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Help us to keep the music

It's nurtured a host of stars, but now the National Youth Orchestra of Wales is hoping for extra funding. Jill Tunstall reports

It has produced a host of world-class musicians and composers, provided accompaniment to the investiture of the Prince of Wales, and even played in a zoo.

Now the world's first national youth orchestra is marking its 60th anniversary year with an appeal for more funding to help it make even more music.

The National Youth Orchestra of Wales started out in 1945-46, as the brainchild of Ammanford teacher Irwyn Walters.

Sixty years on, its current members this week played a trumpet fanfare and serenaded Welsh Assembly members at an anniversary celebration at the new Senedd building in Cardiff Bay, under the direction of conductor Owain Arwel Hughes.

The event also marked the launch of the pound;60,000 appeal, aimed at topping up the pound;260,000 the 110-member orchestra needs annually. It is jointly funded by all 22 of Wales's local education authorities, the Arts Council of Wales, sponsorship and money raised by performances and CD sales.

"This is a big orchestra with big ideas, and to keep an animal as big as this costs a lot of money," says Pauline Crossley of the Welsh Joint Education Committee (WJEC), the Cardiff-based exams and education body responsible for the orchestra.

The orchestra, which has played for royalty, at international events, and even in a zoo (Antwerp, in 1973), is made up of Wales's best music students.

And the list of former members reads like a who's who of music in Wales including Eos Chater, from the classics-inspired girl band Bond, composers Alun Hoddinott and Karl Jenkins, and the Velvet Underground's John Cale.

Gower-based Karl Jenkins - currently president of the orchestra's Friends Society - is among those helping out on the financial front.

He is conducting the Cardiff Philharmonic Orchestra in a performance of his The Armed Man at the capital's Millennnium Centre on Sunday, in aid of the youth orchestra he joined in 1959 as a young oboist.

"You made friends for life there," recalls the composer of the million-selling Adiemus: Songs of Sanctuary, and numerous advertising soundtracks. "It gave you a sense of loyalty and discipline as well as helping you develop as a player with excellent tutors and a fabulous repertoire."

Current orchestra members attend a two-week annual course, take part in tours, and get the chance to play alongside the BBC's National Orchestra of Wales (NOW).

"This is a very different kind of experience because they sit shoulder to shoulder with members of a professional orchestra, with all the kudos that attracts, and the opportunity for one-to-one teaching," said Pauline Crossley.

Daniel Lewis, 18, a pupil of Whitchurch high school, Cardiff, holds the unique position of being the orchestra's only bass trombonist. He has been a member for four years.

"It's a real privilege to be a member of the orchestra and to get the chance to play alongside professional musicians from the NOW is absolutely phenomenal," he says. "You also get to meet people from all over Wales who are interested in music."

Fifteen-year old cellist Stella Cho, also of Cardiff and a member for two years, agrees.

"The highlight for me has been playing with Owain Arwel Hughes, and I've learned a lot through being able to play a much wider repertoire," she says.

"It's also great to be able to play in major concert halls like St David's Hall, in Cardiff."

This year the orchestra will make its debut at the Welsh Proms in July, with cellist Julian Lloyd Weber as guest soloist. On March 24, it performs The Planet Suite with the National Orchestra of Wales, in St David's Hall.

Bryn Terfel, who was accompanied by the youth orchestra at the 1999 National Eisteddfod in Llanbedrgoch, Anglesey, says: "It was a privilege to perform with them.

"It's an exciting, challenging orchestra bringing together some of Wales's most talented young musicians. I wish them 60 more happy years of music-making."

To make a donation to the orchestra, telephone 02920 265060 or email


1945 Ammanford teacher Irwyn Walters's vision for the world's first national youth orchestra becomes reality.

* 1946 Clarence Raybould appointed as first conductor. First course and concert held in Monmouth with debut at National Eisteddfod (Bridgend).

* 1951 Fifth anniversary - first recording.

* 1953 First televised performance - at National Eisteddfod (Rhyl).

* 1955 First concert outside Wales - Edinburgh Festival.

* 1956 First foreign tour - Holland.

* 1966 First televised documentary about the orchestra.

* 1969 Investiture concert is held in the presence of the Prince of Wales - New Theatre Cardiff.

* 1973 Foreign tour on cruise ship Uganda.

* 1980 First commercial sponsorship, by BP.

* 1992 Launch of Friends of NYOW.

* 199596 50th anniversary. Plaque in honour of Irwyn Walters unveiled at Haberdasher's Monmouth school for girls, where the first course was held.

* 1997 Orchestra's first CD recording.

* 2001 First year of annual collaboration with BBC National Orchestra of Wales.

* 2003 Owain Arwel Hughes appointed as conductor.

* 2006 Launch of orchestra's 60th anniversary year, at the new Senedd building in Cardiff.

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