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REVIEW: Britten's Saint Nicolas - "Diversity, freshness, emotion and energy all in one night"

In a town enjoying a throng of concerts and performances, the Llanelli Choral Society’s Spring Concert at St Elli Parish Church perfectly filled a much needed gap for fresh classical and contemporary music for choral, orchestra and solo voice.

The programme avoided the repetitive and formulaic. There was freshness and quality to the programme, the unique opportunity to experience an exciting and eclectic range of works. From the passion and energy of Britten’s Saint Nicolas to the emotion of Albinoni’s Adagio in G Minor. From the popularity of Mozart’s Eine Kleine MachtMuzik to the heavy heart of Barber’s Adagio for Strings. The packed audience was not to be disappointed.

Conductor John Hywel Williams and the British Sinfonietta brought alive the diverse orchestral works of Mozart, Ireland, Albinoni, Barber and Jenkins with a perfect blend of precision, passion, energy and sentiment. There was magic to the performance and the audience could not stifle their applause and cheer. Violin soloist Nia Bevan’s emotional solo for Albinoni’s Adagio with Huw Tregelles Williams’ accompaniment on the organ captured hearts.

The big and complex presentation was Britten’s Saint Nicolas, the dramatic cantata depicting the life, faith, miracles and legacy of the saint. Saint Nicolas is seen as one of the more remarkable creations in 20th century music – a complex mix of disparate forces, quirky textures and ideas. It does not pander to those looking for simple melodies but exhilarates those in search of experiences. This is a work tackled only by the courageous and talented. Hywel Williams and the artists did not disappoint.

Hywel Williams led a well oiled production capturing the energy, pain and sentiment of the work. The Llanelli Choral Society demonstrated their ability to take on and deliver Britten’s challenging work with a confident and robust performance, a strong performance matched only by their numbers and passion.

Richard Allen conquered the demanding role of Saint Nicolas. Despite’s Britten’s conflicting accompaniments, Richard demonstrated his strength of ability and his vocal and emotional agility as he embraced the role, its emotion and complexities with conviction and skill.

The Academy of the Hywel Girls’ Choir & Hywel Boy Singers as Britten’s gallery choir, gave a performance of unequalled discipline far advanced of their tender ages. Three brothers, Joshua, David and Daniel Michael played the Pickled Boys and young Saint Nicolas by Tomos Besley. Challenging accompaniments were handled with ease by pianists Jean Hywel, Andrew Pike and organist Huw Tregelles Williams.

Conductor John Hywel Williams demonstrated again his magic and ability to conquer the most demanding and complex of works. This was not simply a concert by the Llanelli Choral Society. This was where audiences experienced diversity, freshness, emotion and energy all in one night. Encore! Encore!

REVIEW: BLAKE and Hywel Singers: Conquered by Song and Harmony"

REVIEW (South Wales Evening Post, Llanelli Star, This is South Wales): There was high expectation for the night arranged by Theatrau Sir Gar and Loud Applause Productions. International singing phenomenon Blake were coming to Wales and joining forces with special guests the acclaimed young Welsh voices of the Hywel Girls’ Choir & Hywel Boy Singers. The powerful line up set the bar high.

The sell-out audience were not to be disappointed, only those on lengthy ticket waiting lists.

Blake captivated the audience from first song to last, bathing the audience with a repertoire of popular and easy listening. Arrangements of solo, unison and layered blended voices gave a much loved life and sensitivity to a warm repertoire of classic and popular songs. The audiences clearly adored every note and harmony.

Moon River, She, Nella Fantasia, Hallelujah, She was Beautiful, Time to Say Goodbye – Blake’s renditions captured the hearts of the audience. Between songs, the audience enjoyed the ‘Blake banter’ – light humour both on stage and with the audience - developing a warm rapport between all.

In perfect musical companionship, the young stars of the Hywel Girls’ Choir & Hywel Boy Singers brought a new dimension to the night under the direction of John Hywel Williams. Despite their young age, the Hywel singers hypnotised the audience with their stage professionalism and discipline with songs from Les Miserables and a dance-sharp fun rendition of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.

An unequivocal highlight - the joint performance of Nessum Dorma by Blake and the young choristers. This was Nessun Dorma like no other. The vocal skills of Blake, blending with the youthful passion of the Hywel singers, brought new and exciting life to this much loved song. Tears came to eyes. Audiences jumped to their feet. Regrettably, the audience’s passionate cries for repeats went unheeded but the experience was magical. One day may it be heard again!

With the evening bubbling over with harmony, love and humour, the musical journey ended with a rousing Jerusalem by Blake and the choir with further standing ovations.

Simply said, this was a great night of great artists and great music. They came. They sang. They conquered hearts.


A packed audience gave a rapturous welcome to two of the region’s leading choirs last Saturday when the mighty Pontarddulais Male Choir and Llanelli’s acclaimed Hywel Girls’ Choir & Hywel Boy Singers joined forces for a giant night of choral singing for the Noel Davies Memorial Concert.

The Pontarddulais Male Choir – the most successful competitive male voice choir in Wales – showed its strength and popularity by staging a battalion of nearly 100 voices on stage. With this army of voices under the dynamic leadership of Clive Phillips, the male choir enthralled audiences with a rainbow of textures and emotions. This was a performance of disciplined singing with a smooth blended unified voice of warmth and roundness. Without challenge, the choir embraced sentiment and sensitivity and, with a flick of a baton, thunderous crescendos with ease and skill. This was a performance of confidence and pride and much to be proud about.

Key highlights including class-leading performances of favourites such as Llanfair and Morte Criste and a delicate and intriguing rendition of Protheroe’s Cyfri’r Geifr.

Special guests were the young voices of the Hywel Girls’ Choir & Hywel Boy Singers who performed a demanding programme of over 15 diverse works from classical, sacred, spiritual, musical theatre, international folk and world cinema.

Conductor John Hywel Williams and his choristers gave a performance like no other with a twist of freshness and fun at every turn - sharp choreography, costume changes, a rainbow of accompaniment from percussion to xylophones to chiming bells to sounds of battle. This was no manufactured performance but one filled with youthful joy and passion.

Their WW1 Centenary tribute surprised the audience with their full WW1 costumes. A blend of grenadier guard marches, the harsh sounds of battle, an emotive trumpet reveille and an audience sing-along brought audience to both tears and to their feet.

Standing ovations by the packed audience said it all. Simply said, the male and youth voices squeezed choral greatness into a single night. More please!

REVIEW: Hywel Choir at Christmas Gala at St. David's Hall, Cardiff

By Katy Salter (Arts Review)

Hywel Girls’ Choir & Hywel Boy Singers
Christmas Concert & Carols
St David’s Hall Cardiff

Not many choirs can bring joyful tears to an audience but the young Hywel Singers seem to have this emotional ability built in as again seen at St. David’s Hall Cardiff on Saturday.

The traditional and often tired rule book of choirs seems to continually get thrown out of the window with John Hywel Williams and his Hywel Girls’ Choir & Hywel Boy Singers. The stage discipline and freshness of these young choristers continues to amaze.

Triumphant walk in music with 20 foot fiery red banners. Choristers with their backs to the audience. Yellow umbrellas. Simple and effective choreography delivered with the accuracy of any Broadway chorus line. A programme of music so diverse it hit every genre and sentiment. Audience emotions seen with widespread tears and watery eyes.

Hywel’s singers hit the audience with Strauss, Hansel and Gretel, favourite Christmas films – Sound of Music, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, Les Miserables, Singing in the Rain, beautiful rendition of Silent Night and Pie Jesu, a magical Walking in the Air and an ovation deserving O Holy Night.

This was a demanding programme beyond many a choir standard but the true thrill was the experience of all this delivered by choristers as young as 7 years and with a stage experience bettering any adult professionals. A magical experience for Christmas.


Review: Wales Arts

Llanelli’s young Hywel Girls’ Choir & Hywel Boy Singers enjoyed top billing and accolades at St. David’s Hall Cardiff at Saturday’s Wales Festival of Remembrance.

The acclaimed young singers joined forces with celebrity singer Russell Watson, The Band of the Regiment of Wales, West End star Sophie Evans and massed male choirs from Wales and England for a sell-out event at Wales’ leading concert hall.

The Hywel choristers, under the baton of John Hywel Williams, dazzled the audience as they marched onto the stage with towering banners of red silk, bursting into a powerful music movement of Les Miserables. Highlights included At the End of the Day, Do you Hear the People Sing and I Dreamed a Dream with soloists Nikkila Thomas and Elizabeth Bevan.

After a performance full of attitude and emotion, the choir quickly changed gear for a sensitive rendition of Pie Jesu before impressing the audience with a twist of pace and humour with a fun action-filled rendition of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang before a big vocal climax with Lloyd Webber’s Love Changes Everything.

The choir dedicated all their songs on Saturday to those who have served and continue to serve across the armed forces.

Hywel chorister, 9 year old Evie Williams-Ford of Llangennech had the honour of singing the hymn solo during the Royal British Legion’s formal national service while choristers Francesca Thomas, age 8 from Pont-Henri and Joshua Michael, age 12 from Pontarddulais were the formal presenters of the poppies for festival.

REVIEW: "Christmas Fantasia: Not a Concert but a Spectacular"


This was no Christmas concert but a night of musical history as the Hywel Girls’ Choir & Hywel Boy Singers hosted a momentous Christmas spectacular for the region.

Sponsored by Gravells, the Ffwrnes was bursting with a sell-out audience and a giant cast.

The big regional choirs had descended on the Ffwrnes. The Hywel Choirs joined by the mighty Pontarddulais Male Choir and Llanelli Choral Society with the nationally acclaimed British Sinfonietta Orchestra – all under the magical baton of John Hywel Williams. The sell-out audience were never going to be disappointed, only those unable to get in.

A fairy tale of seasonal music followed, the roof of the Ffwrnes Theatre repeatedly raised by triumphant fanfares, classical choruses, heart warming carols, Viennese Polkas and magical overtures and music from world ballet and opera.

John Hywel Williams and the British Sinfonietta launched a highly charged Christmas Overture, an exciting melting pot of Christmas music. Suddenly, everyone was enveloped in the festive spirit.

In defiance of declining male choir membership, the mighty Pontarddulas Male Choir was a battalion of voice. Conductor Clive Phillips brought the Pontarddulais army alive with a performance reflective of their leading status. This was a fresh and supple performance, a choral cocktail of dramatic power and festive fun enchanting all with Joy to the World, The Lord’s Prayer, Iesu Yw and a Christmas Medley.

The Llanelli Choral Society delivered excerpts from Handel’s Messiah, culminating in the ever popular Hallelujah Chorus, Ding Dong Merrily and Unto Us is Born a Son. Their striking choral ranks spreading across the stage gave a performance filled with discipline, power and sensitivity.

Never afraid of the big and challenging works, John Hywel and the British Sinfonietta gave audiences the unique experience of powerful performances of the Die Fledermaus Overture, an emotional Moderato from Swan Lake, Nutcracker’s Trepak Russian Dances, the great Waltz from Sleeping Beauty, Prokofiev’s Troika, the ever-popular Sleigh Ride.

The hosts of the night were young Hywel choristers who effused a discipline and stage presence to envy. A touching Pie Jesu with soloists Nikkila Thomas and Rhiannon Herridge was soon followed by fun and spritely Strauss' Tritsch-Tratsch Polka. Nine year old Evie Williams-Ford led an emotive Stille Nacht. Their final group – a magical Walking in the Air, a tender Evening Prayer and a defining O Holy Night – brought tears to eyes and audiences to their feet.

Moving narration was given by Jeremy Hywel Williams and skilled accompaniment by pianists Jean Hywel and David last, organist Huw Tregelles Williams and xylophonist Alun Hathaway.

Spines tingled as fanfares sounded and 200 massed voices, the full orchestra and audience burst wide open the doors of Christmas with rapturous Hark the Herald and O Come All Ye Faithful carols.

The magician of the night was John Hywel Williams. With masterful leadership, he controlled the orchestra and massed choirs to deliver a dynamic and demanding performance, conjuring a Christmas performance like no other. This was not a concert. It was a great proclamation. Christmas was here. South Wales had given it a fantastical welcome.

Hollywood Star Jonathan Pryce joins Hywel Choir as Patron

The Hywel Choir welcomes Hollywood and stage star Jonathan Pryce as Patron of the Choir. We thank Mr Pryce for his support and the choristers look forward to melodious times!

REVIEW: Hywel Choir performs with LESLEY GARRETT

REVIEW (South Wales Evening Post, Llanelli Star, This is South Wales): This was a night of great anticipation, a musical highlight of the year. The night promised an international singing star and two great regional choirs. There were waiting lists for the sell-out performance. Those fortunate to get tickets were not to be disappointed. This was the annual performance of the Llanelli Choral Society “From Bach to Broadway and Beyond” – starring the internationally acclaimed Lesley Garrett and the artistic direction of John Hywel Williams.

This was a programme for the masses and of mammoth works. The evening’s hosts, the Llanelli Choral Society, took on the big task of delivering mighty and diverse works – Aida’s Grand March, Zadok Priest, Ode to Joy, Easter Hymn, Anvil Chorus, Hebrew Slaves, Exodus and more. Where many a choir would have abstained, the Llanelli Choral Society triumphed. There was fire in their performance. Their passion and power fired up the Ffwrnes with the greatest works from Vivaldi, Bach, Beethoven, Verdi. With the flick of a switch and choral flexibility, the Society impressed with sensitive and moving renditions of West Side Story’s Somewhere with soloist Elizabeth Bevan and contemporary rendition of Vangelis’ tribal Conquest of Paradise. This was the performance to be proud of.

In perfect contrast came the Hywel Girls’ Choir & Hywel Boy Singers with a repertoire of subtle sacred music and fun magical moments from film and cinema. A beautiful Panis Angelicus and Pie Jesu with chorister soloist Nikkila Thomas and Elizabeth Bevan warmed hearts. With their hallmark twist of stage creativity, the young Hywel singers enthused audiences with action packed Chitty Chitty Bang Bang filled with car horns and dance-sharp movements followed by moving moments from the Sound of Music which saw 10 and 11 year old Evie Williams-Ford and Abbie Williams give their first duet performance.

The star of the night, Lesley Garrett, dazzled beyond expectation. Lesley did not sing. She entertained. She connected. Lesley Garrett conquered a town.

The down to earth Yorkshire lass, Lesley Garrett, proved her reputation as Britain’s most popular soprano with an electrifying performance which took the audience across opera, classical, theatre, film and a rollercoaster of musical emotions. The audience followed and the audience were enthralled. Highlights included Mikado, Some Enchanted Evening, wonderful opera arias, I Dreamed a Dream and the Impossible Dream. The quality of diction was unequalled as was the portrayal of each music note, song and character. The icing on the cake was her warm connection with the artists and audience from start to end.

Highly skilled accompaniment from Jean Hywel, Huw Tregelles Williams, Nicholas Bosworth and Daniel Williams, percussionist Gareth Hamlin and well chosen words by compere Jeremy Hywel Williams all cemented the landmark night.

Moving highlights Lesley and the Hywel choristers performing Climb Ev’ry Mountain and You’ll Never Walk Alone with the Llanelli Choral Society.

The audience demands for encore after encore said it all. This was a beautifully crafted night of music by John Hywel Williams and his choirs where artists excelled and great stars dazzled. This was a night when Lesley Garrett came to town and conquered.

Review: BBC Children in Need: The Really Big Sing

"...young Hywel Choristers truly sparkled the night..."

Review (South Wales Evening Post, Llanelli Star, This is South Wales): Llanelli’s Ffwrnes was home to an extraordinary concert spectacular on Saturday as Llanelli’s Hywel Girls’ Choir & Hywel Boy Singers presented “THE REALLY BIG SING!” in aid of BBC Children in Need.

Seven male voices from across South Wales, together with Burry Port Town Band and soprano Adele O’Neill united in support of the Hywel Choir and Director John Hywel Williams for the roof raising musical extravaganza.

The accomplished direction of Ryan Lee led the massed male choirs of Burry Port, Dyffryn Tywi & Cylch, Carmarthen, Haverfordwest, Cwmann, Mynydd Mawr and Whitland who raised the roof with great choruses such as Morte Christe and Soldier’s Chorus.

Burry Port Town Band, under the direction of Tom Davoren, reinforced their award-winning band status, blending both discipline and vivacity to deliver an outstanding performance.

The ever growing young Hywel Choristers truly sparkled the night with a much enthused programme spanning the World of Lloyd Webber, Sing-a-long-a-Sound-of-Music and Les Miserables, blending beautifully with soprano Adele O’Neill for emotive renditions of Pie Jesu and Climb Ev’ry Mountain.

Adele O’Neill demonstrated her vocal range and style with highlights from opera, film and musical theatre. Despite the capacity audience and large stage crowds, Hywel chorister, Nikkila Thomas gave beautiful performances of Pie Jesu, I Dreamed a Dream, Les Miserables Finale – a solo performance to be proud of.

The BBC and Pudsey Bear came flocking to the event with a fun highlight when Pudsey Bear gave a conducting debut in joining the Hywel Choir for a fun performance of Singing in the Rain.

Sensitive accompaniments were given by pianist Jean Hywel, organist Huw Tregelles Williams, pianist John Evans and percussionist Gareth Hamlin while BBC Wales’ ever popular Garry Owen connected warmly with the audience as host and compere.

In an emotion finale, Jeremy Hywel reflected on the orphans recently met on a 27 country charity tour and the young Hywel choristers, in dedication to the orphans and children in need, gave a highly sensitive rendition of You’ll Never Walk Alone. Many a tear was shed across the audience.

This was another successful event under the artistic direction of John Hywel Williams – a performance of big artists, big performances and big applause. The really big sing was a really big success.

Review: Hywel Choir & Only Boys Aloud
Young artists bring a big glow to Ffwrnes

Review (South Wales Evening Post, Llanelli Star, This is South Wales): Three of Wales’ leading youth choirs – Only Boys Aloud, the Hywel Girls’ Choir & Hywel Boy Singers, Cor Ysgol y Strade – and cellist Steffan Morris joined forces for the inaugural Gala Concert at Y Ffwrnes on Saturday presented by Loud Applause Productions and in aid of the Teenage Cancer Trust. Great excitement for the concert was evident from its sell-out status and long waiting lists.

With BBC’s Garry Owen providing warm words of narration for the evening, leading cellist Steffan Morris, fresh from Vienna, brought alive both instrument and theatre with a magical performance spanning Faure, Bach, Schumann, Monti and a captivating Schubert’s Ave Maria. The audience hung on every note played.

Cor Ysgol y Strade delighted audiences with a Welsh repertoire including favourites such as ‘Cofio Ni’ and ‘Ti a dy Ddoniau’. The school choir clearly demonstrated a strong quality of voice and harmony. A school choir to be proud of.

The much awaited Only Boys Aloud gave exciting performances including favourites Sospan Fach, Gwahoddiad, Don’t Stop Believing and Take That’s Never Forget. Their informality of singing reinforced the new sound and face of male voice singing.

The youngest artists of the evening were Llanelli’s Hywel Choir thrilling audiences with diverse twists and turns – Lennon’s Imagine with hand signing, a moving duet of Panis Angelicus with cellist Steffan Morris, an energetic action filled spiritual, a Hebrew folk song sung around the periphery of the theatre and powerful new renditions from Les Miserables. The single standing ovation of the night was a testimony to their performance!

With final cries of encore, all artists united for the ever popular Calon Lan. A rousing national anthem under the direction of John Hywel Williams left all leaving the Ffwrnes with a warm glow.

Review: "Last Night of the Proms"

Review (South Wales Evening Post, Llanelli Star, This is South Wales): The event had been a sell out for months. There was an air of great expectation as conductor John Hywel Williams and Hywel Girls' Choir & Hywel Boy Singers re-launched their annual landmark concert in Llanelli's Ffwrnes.

This was no concert. This was a spectacular like no other. With the stage bursting with over 250 musicians and choristers of the Hywel Choir, Llanelli Choral Society, Dunvant Male Choir and British Sinfonietta Orchestra, audiences knew that something magical was going to happen. Magic followed thick and fast flowed from the gifted hands of conductor John Hywel Williams.

From the opening of Strauss' Also Sprach Zarathustra commonly recognised as the dramatic theme to 2001 Space Odyssey, John Hywel took audiences on a most unique musical experience with an orchestral and choral programme only attempted by the bravest and the skilled. The audience was bombarded by great work after great work - Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture, William Tell Overture, O Fortuna, The Hall of the Mountain King, Aida's Grand March, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Radetsky's March, Dambusters - and the audience loved it.

Great works require great voices and the Llanelli Choral Society and Dunvant Male Choir proved their worthiness for the task. With the skilled British Sinfonietta, the Llanelli Choral Society electrified the airwaves with a dramatic O Fortuna, Aida's Grand March and Hallelujah Chorus while the Dunvant Choir warmed the heart of audiences with great Welsh classics such as Gwahoddiad, Y Tangnefeddwyr, Benedictus.

The British Sinfonietta under the guest baton of John Hywel Williams, demonstrated their true standing as a leading national orchestra with the skill and flexibility to embrace the mighty and diverse programme. The orchestra captured the emotion and mood of every piece with accuracy, blended harmony and professionalism of the very best of orchestras. Gary Griffiths, finalist of this year's BBC Cardiff Singer of the World, brought his love and passion of opera to the night. His warm, deep tones inspired the audience. A quick programme u-turn in singing Stars from Les Miserables showed Gary's greater breadth of singing. The audience response was resounding.

It was the dynamic and young faced Hywel Choir who stole the show with four separate standing ovations. The ever growing and acclaimed young Hywel songsters had a stage presence to envy. Each chorister radiated a discipline of pride. With singers as young as seven, they were unfazed by the sell out audience, the large professional orchestra and the riotous ovations. They hit audiences with a diverse programme of action packed spirituals, a tear pulling Pie Jesu with soloists Nikkila Thomas and Leilah Hughes, Love Changes Everyone, magical moments from Sound of Music, peripheral audience singing for the Battle Hymn of the Republic, and a roof-raising Les Miserables. In true tradition of Hywel's singers, there was the surprise item - Singing in the Rain armed with wellington boots and yellow umbrellas! A stage performance like no other. A stage professionalism to envy.

Never has one seen such an ecstatic audience with their ovations, flag-waving, cheering and excitement. This was a landmark event for the Ffwrnes. One thing missing - the television cameras to immortalise this unique event!

Some would think it madness to attempt such an audacious programme but they say only a fine line separates madness from genius. The genius was conductor John Hywel Williams, a true magician of the baton. The standing ovation for the Maestro alone said it all. More magic please Maestro!


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