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Welsh festival thrives

Twenty years ago the National Eisteddfod was under threat from spiralling costs and diminishing interest among young people. But this year about 170,000 visitors were expected at the week-long Bridgend event which has cost about Pounds 1.8 million to stage - 30 per cent from public funding; the rest from a variety of private sources.

9.3 = And while music has always been a strong point, marketing officer Eleri Twynog Davies says there's been a surge of interest in literature.

Innovations for this year include the establishment of a "B" field for young people to set up their own shows and 25 guides - sixth-formers from Llanhair school - for visitors who do not understand Welsh.

But it's not just the big, headline-grabbing stage of the National Eisteddfod which keeps Welsh culture alive. Hundreds of small, local eisteddfodau are the feeding grounds for the poets, musicians, dramatists and performers who will rise up the Eisteddfod ranks.

Huw Tregelles Williams, director of the BBC National Orchestra of Wales, says that any system which gives an opportunity to perform before a large audience is invaluable. "It tells professionals who's available, who's trying to make a career and who's succeeding."

This year Julian Lloyd-Webber joins the National Youth Orchestra of Wales at Bridgend. Pauline Crossley, expressive arts officer at the Welsh Joint Education Committee, says the arrangement with the Eisteddfod allows the orchestra to accompany international soloists - "the young players learn so much on these big occasions".

The main event for young people aged between 16 and 25 is the Richard Burton prize for the best orator of the festival. And more than 60 hopefuls have entered for the third Towyn Roberts Memorial Prize - baritone Bryn Terfel is a former winner. Six youth choirs from Wales will also compete this year - "compare that with just one major male voice choir taking part," says Ms Davies.

The National Eisteddfod also administers scholarships for promising performers. In Bridgend, prize money for musical competitions - choirs, soloists, composition - tops Pounds 23,000 while scholarship funds for further study as singers, instrumentalists and accompanists, nears Pounds 10,000.

Glyn Mon Hughes

The Royal National Eisteddfod of Wales, Bro Ogwr, Bridgend, until August 8. Internet: www.eisteddfod.org.uk.

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