Theatre in Wales

Theatre, dance and performance reviews

Stunning New Music Composition

The Cwmwl Tystion Suite

Tomos Williams & Ensemble , Aberystwyth Arts Centre , June-13-19
The Cwmwl Tystion Suite by Tomos Williams & Ensemble Tomos Williams and his group of five musicians receive a rousing reception for the premiere of his suite in Aberystwyth's Great Hall. For him and for harpist Rhodri Davies Aberystwyth is a homecoming. It is also a reunion, the two having last played at a family event twenty years previously.

The title of Williams' new eighty-minute suite is taken from a poem by Waldo Williams. Simon Profitt is also on stage and his visuals are rhythmic complement to the the music. The geographic images range from mountain to water to split-screen mirror images of Aberystwyth. The themes are past indignity: the Blue Books, Tryweryn. The language itself is insulted; “a barrier to moral progress” is the least of it. Gnomic sentences jump on the screen. “Pa beth yw cenedl?” The face of Paul Robeson, in address to the 1957 Miners Eisteddfod, is pictured in fractured, pixellated form.

Formally, the suite comprises five parts announced on the screen. It is described as “jazz, the avant-garde, improvisation and Welsh folk music.” If it has a lineage it looks to Wahada Leo Smith, through Anthony Braxton, and to “In a Silent Way”. Except that the line-up is different; Davies on harp but no guitar, no saxophone but Francesca Simmons on violin and saw. Her contribution is most marked in the second part, evoking the lyric spirit of the folk music tradition. But like all art that makes its mark it is both connected, outside itself, while being inimitably itself

Music like painting is held together by tension. The key one in the Tystion Suite is that between trumpet and ensemble. Tomos Williams' music for his own trumpet is not in the jazz style; no short jabbing phrases but long anthemic cadences. Towards the close his cornet has a superlative richness of tone.

In apposition is the drumming of Mark O'Connor, a long-term collaborator. Huw V Williams' bass is given several solos. The second half has more solo playing from Huw Warren's piano, jagged note-streams, with a deep satisfaction to them. The suite is inspired thematically by troubled times past and present. At its climactic moments the listener's ear is tested close to its limit to discern order within discord. There is a passage around three-quarters in of bleeps and squawks that is the avant-garde a margin too far for me. But overall the music is a stirring blast of modernity. And all the more welcome for that.

The flavour of the music can be heard at:

“The Cwmwl Tystion Suite” has been commissioned by Tŷ Cerdd and the tour supported by Arts Council of Wales. Aberystwyth Arts Centre has provided further help and the provision of the Great Hall for two days' rehearsal.

The group plays London later in the month. Audiences in Wales can hear it at Mold (13th), Chapter (25th), Taliesin (28th) and Pontio (29th).

Reviewed by: Adam Somerset

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