Gwyn Williams Bursary Concert


by Christopher Morley

Stephannie Williams is one of the hardest-working concert agents I know. She has an impressive roster of artists she has represented over many years, she organises "Music Festivals at Sea" on luxury cruises -- and she is a passionate fund-raiser for the Bursary she has founded in memory of her late husband Gwyn, who was such a popular violist with the CBSO.
Soon after his passing Steve (as everybody knows her) promoted a heartwarming concert in Birmingham Town Hall to get the fund rolling, with professional colleagues giving their services free and Julian Lloyd Webber conducting students from Birmingham Conservatoire. Now comes the follow-up concert, on May 5 at the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire itself, and Steve is busy tying up the loose ends and making final arrangements for many supporters who will be making a weekend of it, including taking in the CBSO concert at Symphony Hall the previous evening.
What drives her on, I ask Steve at the gracious family home she still maintains just outside Stratford-upon-Avon?
"Gwyn was very interested in young people's achievements, and he got very excited about young people's performances," she declares. "He said when you've got a brilliant young musician they throw themselves into it and enjoy tremendously what they're doing -- and he loved to see that!
"He would want to be supporting young artists, and in particular young viola-players. There's a lot being done for young violinists, but not so much for young viola-players. So this Gwyn Williams Bursary is for young string-players, but primarily viola-players, especially for those that actually need help. There are a lot of very fine young musicians that can't really afford to achieve their full potential.
"So this is what we're doing to help young people, as we did last year to help two viola students whose parents couldn't afford to send them on music courses."
Are these courses based in Birmingham?
"The courses are not necessarily in Birmingham, but what we are concentrating on are Birmingham students, because you can't take over the whole of the UK! You have to concentrate on a certain area, because otherwise it's diluted.
"Of course, Gwyn had so much to do with the Birmingham Conservatoire, he taught there, and Birmingham became very much a part of us."
Stephannie has assembled a fantastic array of performers queuing up to give their services to this fund-raising event, including top-ranking opera-singers, flautist, violist, pianist, and the well-loved voice of Nick Bailey from Classic FM who will compere the event.
"I'm very lucky to have so many wonderful friends in the music profession. It started of course with Gwyn, first in the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra where he began , and then the CBSO. And then I started my concert agency, and through that, and the many things I've done -- festivals, the William Walton Trust, I've been able to make all these amazing friends.
"People loved him and want to do things for him, so I'm very fortunate that I've got not only string-players and orchestral players, but there's also opera singers. He also performed a lot with them, such as the Brahms songs which we're doing on May 5 with Yvonne Howard, who actually performed these songs with Gwyn a number of times; they had a rapport which was wonderful.
"I've got to the point where I could ask so many people, and so many people are asking 'why didn't you ask me to do it?'. We've got to think about what artists are we going to invite in the future."
And Steve is adamant that students should continue to figure in the line-up for these concerts.
"Yes, it's very important we do involve young people. In the first concert we did we had the string orchestra from the then Birmingham Conservatoire, and we also had the wonderful student viola-player Daisy, performing the Max Bruch Romance. In this one we've got violist Yuxin Chen, who will be playing the Dance of the Knights from Prokofiev's Romeo and Juliet, and we've also got the Behn String Quartet, who have an association with the Conservatoire.
"This is a young, up-and-coming quartet of four glamorous young girls, and I'm very thrilled that they will be playing Smetana's String Quartet 'From my Life', because this was one of the quartets that Gwyn loved playing, as it has so many wonderful viola solos in it. They're learning it especially for this concert, which is great -- plus the fact they're adding it to their repertoire."
So the Gwyn Williams Bursary is providing an educational platform as well as a fund-raising one. And Stephannie is already looking ahead to future events, bringing in a further clutch of illustrious names, some of them famed for their work at the Conservatoire, others for their work at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford.
Watch this space.
*The Gwyn Williams Bursary concert is in the Bradshaw Hall of Royal Birmingham Conservatoire on May 5 (7pm). Admission is free, and includes two soft drinks or glasses of wine, but generous donations are welcome. Please contact Robin Leonard on 0121-331 5534 or for all ticket enquiries.

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