past years, we read that the society had been disbanded in 1930, but that chapel choirs continued to give performances of standard works. Two performances of Handel's Messiah were given in Christian Temple Chapel in January 1947, the body of singers billed as the Ammanford Choral Society. The conductor, Gwilym R. Jones, was indisposed, and the baton taken by J. Harries Thomas, and Trevor Anthony, also indisposed, replaced by lslwyn David. Other artistes who appeared were Marjorie Avis, Valetta Jacobi, Ronald Hill, and Trevor Rees as organist. Newspaper reports describe the choir as being small in number, but how can we interpret the "small' of those days?
...... It was on a Wednesday evening in March 1948 at a social gathering in the Canton Café that the Ammanford Choral Society was formally re-formed. Presentations were made to Gwilym R. Jones, who was unable to attend, but his gift of a Biro was received by Mrs. Myfanwy Williams, and to T. F. Rees, secretary over twenty one years. [A 'Biro' was rather rare in those days, and would have been a rather expensive purchase].
...... New officers were elected, and from seven nominations for conductor, Trevor Rees was chosen. By 1949, a constitution had been drafted, and a membership card issued to every member. In March 1949, the revived society gave its first performance in Bethany Chapel, the work being Dvorak's Stabat Mater."
We'll continue with Olwen Richards' account:
"In the early years of the re-formed choir, there was also in Ammanford a body of instrumentalists who were capable of providing an orchestral accompaniment when major choral works were performed. In later years, local talent of the kind was no longer available, and the choir bore the expense of employing players from further afield, a burden which gradually became prohibitive.
Following is a list of orchestras, and the duration of their services.
1951-1952. Ammanford Orchestral Society, led by J. Emlyn Thomas
1953-1953. Selected Orchestra, led by T.J.Bowen
1954-1974. Selected Orchestra, led by Don Preece
1975-1981. City of Swansea Orchestra, led by Don Preece.
1982-1982. Welsh Chamber Orchestra, led by David B.Thomas.
1983-1995. City of Swansea Orchestra, led by Mansel Hughes.
1996-1999. Ammanford Festival Orchestra, led by Mansel Hughes.
Practices and Performances
Many vestries opened their doors to accommodate the choir in practice, but two buildings housed the choir for many years. The Welfare Institute, with its Minor Hall and other rooms big enough for the choir which numbered well over a hundred at one time, was one venue. After the Pensioners' Hall was built, and the Welfare Institute refurbished as a licensed club, the choir's practices were held, and continue to be held, in the Pensioners' Hall.
....... The days of the week when concerts were performed have varied over the years. Performance nights in the early period, when concerts were held in Bethany were on Wednesday and Thursday. Most years when works were performed in the Welfare Hall, Monday and Tuesday were concert nights. Older choristers tell of three performances, in the course of the week, but I have found no programmes with this information. It is possible that there were separate programmes for each night, in which case, a programme would note just one performance. When the Welfare Hall ceased to stage concerts, the local Secondary School hall-cum-dining-room was used, and Saturday night became concert night."
Choir Banned For Being Too Good!
Whenever we hear of a person being banned from some place or other perhaps their local pub or working men's club it's usually for some behaviour which is deemed incompatible with the aims and objectives of that group; in the interests of discretion we'll not be more specific than that. It's rare, however possibly unique to be banned for being simply too good. Well, that's exactly what happened to Ammanford Choral Society in 1961 when they were prohibited from entering the competition for mixed choirs with over 140 singers at the Royal National Eisteddfodd, the event's chief choral competition. Their crime? They'd won the National Eisteddfodd competition for the three previous years running in 1958, 1959 and 1960, and it was felt that they should not be allowed to compete in 1961 to give other choirs a chance of their glory. They were allowed back in 1962 but apparently hadn't learnt their lesson as they promptly won that one as well, and then again in 1963 when yet again they walked away with the prize. This was to be their final victory, though, and although they have competed since, and have been runners up numerous times, they haven't since scaled the dizzy heights of these golden years.
Feats at the National Eisteddfod of Wales
Gorchestion yn Eisteddfod Genedlaethol Cymru
The choir won glory on the eisteddfod stage by capturing the first prize in the Chief Choral competition on five successive occasions. Their success in receiving the second prize several times pales into insignificance compared with their sweeping success as champions. Here are their victorious years:
1958 (Ebbw Vale), 1959 (Caernarfon), 1960 (Cardiff), 1961 Y côr ddim yn cystadiu (the choir did not compete), 1962 (Llanelli), 1962 (Llandudno)
The architect of these triumphs during this extraordinary period was Hywel Gwyn Evans, who was the conductor of the choir's many other successes from 1952 to 1970.
In addition to competing at National Eisteddfodau over the years, the choir has also given non-competitive concerts in the main pavilion at other Eisteddfodau. Two of these were in the years when the Eisteddfod was held in Ammanford, in 1922 and 1970. In 1970 at Ammanford, the choir made up a section of the National Eisteddfod choir that gave four concerts, participating in another four concerts when the Eisteddfod was held in nearby Carmarthen in 1974. Their most recent Eisteddfod appearance was in 1996 at neeighbouring Llandeilo, where they gave two concerts as a section of that year's National Eisteddfod choir.
The first officers after the choir's reformation in 1948 were:
Chair: William Williams
Treasurer: Bryn Williams
Secretary: T. F. Rees
Officers at the time of the booklet in 2001 are:
Chair: Gillian Howells
Deputy Chair: Derrick Potter
Treasurer: Eira Davies
Secretary: Dawn Sexton
The choir has also acquired a librarian, registrar, deputy conductor and Press Officer since those heady days half a century ago.
3. The Choir since 1947
4. Here and There Hwnt ac Yma
7. Past Opera Stars
4. HERE AND THERE HWNT AC YMA
The choir's official history also includes some newspaper reviews of past performances. Not only do we get a critical appraisal of the choir's talents but also a glimpse into a different world before the car, TV, video recorders, home hi-fi equipment, computers and Internet turned us into a nation of couch potatoes.
"The Committee of the Ammanford Choral Society wish to state that they regret that no more new members can he accepted until after the performance of Haydn's Creation. Anyone wishing to become a member after this performance should apply to any member of the committee, or to the secretary, T. E. Williams, 70, College Street, Ammanford". (From the Amman Valley Chronicle November 10th 1949).
Following this, it would perhaps be of interest to give the approximate membership of the society at different times. Numbers have been estimated from counting choristers in photographs taken at performances and from press reports. No official records exist, as far as I know, and account has to be taken of absentees, and of unofficial members who came to help out at performances. (Dawn Sexton).
1956 140; 1958 110; 1960 170; 1963 134; 1994 65; 2002 60.
Note should be taken of the nature of the newspaper reports in the course of the years. In the Amman Valley Chronicle of February 9th, 1950, there was a very comprehensive and scholarly report given by Trevor Jenkins, spreading over five columns. Presumably, this reflects on the public interest of a small locality. In a contribution to the volume Cwm Aman (Cyfres y Cymoedd), published by Gwasg Gomer, Dr. Lyn Davies came to a similar conclusion:-.
"Yn y cyfnod dan sylw, prif nodwedd y traddodiad cerddorol yw'r ymwneud ymarferol gan garfan helaeth o'r gymdeithas (yn wahanol iawn i'r ymwneud goddefol sydd mor gyffredin yn yr oes sydd ohoni), a hynny ar draws y flwyddyn. Y mae darllen tudalennau'r wasg gyfnodol yn ystod y cyfnod hwn yn agor em llygaid i wir ddiddordebau a chyraeddiadau ein cyn-dadau yn Nyffryn Aman. Fe geir hysbysebu cyson i'r llu o gyngherddau, adolygu sylweddol ar ddigwyddiadau cerddorol o bwys, a hefyd son am ddigwyddiadau yn y byd mawr cerddorol tu allan i'r cwm."
In the concerts of February 13th and 14th of 1952, tribute was given to the late King George Sixth, who had died on February 6th. The choir and congregation were asked to stand while the choir sang 'Abide with Me'. This was followed by one minute's silence. The concert then proceeded with the main work, Mendelssohn's 'Hymn of Praise'. Interestingly, the English National Anthem doesn't appear to have been sung.
In the scrapbook Olwen Richards writes: "The 1961 annual concert was a special occasion for many reasons. The concert programme was missing from the collection given to me, so I searched for details in newspaper reports" :
From The South Wales Guardian January 12th 1961
"The Ammanford Choral Society will present three performances of Mendelssohn's Elijah at the Welfare Hall, Ammanford on January 23rd, 24th and 25th. It has been the experience of the Society over the past few years to completely sell out, and a number of people have been unable to obtain tickets. This year, it has been decided to present the concert on three nights. The artistes engaged are Heather Harper, Iona Jones, Kenneth Bowen and Hervey Alan.
.......Mr. Hervey Alan is acknowledged to be the greatest present day exponent of Elijah, and some time ago told the secretary that he would most probably be singing his 400th Elijah early in 1961, and would like to celebrate the occasion by singing with the Ammanford Choral Society, which he considers to be the best society in the United Kingdom. The 400th rendering of the role took place on Tuesday, January 24.
.......After the concert, Mr. Hervey Alan said, "I enjoy singing in Wales. People here are not afraid to sing from the heart, or to wear their hearts on their sleeves. Singing must not be 'precious' or finicky." He rated the Ammanford Choir very highly in quality of singing, and compared it with the Welsh National Opera Company. "I told the choir I would remember this day, and give the performance all I had and they did the same." He also praised the audience, feeling that they were interested and "living every moment of it"
.......Mr. Kenneth Loveland also wrote of the choir in The South Wales Argus.
......."Ammanford Choral Society does not only make a vigorous sound, it makes a balanced sound as well, since this is one of the areas where it is still possible to produce an accurately proportioned choir and incidentally stock it with a proportion of young voices."
Extracts from The Evening Post May 1962
"Alun Hoddinott's oratorio 'Job', the first large-scale work by this Welsh composer, was given its premiere at the Brangwyn Hall last evening, before an invited audience.
.......The performance, which was broadcast, was the last concert in the BBC's Welsh Festival of Music, and undoubtedly the most notable event in a series of new works by Welsh composers.
.......Arwel Hughes conducted the BBC Welsh Orchestra and the Ammanford Choral Society, and let it be said right away that the highest credit is due to the Ammanford choralists for tackling this difficult and intricate work with its varying pulse-beats and original harmonies a work that strikes right away from the well-trodden Welsh oratorio track.
It is perhaps more music-drama than oratorio. Set to words in Welsh chosen from the scriptures by Aneirin Talfan Davies, it is not a narrative oratorio, but presents the philosophy of Job. The choral passages depict the drama of Job's tribulations and end the work with an exciting setting of Psalm 8.
.......There is a long solo section, and much depends on the soloist. If he is inadequate, the work must sag in the middle. Trevor Anthony maintained the tension with eloquent singing.
.......'Job' is a work of intense dramatic power, remarkable perhaps more for its symphonic effects than for its choral writing. No organ transcription is possible for this work, and for that reason, apart from its exacting choral passages, it will be beyond the reach of most Welsh choirs. But it is indisputably a major achievement". (Columnist Froom Tyler).
"Some forty years later, on 13th July 2002, the choir faced a similar, albeit a less taxing situation, this time on home ground at the Amman Valley School Hall. As part of 'Making Music in Ammanford', a project run by the BBC's National Orchestra of Wales, the choir took part in a Community Concert. They were joined by the Ammanford Town Silver Band and pupils from Ysgol Gymraeg Rhydaman, Ammanford Junior School, Parcyrhun C.P.School and Amman Valley School, in a performance of Hawddamor, a fantasia based on the local legend Y Twrch Trwyth. Grant Llewelyn conducted the orchestra and the many contributions of music and narrative offered by the children, the youth and adults. Peter Stacey composed the music to the libretto of Menna Elfyn. This too was a way-out modernistic work, and a challenge to the Ammanford and District Choral Society and its talented conductress, Indeg Thomas, as well as to the younger performers and their tutors". (Olwen Richards).
Interestingly, we can see from the above that local newspapers in those far-off days actually sent reporters to review the concerts and other cultural events taking place within their circulation areas. This is an unheard of practice for all but the major national Daily and Sunday newspapers today, and it's been ages since our local papers have reviewed a concert, play, art exhibition, or any other cultural event, in the Amman valley.
As we have seen, the choir's first concert after reformation was Dvorak's 'Stabat Mater' held in Bethany Chapel on 23rd March 1949. Since then they have performed just about every major choral work and some less well known. The concert venues of Ammanford have resounded to Haydn's 'Creation'; Mendelssohn's 'Elijah'; Handel's 'Messiah', 'Samson' and 'Solomon'; Verdi's 'Requiem; , works by Elgar; the Brahms 'Requiem'; Mozart 'Requiem'; 'Dewi' Sant by Arwel Hughes; 'Missa di Gloria' by Puccini; the 'Chichester Psalms' by Leonad Bernstein; 'Blodwen' by Jospeh Parry; 'Childhood of Christ' by Berlioz; Stainer's 'Crucifixion', just to name a few. Concert performances of operas have included Verdi's 'Nabucco' and 'Aida' and Gilbert and Sullivan's 'HMS Pinafore'. Some of these have been performed more than once or twice or three times. And of course, countless Christmas concerts, selections of favourites and 'Messiahs' have been staged. And as we've seen above, the choir has premiered works by leading Welsh composers such as Alun Hoddinot.
Venues have been all over Ammanford, the Amman Valley, Swansea, West Wales, Cardiff and further afield around Wales and even Birmingham and London. Over the years the choir has made regular appearances in Ammanford Rotary Club Charity Concerts at the Christmas season, given many performances at old people's homes and Christmas carol concerts have been heard at all of Ammanford's main chapels. From 1971-1980, and again in 1984, the choir gave summer season concerts at St Mary's Church, Tenby, though the absence of so many choristers during the holiday period made this impracticable in time.
Perhaps a measure of the choir's past prestige can be seen in a 1963 concert they gave of Handel's' Messiah'. Not in the Miners Welfare Hall, Ammanford or even the Brangwyn Hall, Swansea, but in London's Royal Festival Hall, no less. This had the added historic interest of having Gwyneth Jones and Stuart Burrows as soloists, soon to become opera stars of world renown (see below). The choir that evening was accompanied by the London Welsh Association Orchestra conducted by Rae Jenkins and the London Welsh Association Youth Choir was in support.
3. The Choir since 1947
4. Here and There Hwnt ac Yma
7. Past Opera Stars
The conductors since 1948 have been (in order of appointment):
Trevor Rees, (1948 1952), Hywel Gwyn Evans (1953 1970), Ronald Foster (1970 1977), Vyrnwy Morgan Jones (1977 1984) John Rhyddid Williams (1984 1992), Alun Bowen (1992 1999), Indeg Thomas (1999 present). Guest Conductors have included the legendary brass band conductor Harry Mortimer in the Brangwyn Hall in 1964 with brass bands from GCG, Ystalfera, Ammanford, and Wernos Colliery). Rae Jenkins conducted the Ammanford, Carmarthen, Llanelly choirs and other groups in the Albert Hall in 1957 and Ammanford Choir again at the Royal Festival Hall, London in 1963. Major international conductors such as Sir Charles Grove and Vernon Handley have also conducted the choir.
Since 1977 there has been a Festival of Welsh Mixed Choirs held periodically in the Royal Albert Hall, London. Ammanford Choral Society has participated in most of these, as well as in several Saint David's Day concerts in the Royal Albert Hall. The choir took part in the Saint David's concerts in 1956 and 1959. The Festivals of Mixed Choirs at which they have participated were the Second (1979), Fourth (1983), Fifth (1985), Sixth 1987), Seventh (1989), Eighth (1997).
(Details from 'Llyfr y Lloffion Cymdaithas Gorawl Rhydaman a'r Cylch' 'Ammanford and District Choral Society: a Scrapbook' published in 2001).
3. The Choir since 1947
4. Here and There Hwnt ac Yma
7. Past Opera Stars
From its beginnings back in 1917, Ammanford Choral Society has a long and distinguished history. For ten years, from about 1955 to 1965, they were undisputedly the best choral society in the whole of Wales, as their record above ably demonstrates. Not many amateur choirs give concerts at the Royal Festival Hall, London, or premier works by leading composers of their day, but Ammanford has done both. The orchestras it has performed with include the London Philharmonic, Royal Liverpool Philharmonic and the Slovakian National Orchestras.
Since those golden years the choir's numbers have slowly declined, as the age of the choristers has increased. This is not unique to Ammanford obviously, as it is happening all over Britain in other, similar areas, where choral traditions once flourished. As that older, active music-making generation gives way to a newer, more passive one, we who remember Ammanford Choral Society, and who still listen to them today, can only reflect that is their loss, not ours. People will always want to listen to music it expresses a need that wells up from deep inside the human condition but it appears those same people no longer feel the need to make music any more. However, all lovers of local music-making will doubtless concur with the choir's historian Olwen Richards:
"May the Ammanford and District Choral Society continue to meet their musical and social challenges for many years to come".
Before we leave our tale of Ammanford Choral Society, perhaps we might ponder those words for a moment or two, for we will then realise that Olwen Richards identifies not just a musical role for the choir, but also a social one. This is an important distinction, and one that needs to be made, because a choir is not just a collection of people singing for themselves though it is that, too it is also a community of people singing for others.
Much of the above has been summarised from 'Llyfr y Lloffion Cymdaithas Gorawl Rhydaman a'r Cylch' (Ammanford and District Choral Society: a Scrapbook') published in 2001. Thanks are due to Olwen Richards, the author, for permission to quote from this work and also to Brian and Joyce Perkins for the loan of their copy. The brief biographies and photographs of the opera singers mentioned above are taken from various web sites, as was the brief biography of the choir's long serving conductor Gwilym R Jones. Grateful thanks are due to all concerned.
3. The Choir since 1947
4. Here and There Hwnt ac Yma
7. Past Opera Stars
7. PAST OPERA STARS
While the most obvious purpose of a choir in is to provide a focus for local music making, it also provides another valuable service by supplying a platform (pardon the pun) for young and aspiring soloists to start their careers. The usual path for a classical singer is from school to a music conservatory or university, often entering various competitions along the way. But the day eventually arrives when a young singer has to go out into the wider world and, well, sing.
It's the local choirs and music societies who give young singers their first opportunities at paid performance. They take their first steps towards what can be a glittering career at these village halls, and on any day of the week, in the countless local venues up and down the land, there will be a concert or recital somewhere that sees these fledgling song birds warble their first woodnotes wild.
Morriston Orpheus Choir Supporters' Association, from the nearby Swansea Valley, organises the annual 'Young Welsh Singer of the Year Competition' which is open to Welsh students studying singing at any college or university in the United Kingdom. Previous winners have included international stars Rebecca Evans and Bryn Terfel, both of whom are Vice-Presidents of the Association.
Neath Male Voice Choir, too, can boast to have helped Rebecca Evans take her first, tentative steps towards a later, starry career:
"One noticeable milestone was that some of the older members of the original choir recall with pride that they were the first male voice choir to appear with a very young Rebecca Evans who sang at a local concert with them when she was just 15 years old! Rebecca has since gone on to achieve world-class status". (from Neath Male Voice Choir web site)
Ammanford Choral Society is no exception, as just a glance through the list of soloists who have performed with the choir can demonstrate. Literally hundreds of soloists have been booked to perform with the choir, and while most have gone on to modest careers afterwards, a handful have joined the select few opera greats of their generations.
All the great opera singers, without exception, have had their beginnings in this humble way. Before they bestride the stage at the Metropolitan Opera, New York; La Scala, Milan; the Vienna State Opera; or Covent Garden, a village or small-town audience somewhere gets the first chance to judge their abilities and no doubt, with the benefit of hindsight, proclaim decades afterwards that they knew they were destined for greatness. From the Miners' Welfare Hall, Ammanford to Covent Garden Opera House may seem an impossible dream, yet several of the opera greats since the war have done just that, as a brief glance below, in chronological order, at past concerts of Ammanford Choral Society will ably demonstrate (there are brief biographies and photographs of all these singers as well).
The five major opera houses of the world are considered to be the Metropolitan Opera, New York; La Scala, Milan; Covent Garden, London; the Vienna State Opera, Austria and, if you're a Wagnerian singer, Bayreuth, Germany. All the singers featured below have sung in some, or even all, of these great opera houses.
Singer Appearences with Ammanford Choral Society Geraint Evans 27/2/56 and 28/2/56 (Welfare Hall). Miscellaneous Programme. Conductor: Hywel Gwyn Evans Rowland Jones 4/2/57 and 5/2/57 (Welfare Hall). Elgar's King Olaf, conductor Hywel Gwyn Evans. Again on 30/1/67 (Welfare Hall) in Verdi's Requiem, conductor Hywel Gwyn Evans. On 8/4/67 in a miscellaneous programme at the Brangwyn Hall, Swansea, conductor George Thompson. August 1970 in Bruckner's Mass in F Minor at Eisteddfod Pavilion, Ammanford, with the Liverpool Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, conductor Sir Charles Groves. Owen Brannigan 2/2/59 and 3/3/59 (Welfare Hall). Verdi Requiem. Conductor: Hywel Gwyn Evans Heather Harper 23-25/1/61 (Welfare Hall), Mendelssohn's Elijah, Conductor: Hywel Gwyn Evans Gwyneth Jones and Stuart Burrows 30/11/63, Royal Festival Hall, London, with the London Welsh Association Orchestra and Youth Choir, Handel's Messiah. Conductor: Rae Jenkins Stuart Burrows 28/1/64 and 29/1/64, (Welfare Hall). Handel's Messiah. Conductor: Hywel Gwyn Evans Stuart Burrows 17/1/66 and 18/1/66, (Welfare Hall). Haydn's Creation. Conductor: Hywel Gwyn Evans Delme Bryn Jones Aug 1970 (Concert at National Eisteddfod Pavilion, when the Eisteddfod was held in Ammanford), Damnation of Faust. Liverpool Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, conductor Sir Charles Groves Delme Bryn Jones Aug 1974 (Concert at National Eisteddfod Pavilion when the Eisteddfod was held in Carmarthen), Concert performance of Verdi's Aida, Slovakian National Orchestra, conductor Vernon Handley Dennis O'Neil 19/3/73 (Welfare Hall). Mozart Requiem. Conductor: Ronald Foster........ Bryn Terfel 12/3/88 (Amman Valley Comprehensive School). Haydn's Creation. Conductor: John Rhyddid Williams Rebecca Evans 7/4/90 (Amman Valley Comprehensive School). Mozart Requiem. Conductor: John Rhyddid Williams .
In addition to these, the 1955 performance of Elijah at the Welfare Hall included the New Zealand bass Inia Te Wiata, who was a Maori prince, no less.
We can see from the above list that all the earlier concerts were given two or even three performances, with queues all around the Welfare Hall and into the street each evening. The choir in recent years has given only one performance of their various concerts. A sign, sadly, that a more sedentary generation will rarely leave the comfort of their own armchairs to listen to live, rather than recorded, music. Another factor however was the transfer of concerts to Amman Valley Comprehensive School Hall from 1977, after the closure of the Miners Welfare Hall, which curtailed the number of performances that could be given to just once at the weekends.
Geraint Evans as Figaro in Mozart's 'Marriage of Figaro' (La Scala, Milan, 1960)
Geraint Evans, Bass-Baritone, 1922 1992
[Sang with Ammanford Choral Society on 27/2/56 and 28/2/56 at the Welfare Hall in a Miscellaneous Programme. Conductor: Hywel Gwyn Evans].
Born Cilfynydd, South Wales, UK. Died Aberystwyth, Wales.
.......Welsh Bass-baritone Geraint Evans was born in a small mining town called Cilfynydd, which in English is translated to mean "the edge of the mountain." The Celtic name of Geraint pronounced Gair-AINT is that of a legendary hero, one of King Arthur's Knights of the Round Table. In time, Geraint Evans would one day became the world's most foremost interpreter of Verdi's fat knight, Sir John Falstaff, as well as the proud recipient of the title Commander of the British Empire, conferred upon him in 1959 by Queen Elizabeth II.
.......Born to a musical family, Geraint Evans sang as a boy soprano in his local church choir, which was conducted by one of Cilfynydd's best musicians, his own father. The elder Evans recognized his son's vocal talent early and gave him every musical opportunity, including violin lessons. By the age of seventeen, Geraint's singing voice had deepened into a mellow baritone and he was invited to appear as soloist in a performance of Mendelssohn's Elijah. This engagement brought him to the attention of Idloese Owen, a noted choral director, who persuaded him to undertake serious vocal training.
.......His studies, however, were interrupted by the outbreak of World War II, during which he served in the Royal Air Force. When hostilities ceased, Evans was stationed in Germany, where he took the opportunity to resume his vocal training, this time with the well-known German bass Theo Hermann, who had first heard the young singer on his own radio program broadcast by the British Forces Network. (Later, Evans also studied in Geneva and at London's Guildhall School of Music). Through Hermann he met Karl Rankl, then musical director of the Royal Opera, Covent Garden. His first audition netted him a contract. His debut, in 1948, was in the brief role of the Night Watchman in Wagner's Die Meistersinger, a work in which he was one day to star as the conniving town clerk, Sixtus Beckmesser.
.......Fortunately for Evans, Covent Garden is one leading opera house that builds stars from its own ranks. Joan Sutherland was the first "resident" artist after the war to achieve international acclaim. Geraint Evans was the second, though it might be noted that he made his La Scala debut before the soprano's. At Covent Garden, after beginning in short roles, he quickly rose in stature, alternating in comic and dramatic assignments. The variety of repertory produced by the theatre broadened his innate sense of style while developing his natural penchant for acting. He was as likely to be cast as Mozart's jolly bird-catcher Papageno as Berg's tragic Wozzeck.
.......Directors from the legitimate theatre among them Tyrone Guthrie, Peter Brook, and John Gielgud found in Evans an ideal collaborator when they would visit Covent Garden to stage operas.
.......Evans first became identified with the role of Sir John Falstaff at the 1950 Glyndebourne Festival, and he was subsequently selected to sing the Verdi role in a phenomenally successful Covent Garden production in 1961, staged and designed by the mercurial Franco Zeffirelli. Since then Evans has also sung the role with the San Francisco Opera (where he was a regular), in Buenos Aires, and in Italy. He made his Metropolitan Opera debut as Falstaff in 1964 in yet another production staged by Zeffirelli. No less remarkable, however, are his rebellious Figaro, his evil Don Pizarro, or his delightful Leporello, all of which he has sung at the Metropolitan. Of his Leporello, critic Irving Kolodin has written, "the most artfully sung servant in decades...acted with typically English (!) conviction that to be a fine servant is no less a distinction than to be a worthy master."
Brass bandsman Rowland Jones, before he embarked upon his operatic career
Rowland Jones, Tenor, 1912 1978
[Sang with Ammanford Choral Society in Elgar's King Olaf in 1957, and in Verdi's Requiem in 1967, both conducted by Hywel G. Evans; again in 1967 at the Brangwyn Hall in a miscellaneous concert, incidentally accompanied on the piano by Olwen Richards. In 1970 he sang the tenor part in Bruckner's Mass in F minor at the Ammanford National Eisteddfod in its pavilion, a concert conducted by Charles Groves].
....... Tenor Rowland Jones, along with Brynamman born baritone Delme Bryn Jones (see below), are the two singers in this list of world class opera stars who are from our very own Amman valley. Rowland Jones was born in the mining village of Gwaun Cae Gurwen, then part of Glamorganshire, where he was brought up with his two sisters. His parents were children of large families, resulting in a large, close-knit extended family, all with an interest and no small ability in performing instrumentally and vocally. At the early age of twelve, Rowland experienced the tragic loss of his mother. One member of the extended family was Mr. Dan Lloyd, who became conductor of the Gwaun Cae Gurwen Silver Band, well known on the concert and competitive scene all over Britain. Some eighteen members of the family played in the band at various times, and those with no family connections at all called him "Uncle Dan". Rowland was euphonium soloist in the band, and grew to be extremely proficient.
....... He came to the attention of officials of the Black Dyke Mills Band, and was enrolled as one of their players, moving on to Bickershaw Colliery Band after some four or five years. He met and married his Irish wife, Rose Ann, and they became the parents of two daughters. Rowland possessed a fine tenor voice, and decided to develop his vocal skills for singing at local concerts. He was auditioned at Sadler's Wells and was engaged as principal tenor, later making his debut as Toriddu in Cavalleria Rusticana. To his dismay, news of his appointment was heard on the radio in the Bickershaw area before he could return to tell them in person. Other roles included Jenik in Smetena's Bartered Bride, Lenski in Eugene Onegin, and Alfred in Strauss' Die Fledermaus. In 1951, he sang Boris in Janacek's Katya Kabanova in its first performance in Britain. He made many appearances in Covent Garden, in English National Opera and Dublin Opera productions, and as Rodolfo in the Welsh National Opera's La Boheme. Abroad, he sang in Germany, Brussels, Turkey and Bombay. He was engaged annually as guest artiste in the Battle of Britain Commemoration in Jersey. He also appeared in the Albert Hall Proms, and at the Caernarfon Investiture of the Prince of Wales in 1969.
....... He helped young singers in classes at the Guildhall School of Music, and in course of time retired to the village of Llanrhaeadr, in the Vale of Clwyd. A house was built next to a running stream, where he could observe bird life. Here in a purpose-built studio, he continued to train young voices, also working as a peripatetic tutor in North Wales centres, and at the Cardiff College of Music and Drama. He appeared on the Welsh National Eisteddfod stage as singer and adjudicator, and in his native Wales, he died at the early age of sixty six. He lies buried in Old Carmel Cemetary, Gwaun Cae Gurwen.
....... After his death, former pupils and friends founded a Memorial Scholarship in his memory. Substantial sums are awarded to young singers at an annual competition which is part of the National Eisteddfod of Wales programme.
....... As Rowland Jones was one of Ammanford's famous sons, a longer biography and fuller appraisal can be found in the 'People' section of this web site.
[Many thanks to Olwen Richards of Ammanford Choral Society for the above information on Rowland Jones]
Owen Brannigan with his album of Scottish and Newcastle folk songs
Owen Brannigan, Bass, 1908 1973
[Sang with Ammanford Choral Society on 2/2/59 and 3/3/59 at the Welfare Hall in the Verdi Requiem. Conductor: Hywel Gwyn Evans].
Born in Northumberland, in the north east of England, bass Owen Brannigan became a much loved figure on the British music-making scene after the second word war. Of the same era as the contralto Kathleen Ferrier, a generation was brought up hearing recordings on the radio of traditional Tyneside and Scottish songs by these two north of England opera singers (Ferrier was from Cumberland, just across the Pennines from Brannigan's Northumberland). Not on the 'posh' classical music channel, but on the more popular 'Light Programme'.
....... Yet Brannigan might easily have been lost to professional music making had not a chance event launched him into the world of opera. He was working as the foreman on a building site in Hampshire, south east England, when he took the morning off work to sing three short songs for BBC radio in London. On returning to the building site the same afternoon, he received a phone call inviting him to become the principal bass with Sadler's Wells Opera Company, London, solely on the evidence of those three songs. Few operatic careers can have started in such a fairy-story way. (Source: BBC radio interview given to Richard Baker in 1972, repeated on January 26th 2003).
....... Owen Brannigan had a long and important association with the composer Benjamin Britten, who wrote the music for the character of Bottom in A Midsummer Night's Dream with him in mind. Brannigan also performed the roles of Noye in Noye's Fludde, Swallow in Peter Grimes and Collatinus in Rape of Lucretia. He made his Glyndebourne début in 1946 (as Collatinus in The Rape of Lucretia), and his Covent Garden début in 1948. He received the Order of the British Empire in 1964. He was also a distinguished performer in oratorio and operetta (especially Gilbert and Sullivan), and had a special interest in Northern English folk-songs, with the Tyneside song 'Blaydon Races' virtually becoming his signature tune.
Soprano Heather Harper
Heather Harper, Soprano, born 1930
[Sang with Ammanford Choral Society on 23-25/1/61 at the Welfare Hall in Mendelsohn's Elijah. Conductor: Hywel Gwyn Evans]
The distinguished Irish soprano Heather (Mary) Harper was born and trained in Belfast. Singing was her second subject at Trinity College of Music in London, where she trained as a concert pianist, but she also took voice lessons and sang in the BBC Chorus.
....... Her first professional appearance was as Lady Macbeth in Verdi's opera, in 1954 at the Oxford University Opera Club. She was a member of the English Opera Group from 1956 to 1975. Principal roles followed at Covent Garden, Glyndebourne and Sadler's Wells, putting her in the foremost ranks of operatic sopranos. She created Lucie Manette in Benjamin's Tale of Two Cities, London (New Opera Company at Sadler's Wells) in 1957. She sang the Woman in first Britisn stage production of Schoenberg's Erwartung, 1960. Her Glyndebourne début was in 1957 as First Lady in Die Zauberflöte; Her Covent Garden debut was in 1962 as Helena in A Midsummer Night's Dream. Her debut in 1967 at the Bayreuth Festival as Elsa in Lohengrin received international acclaim. In 1977 she made her New York Metropolitan debut as the Countess in Le Nozze di Figaro. Her roles encompass Mozart, Verdi, Wagner and 20th century works. Outstanding roles including Elsa, Arabella in Strauss's opera, Ellen Orford in Peter Grimes, and the Governess in The Turn of the Screw.
....... Heather Harper was also a concert artist of supreme accomplishment. Her fame in this area was based on a series of highly successful tours of North and South America, Australia, the Far and Middle East (including Israel), Russia, Czechoslovakia, Scandinavia and Europe. She has given first performances of many works. She sang in the first performances of Britten's War Requiem at Coventry Cathedral in 1962, and Tippett's 3rd Symphony in 1972. Other works dedicated to her are 'Three Leaves of Grass' by the Finnish composer Leif Segerstram, and 'Chambermusic' by Antal Dorati. She created Mrs Coyle in Britten's Owen Wingrave, televised 1971. Heather Harper retired from stage 1984, but sang Nadia in The Ice Break at the Proms in 1990 (a role she actually created).
....... In 1965 she was created Commander of the British Empire for her services to music, and in 1966 the Queen's University, Belfast, conferred on her an honorary degree of Doctor of Music.
....... From 1985 she was a Professor at the Royal College of Music in London. From 1986 she was also director of singing studies at the Britten-Pears School in Snape, Suffolk, and the first visiting lecturer-in-residence at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music in Glasgow (from 1987). Although already retired she sang with Simon Rattle and the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra at the London Proms in 1994.
Tenor Stuart Burrows
Stuart Burrows, Tenor, born 1937
[Stuart Burrows and Gwyneth Jones sang with Ammanford Choral Society on the 30/11/63 at the Royal Festival Hall, London, with the London Welsh Association Orchestra and Youth Choir, in Handel's Messiah. Conductor: Rae Jenkins]. Also sang Handel's Messiah on 28/1/64 and 29/1/64 and Haydn's Creation on 17/1/66 and 18/1/66. Venue Welfare Hall and Conductor Hywel Gwyn Evans each time].
Like Geraint Evans above, Stuart Borrows was born in Cilfynydd, Wales. His first major international engagement was at the Athens Festival in Stravinsky's "Oedipus Rex", at the behest of the composer himself. In the years since his debut at the Royal Opera House in 1967, Stuart Burrows established himself as one of the world's greatest lyric tenors.
....... His performances at all the major opera houses have been widely and enthusiastically acclaimed. The Magic Flute, Don Giovanni, L'Elisir D'Amore, Manon Lescaut, Eugene Onegin and Manon at the San Francisco Opera; Faust, Madam Butterfly, The Magic Flute and Don Giovanni at the Vienna State Opera; Don Giovanni and Die Entfuhrung at the Paris Opera; Tales of Hoffman and Idomeneo at the Theatre Cologne, Buenos Aires.
....... His roles at the Royal Opera House include all the above, as well as Cosi fan Tutte, Don Pasquale and La Sonambula. As a guest with the Royal Opera he has toured the far east and Japan and was also invited to sing Tamino in their visit to the Olympic Festival in Los Angeles in 1984.
....... Stuart Burrows has appeared in major roles at the Metropolitan Opera, New York on twelve consecutive seasons a record for any British singer. He also has the distinction of being invited by the Metropolitan Opera on four occasions to join them in tour of the U.S.A.
....... He made his debut with La Scala Milan in 1978 singing the title role in Berlioz, La Damnation de Faust. Since 1981, Stuart Burrows has forged new links with the Theatre de la Monnaie in Brussels and has since then, performed their new productions of Don Giovanni, Tales of Hoffman and La Clemenza di Tito.
....... At New York's Carnegie Hall, he has appeared in concert and recital with Solti, Barenboim, Mehta, Ozawa, Bernstein and Ormandy. Of special significance are his recital performances in the Brahmsaal in Vienna, considered to be the foremost venue for recital in Europe.
. ..... Stuart Burrows has recorded for television in many parts of the world including Canada, Ireland, Finland, Belgium, Australia and France, in which he sang the Berlioz Requiem at Notre Dame Cathedral with Leonard Bernstein conducting. A television series of six programmes was transmitted on BBC 2, and received immediate and overwhelming acclaim from the general public; and so was born "Stuart Burrows Sings". It became an annual musical programme for eight years, reaching up to eighteen million viewers per week throughout Great Britain.
He has recorded two series for S4C entitled "Gwlad y Gan" (Land of Song) and once again, the response from the public was outstanding.
....... In 1989 he was awarded an Hon. Fellowship from Trinity College Carmarthen (where he studied to be a school teacher before he became a professional singer) and in 1992 from the University of Wales Aberystwyth. In 1981 he was awarded an Hon. Doctorate from the University of Wales, Cardiff.
... ... In recent years he has been in great demand as an adjudicator at some of the World's leading International vocal competitions including the renowned Sommerakademie Mozarteum in Salzburg and the prestigious Queen Elizabeth International Music Competition of Belgium. He was invited to adjudicate at the 1997 Cardiff Singer of the World.
....... His Ammanford appearances were held in the Miners Welfare Hall in 1964 and 1966 and in 2002 he returned to the scene of his earlier triumphs in the newly furbished Welfare Hall not to sing this time, but to narrate his one man show of reminiscences.
Gwyneth Jones as Brunhilde in Wagner's Ring Cycle; not a lady to be messed with. Brunhilde was the leader of the Valkyries, warrior women who ferried the bodies of heroes slain in battle to Valhalla.
Gwyneth Jones, Soprano, born 1937
[Gwyneth Jones and Stuart Burrows sang with Ammanford Choral Society on the 30/11/63 at the Royal Festival Hall, London, with the London Welsh Association Orchestra and Youth Choir, in Handel's Messiah. Conductor: Rae Jenkins]
Claim to Fame: One of the greatest Wagnerian sopranos. Before becoming a professional singer, Dame Gwyneth worked as a secretary at the Pontypool foundry in Gwent, South Wales.
....... A huge voice in a slim elegant frame, Dame Gwyneth lives near Zurich but often returns to perform in her native Wales.
....... Born to a musical family in Monmouthshire, Dame Gwyneth's vocal talents were recognised at school and Eisteddfodau. She won a scholarship to the Royal College of Music and later studied in Siena and Zurich.
....... In 1964 Dame Gwyneth achieved overnight fame when she stood in for Leontyne Price in a Royal Opera House production of Il Trovatore. Turning her talents to the work of Wagner, she came to dominate the Bayreuth Festival in the late 1960s and 1970s. She has continued to perform across Europe and the USA, and was made a Dame of the British Empire in 1986.
....... Moment of Glory: Winning overnight fame in a production of Il Trovatore.
Delme Bryn Jones, Bass-Baritone, 1935 2001
[Delme Bryn Jones sang with Ammanford Choral Society in Aug 1970 in a concert performance of Berlioz's Damnation of Faust at the National Eisteddfod Pavilion, when the Eisteddfod was held in Ammanford, with the Liverpool Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, conductor Sir Charles Grove. Again, in Aug 1974 in a concert performance of Verdi's Aida at the National Eisteddfod Pavilion when the Eisteddfod was held in Carmarthen, with the Slovakian National Orchestra, conductor Vernon Handley].
Delme Bryn Jones, like Gwaun Cae Gurwen born Rowland Jones above, is from the Amman Valley, from Brynamman in fact, and he went to school at Ammanford Technical College. Like Geraint Evans before him, he became principal baritone at London's Covent Garden Opera House.
....... His débuts with the major opera companies were as follows: Début with New Opera Company in 1959 (Maconchy's The Sofa). He sang Macbeth opposite Gwyneth Jones for the Welsh National opera in 1963 while also making his Glyndebourne début as Nick in The Rake's Progress. He also made his Covent Garden début in 1963 who engaged him again in 1965 to sing Paolo opposite Tito Gobbi's Boccanegra and a year later he sang Marcello in Puccini's La Boheme. Other appearances included Scottish opera, the Aldeburgh and Glyndebourne festivals. His American début was in 1967 at the San Francisco Opera as Lescaut in Manon and Donner in Das Rheingold. The Vienna State Opera heard him in 1969 as Renato in Verdi's Un Ballo in Maschera.
....... As Delme Bryn Jones is a 'local boy made good', a fuller appraisal, including his obituary in the London 'Times', can be found in the 'People' section of this web site.
Tenor Dennis O'Neil
Dennis O'Neil, Tenor, born 1948
[Dennis O'Neil, sang with Ammanford Choral Society on 19/3/73 at the Welfare Hall, in the Mozart Requiem. Conductor: Ronald Foster]
From nearby Pontardulais, tenor Dennis O'Neil was connected for some time with the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, London and gives guest performances regularly at the Metropolitan Opera New York, in Chicago, San Francisco, Zurich, Paris, Brussels, Vienna, Verona and Munich.
.......Best known as a Verdi exponent, he also performs song recitals and oratorios, especially the tenor part of the Verdi Requiem. O'Neil is the possessor of an Italianate tenor voice, rather than the classic Welsh tenor sound of Stuart Burrows, who is from an earlier generation. He has appeared extensively on television in Wales.
Baritone Bryn Terfel
Bryn Terfel, Bass-Baritone, born 1965
[Bryn Terfel sang with Ammanford Choral Society on 12/3/88 at Amman Valley Comprehensive School, in Haydn's Creation. Conductor: John Rhyddid Williams].
Bryn Terfel was born in 1965 in North Wales and studied at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London, where he graduated in 1989. While still a student he won several prizes, including the Kathleen Ferrier Memorial Scholarship (1988) and the Gold Medal of the Guildhall School (1989). That same year he represented Wales in the "Singer of the World" Competition, winning the Lieder (song) prize.
....... In 1990 Bryn Terfel made his opera debut at the Welsh National Opera as Guglielmo (Così fan Tutte) and Figaro (Le Nozze di Figaro), singing the latter role at the English National Opera and at his American debut at the Santa Fe Opera. In 1992 he was the first artist to receive the new award created by the British Critics' Circle for the most important contribution to British musical life. In the same year he won Gramophone magazine's "Young Singer of the Year" award and in 1993 he was honoured at the International Classical Music Awards as "Newcomer of the Year".
....... Bryn Terfel's outstanding debut at the Salzburg Summer Festival in 1992 as Jochanaan in Strauss's Salome was followed by invitations to appear at the great opera houses in London, Paris, Amsterdam, and Vienna where he triumphed as Figaro in 1993. He returned to the Welsh National Opera in the same year to sing Ford in Falstaff. In 1994 he sang the role of Figaro at Covent Garden and went on to sing Figaro again to huge acclaim for his New York Metropolitan Opera debut. More recently he has performed the role of Verdi's Falstaff with great success at the re-opening of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden (1999), at the Sydney Opera House, and at the Lyric Opera in Chicago.
....... Among his complete opera recordings for Deutsche Grammophon are Prokofiev's The Fiery Angel (Servant and Wissmann) under Neeme Järvi, Strauss's Salome (Jochanaan) and Puccini's Tosca (Angelotti) under Giuseppe Sinopoli, Mozart's Don Giovanni (Leporello) under Claudio Abbado, and Lehár's The Merry Widow (Baron Mirko Zeta) and Stravinsky's The Rake's Progress (Nick Shadow) under John Eliot Gardiner. He also sang the title role in Gardiner's recording of Mozart's The Marriage of Figaro for Archiv Produktion.
....... Also in his discography are to be found a live recording at the 1993 New Year's Eve Wagner Gala Concert with the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra under Claudio Abbado, and Berlioz's Damnation of Faust (Mephisto) conducted by Myung-Whun Chung. Terfel's powerful stage presence is well demonstrated by his recording of arias by Handel under Sir Charles Mackerras and that of German, Italian, French and Russian arias in which he is accompanied by the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra conducted by James Levine.
....... In addition to his opera commitments, Bryn Terfel has made an equally distinguished career on the concert platform and also appears regularly in television and radio broadcasts. In 1994 he gave his first recitals in London's Wigmore Hall, at the Salzburg Festival and in Florence, as well as making his recital debut in the USA in New York's Alice Tully Hall. In the same year he appeared as a soloist at the "Last Night of the Proms" and in performances of Mendelssohn's Elijah at the BBC Promenade Concerts, the Edinburgh Festival and with the New York Philharmonic. He sang Mahler's Eighth Symphony under James Levine at the Ravinia Festival, Chicago, and later joined Abbado, a distinguished cast of soloists and the Berlin Philharmonic in performances and a recording of this work for the Yellow Label. Bryn made his debut at the Hollywood Bowl in the summer of 1998. He has also given recitals in Berlin, Munich, Vienna, Edinburgh, Istanbul, and at numerous venues throughout the USA and Canada.
....... Among Terfel's recital and lieder recordings are Mozart's Requiem conducted by Claudio Abbado, and Requiems by Fauré and Duruflé under Myung-Whun Chung. He took part in a recording for Archiv Produktion of Monteverdi's Vespers of the Blessed Virgin conducted by John Eliot Gardiner. He has also recorded Mahler's Kindertotenlieder with Giuseppe Sinopoli. That Bryn Terfel is a highly accomplished lieder singer is demonstrated by three solo CDs in which he is accompanied by pianist Malcolm Martineau lieder by Schubert, by Schumann, and a selection of English songs by Vaughan Williams, Butterworth, Finzi and Ireland. Another facet of this highly versatile artist is to be found in albums of melodies from Broadway musicals by Rodgers & Hammerstein (Something Wonderful), songs with lyrics by Alan J. Lerner (If Ever I Would Leave You), and traditional Welsh songs (We'll Keep A Welcome) with the Black Mountain Choir.
....... At the special Nobel Concert to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Nobel Prize on 8 December 2001 he performed for an illustrious audience of all the living Nobel Prize winners who made their way to Stockholm.
Rebecca Evans, Soprano
[Rebecca Evans sang with Ammanford Choral Society on 7/4/90 at the Amman Valley Comprehensive School) in the Mozart Requiem. Conductor: John Rhyddid Williams].
Soprano Rebecca Evans (left) in Mozart's Marriage of Figaro
Soprano Rebecca Evans, from Pontrhyyfen near Neath (which also happens to be the home village of Richard Burton), is one of the world's leading opera stars. Hailed by the British Press in 1991 as the "Operatic Discovery of the Year", she has performed at many of the world's most famous opera houses including the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, and played a number of major roles with the Welsh National Opera Company.
....... Rebecca Evans made her Metropolitan Opera début in 1999 as Sophie in 'Werther', has since returned to sing Susanna in 'Le Nozze di Figaro' and Nanetta in 'Falstaff'. In Europe, her roles have included Sophie 'Der Rosenkavalier'; Ilia 'Idomeneo' and Servilia 'La Clemenza di Tito' for the Bayerische Staatsoper; Nanetta 'Falstaff' at the Theatre du Chatelet, Paris, and Sandrina 'La Finta Giardinera' in concert with the Freiburg Barockorchester. In Britain she has appeared as Susanna at Covent Garden; Romilda 'Xerxes' at English National Opera; and Ilia, Cendrillon, Marzelline, Norina 'Don Pasquale' and Gretel, Oscar, Hero 'Beatrice et Benedict' for Welsh National Opera.
....... Her recordings include The Marriage of Figaro with Sir Charles Mackerras; a solo recording of Italian songs (EMI); Delius Requiem (Chandos); and Finzi Die Natalis (BMG Conifer). She has recently added Albert Herring with Richard Hickox (Chandos Records) and Mendelssohn's A Midsummer Night's Dream with John Nelson (for Virgin Classics) to her extensive discography.
3. The Choir since 1947
4. Here and There Hwnt ac Yma
7. Past Opera Stars
Date this page last updated: August 24, 2010