A music teacher was “proud and privileged” to play a challenging accordion solo during the premier of new work written for the National Youth Choir of Wales.
Mario Conway, director of music at Haberdashers’ Monmouth School for Girls, gave an enchanting performance on his beloved accordion in the first public rendition of Sounds and Sweet Airs in Cardiff on Friday.
The piece was put together by composer Paul Mealor to celebrate 150 years of Welsh settlement in Patagonia.
And Mr Conway was thrilled to be asked to accompany the choir, firstly at the Senedd in Cardiff Bay, and then at Llandaff Cathedral in the evening.
He said: “To be involved in the first performance of any musical work is not only a challenge, but a privilege.
“Paul Mealor’s joy at the end of the Senedd performance was a sight to behold, and I was very proud to be involved. “The piece is a marvellous choral creation and what the choir and the accordion are asked to do is incredibly challenging, but uplifting.”
The work, with text by William Shakespeare, has just been published by Novello and Company limited.
“The piece erupts, first with hand held percussion which choir members have to play as well as sing, and then the accordion announces what Mealor calls a Welsh tango rhythm,” added Mr Conway, who, inspired by his mother, started playing the accordion when he was four-years-old.
“From that moment to the end it is a rollercoaster ride of sounds, rhythms and cascading music which builds in intensity right up to the final bar.”
The choir – which is preparing for a tour of Argentina – performed an extended concert on Friday night.
“In the serene setting of Llandaff Cathedral, the choir performed an exhausting program of choral music in which they sing in five different languages,” said Mr Conway, who has taught at HMSG for 33 years.
“The Mealor work was the last piece in the first half, and the anticipation was palpable.
“I have to admit, I had all kinds of creatures jumping about in my stomach.
“But performing on high pressure occasions like this is when you draw upon your experience, and adrenalin rushes are good as long as they are controlled.
“Once again, Paul Mealor was delighted and the performance was certainly the best of the day.”
Mr Conway jumped at the chance to return to his favourite instrument when presented with the opportunity.
“Piazzolla is a famous Argentinian composer whose music encapsulates the tango spirit and the emotion of that country,” he added.
“As the National Youth Choir of Wales were scheduled to tour Argentina this year to celebrate Patagonia 150, Paul Mealor was commissioned to write a choral work as part of the celebrations.
“The piece would be by a leading Welsh composer and the music would embrace tango rhythms – and in order to create that authentic tango feeling the choir should be accompanied by an accordion.
“I was approached over a year ago and presented with this opportunity.
“I had recently performed as part of the cast with my accordion in WNO’S production of Lulu, and Gwyn Williams, who had commissioned Paul Mealor, saw me in the production and immediately thought of me as being the accordion soloist.
“When he was a television producer, I had performed on several television shows and he was very excited to renew our working relationship.
“It didn’t take me long to give Gwyn a resounding yes.” Mr Conway’s passion and talent for playing the accordion has led to many exciting moments in his life.
“It has opened doors for me that I could never have expected, had I pursued the choice of becoming a concert pianist,” he said.
“It is sometimes better to be a big fish in a small pool, rather than a small fish in a big pool.
“I have had the enviable opportunity to promote the accordion as a serious instrument and dispel all those critics who thought of it as nothing more than a Mickey Mouse push-pull instrument.
“This has allowed me to perform as a soloist in all the major concert halls in this country and extensively abroad.”