A Set of Recent Reviews of Sioned’s Work



RECITALWilliams’ performance was a breath-taking and beautiful display of musicianship and research, which demonstrated unequivocally the range and vitality of the repertoire for this instrument

Jim Driscoll – Ashleywood Festival 2012


RECITAL It was a delightful concert, a great honour to write for you, and I meant every word I said afterwards. You captured the POETRY of the piece perfectly, the fantastic little grace-note groups, the delicately melancholic sense and phrasing of the melodies, the resonances held for just the right amount of time, and the overall shaping, everything was perfect. ….That you managed to capture this exactly as I had imagined, was – as I told you – ‘magical’.

Michael Finnissy- RWCMD October 2013


CONCERTO Life is nothing if we don’t take risks, and when they are calculated and in the hands of the best people, then the results are always worthwhile. You did a superb job! 

Paul Hughes BBCSO Manager – Graham Fitkin’s MIDI harp concerto 2011



In the Param Vir, there’s .harp writing to match Britten’s, gleaming in the hands of the incomparable Sioned Williams.

David Nice – Proms 2013


LECTUREan exceptional lecture by Sioned Williams about ‘Collaborating with Composers’. ‘an excellent evening and the most innovative music discussion I have ever experienced’  

Prof. Anita Simmons, 2011 RAM lecture


MASTERCLASS  Both the participant and the listener leave the experience satisfied. Perhaps the most thrilling part of her classes is when she sits at the harp and we are made aware of her formidable technique and the sheer sound that emanates from the instrument. She might faultlessly play an extract of any given piece or demonstrate a tricky exercise that might alleviate a technical issue.  It is clear that Sioned is comfortable in any musical context, whether it is teaching (both publically and privately); playing in the orchestra; or giving solo recitals, yet she still maintains an admirable humility. 

Murdo Macrae – Guildhall School of Music and Drama 2013



Sioned Williams’ reading of the Deux Danses is so alluring and natural that you forget that these were actually commissioned as killer exam pieces for the Brussels Conservatory. With a sure sense of structure underpinning both movements, Williams gives us a lilting, hymnal ‘Danse Sacrée’, full of innocent joie de vivre, followed by a Danse Profane whose swirling, decadent climax is breath-takingly seductive.

Charlotte Gardner – BBC WEB 2012


Sandbach Concert Reviews



The (Sandbach) Chronicle   3/10/13

….Sioned Williams wowed the audience with her harp playing.. she was absolutely brilliant




 As chief harpist in the BBC Symphony Orchestra, Sioned had virtually come straight from the hectic schedule of the Proms, not to mention all her other musical commitments. Covering English music from the 16th – 20th centuries, Sioned’s inspirational playing created a joyous evening, enhanced by her explanation of each piece. Particularly poignant was the story of the Welsh valley that was submerged to provide water for a nearby city.  One audience comment after the concert summed up the evening: ” It’s the first time I’ve heard music and really understood what it was all about”.  Then there was the couple attending their first concert who bought season tickets for the series before the evening’s end.

But above all, the sight of Sioned, sitting surrounded by young musicians after the concert, and no doubt quite exhausted, chatting and probably giving them the benefit of her experience, seemed to “say it all”!

Sylvia Scott


English Music Spiralling Through the Centuries




20TH OCTOBER 2013 2.30PM


English music spiralling through the centuries


Four amazingly diverse compositions by composers

                        Anthony Bolton *     Michael Finnissy *

 Paul Patterson **      Michael Stimpson *

together with works by

John Dowland  … a courtly renaissance master

Henry Smart … a splendid classical composer in the style of Haydn

Elias Parish-Alvars …  Berlioz called him ‘The Liszt of the harp’

Benjamin Britten  … a central figure of 20th century music

York Bowen  … nicknamed ‘The English Rachmaninov’

William Alwyn  … Hugh Ottoway said ‘how directly this music communicates’

Arnold Bax … profoundly influenced by Ireland, after reading Yeats he said ‘In a moment, the Celt within me stood revealed’


** World premiere    * Irish premiere



Sioned’s presentations have been described as

‘a special, generous and illuminating experience for the audience.’

This recital will be briefly introduced from the platform with information and anecdotes about the composers and the harpists for whom the pieces were written…






Paul Patterson b. 1947                   Spirals



Twists and Turns






John Dowland 1563-1626          My Lady Hunsdon’s Puffe


Henry Smart 1778-1823              Sonata for Harp

Allegro moderato

                      Andante con espres

           Allegro vivace

William Alwyn 1905-1985              Crépuscule

Anthony Bolton   b. 1950                Impromptu for harp


Elias Parish-Alvars  1808-1849        Papagallo (Souvenir de Naples)                                                            





Michael Finnissy  b. 1946                 Welsh Harp


Arnold Bax, 1883 – 1953                  Valse



Benjamin Britten 1913-1976          Interlude from

                                            A Ceremony of Carols Op.28



Michael Stimpson  b. 1948             The Drowning of Capel Celyn 

                                               (Boddi Capel Celyn)                                


                                                              First Light (Golau cynta’r wawr)

                                                                    Wheels of treason (Olwynion brad)

                                   Flooding (Llifogi)

                                      Sunken (Suddedig)

                                     Farewell (Ffarwél)

Edwin York Bowen 1884-1961                  Arabesque


A Portrait of folk music within a recital for concert harp

Programme for lunchtime 11th October 2013

RWCMD  Dora Stoutzker Hall 1.15pm

Sioned Williams

As part of ‘Sioned’s Spiralling 60th

‘A portrait of folk music ’ within a recital for concert harp


This recital portrays the use made of folk music within original compositions for harp from four centuries. Based on folk music from Wales, England, Hungary, Switzerland, The Basque Country, and Persia, in some pieces, the folk melody is obvious and in others there is a more sublime use of various elements of an original tune- a rhythmic pattern or a harmonic/modal structure, or even a description in music of a story from the words of a folk song. From tonal 18th century elegance through expressive and atmospheric, to contemporary brilliance, the recital includes a World premiere, ‘Welsh Harp’ by Michael Finnissy, and two Welsh premieres- ‘Maisry’ by the highly acclaimed composer Michael Stimpson and Saakene Ravaan’ by the Iranian composer, Amir Sadeghi Konjani.



Tre Pezzetti                                                                     Ferenc Farkas (1905-2000)  Hungary

Maestoso- poco rubato;   Piu mosso;  Allegro moderato


Welsh Harp                                                                     Michael Finnissy (b. 1946)  ** Wales

Variations on a Swiss Air  WoO.64                 Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827) Switzerland


Maisry                                                                                   Michael Stimpson (b. 1948) * England

Canciones para arpa del folk-lore Vasco           Jesus Guridi (1886-1961) The Basque Country


Nere maitea; Aritz adarean;  Ator, ator mutil; Agura zarkilun; Zorabiatua naiz; Garizuma luzerik

Saakene Ravaan (Stillness Afloat)                                 Amir Sadeghi Konjani (b. 1983) *  Persia



Sioned’s performances have been described as

‘a special, generous and illuminating experience for the audience’







Sandbach Concerts – English Music Spiralling Through the Centuries


Sioned Williams –Harp

Sandbach Concert Series 25th September 2013 7

English music spiralling through the centuries


Two poignant yet amazingly diverse compositions by composers Michael Stimpson and Anthony Bolton

and works by

Dowland… a courtly renaissance master

Smart… a splendid classical composer in the style of Haydn

Parish-Alvars…  Berlioz called him ‘The Liszt of the harp’

Britten… a central figure of 20th century music

York Bowen… nicknamed ‘The English Rachmaninoff’

John Dowland 1563-1626          My Lady Hunsdon’s Puffe


Henry Smart 1778-1823              Sonata for Harp

Allegro moderato

                       Andante con espres

             Allegro vivace

Anthony Bolton   b. 1950               Impromptu for harp


Elias Parish-Alvars  1808-1849      Chanson Grec de Santorino


Benjamin Britten 1913-1976          Interlude from

                                            A Ceremony of Carols


Michael Stimpson  b. 1948             The Drowning of Capel Celyn 

                                               (Boddi Capel Celyn)                                 


                                               First Light   (Golau cynta’r wawr)

                                                   Wheels of treason (Olwynion brad)

                  Flooding (Llifogi)

                     Sunken (Suddedig)

                    Farewell (Ffarwél)


York Bowen 1884-1961                  Arabesque

John Thomas


John Thomas (1826-1913) Pencerdd Gwalia

(Harpist to Queen Victoria)

My interest in john Thomas goes right back to childhood when I listened to some beautiful arrangements of Welsh Airs by John Thomas. The interest later grew into a desire to find out much more about the man and his music. So began lengthy research, which resulted in interviewing (I still have on reel to reel tape!) some of John Thomas’ last students at the Royal Academy of Music, many articles, radio programmes, and an LP

Harp Music by John Thomas   Meridian E4577066 [awarded a bursary from The Arts Council Advanced Training Scheme for research into this material].

I hope that soon the original LP will become a CD, as many people still ask for this recording, and it is frequently used on radio stations all over the world.

This year we celebrate the 100th anniversary of the great man’s death, and this has certainly focused my mind on working towards a presentation in words and music, photos and a small exhibition of items which have connections (including an original letter from John Thomas, a print of a photo, and rare signed copies of music). This may not be until 2014, as I am sadly so busy this year….

This weekend there is a wonderful event in The Netherlands, and I have been invited as a guest, and what a pleasure that will be! How wonderful that two amazing harpists Edward Witsenburg and Rachel Ann Morgan, have collated an entire day of performances of John Thomas’ music by Dutch harpists, talks about the great man, and an exhibition. This will all be a commemoration the centenary of this death. I shall be taking some of my own items to display, and there will be a Dutch radio programme about him also. Please check out






Here is a short article I wrote recently for an American publication.




To celebrate the 100th anniversary of the death of John Thomas, (London, 19th March 1913) let’s remind ourselves of the life and the music of this outstanding Welshman.


John Thomas was born on March 1st 1826 (St. David’s Day) the eldest of seven children. He excelled in playing the triple harp from a young age, and at only twelve years old, at the Abergavenny Cymreigyddion Eisteddfod, judged by John Parry (Bardd Alaw 1776-1851), John won a triple harp made by Bassett Jones of Cardiff. Sir Charles Morgan, the President of this Eisteddfod wished to aid the father’s desire to send his son to the Royal Academy of Music and instructed him to bring his family to London. On arrival, John Thomas played for Lady Lovelace the daughter of Byron, who offered to pay three quarters of his study costs if his family could raise the remainder; to enable this, Lady Lovelace’s husband gave John’s father a job in St Paul’s churchyard, where the family stayed for some 20 years.


When he entered the Academy in September 1840 John immediately had to transfer from the triple to the pedal harp and from the left to the right shoulder. Much later the blind King of Hanover noticed how perfectly balanced was the sound from John Thomas’s hands compared to that of the other harpists and Thomas credited it to his own early triple harp playing. He was taught harp by John Balsir Chatterton (1805-71) piano by C J Read, and composition by Cipriani Potter and Charles Lucas.


During his six years at the Academy, John Thomas’ first composition was his harp concerto in B flat. Later he wrote two operas, two overtures and a symphony (and it would seem that he was the first Welshman to write one). Throughout his life Thomas continued his close links with the Academy and since he also became professor at The Royal College and the Guildhall School of Music, his teaching influenced a generation of British harpists.


In 1850, Thomas was given the position of Harpist of the Royal Italian Opera and he was able to combine this with overseas tours during the winter months, beginning September 1851 for 10 years. During this time he gained a worldwide reputation as a virtuoso harpist, made the acquaintance of Rossini and Meyerbeer, and Berlioz commented in the ‘Journal de Debats’ 1854. ‘As to Mr Thomas, I appreciated ..the rare and poetic qualities of his talent;  Mr Thomas is truly master of his noble instrument ; his ‘tours de force’ have real charm; his style of playing is nervous, impassioned, feverish as it were, but his expression is never exaggerated ….. The pieces composed by Mr Thomas are, besides, of remarkable elevation of style; He charmed, fascinated, magnetised me!’


In 1852 he gave the first performance of his second concertino for harp in E flat, commissioned by the Philharmonic Society. This decade also saw the start of the publishing of his own compositions and his editions of other composers’ music, including that of Parish-Alvars, Mendelssohn, and Handel (the harp concerto in B flat Op. 4 No. 6); he even edited a printed copy of Mozart’s flute and harp concerto (some 100 years after it was written) and it was an unknown work when he performed it in a Philharmonic Society concert in May 1877.


Thomas inevitably encouraged ‘progress’ via the pedal harp but also saw that the triple harp had its place in Welsh music. His contribution to the Eisteddfod, to Wales and to his own art was recognised when he was made ‘Pencerdd Gwalia’ Chief Bard of Wales, at the Aberdare Eisteddfod in 1861. On St. David’s Day 1862 John Thomas published the first two volumes of his collection of Welsh melodies with accompaniments, a third volume followed in 1870 and a fourth volume in 1874. Also in 1862, Thomas presented a major concert of Welsh music in St James’s Hall, Piccadilly, with four hundred voices and 20 harps with such success that it was repeated at Crystal Palace. These were the first major concerts of Welsh National music to be held in London, and they continued as an annual event for 42 years.


The following year saw his dramatic cantata Llywelyn performed at the Swansea Eisteddfod, and his other Cantata The Bride of Neath Valley, was first performed at the Chester Eisteddfod of 1866. Here he was presented with a purse of 450 guineas; raised by public donations including one from the Prince of Wales in recognition of Thomas’ service to Welsh music. On April 9th 1871, Thomas’ teacher Chatterton died and his post of Harpist to the Queen passed to Thomas himself. He held this honorary post throughout the life of Queen Victoria and King Edward VII. In 1871 he founded the London Welsh Choral Union and launched an appeal in 1877 for one thousand guineas to create a ‘permanent musical scholarship for Wales’ at the Academy. In 1883 the John Thomas (Welsh) scholarship was launched and continues to this day for Welsh students (in fact the author of this article received it some 36 years ago!)



John Thomas contributed articles to the early editions of the Grove, and published a ‘history of the harp’ in 1908. In addition to previously mentioned positions, he was a member of the Incorporated Society of Musicians,(and gave a talk on Welsh Music at their 1897 Cardiff conference), the Royal Society of Musicians; Honorary member of the Academia di Santa Cecilia and Academia Filarmonica Rome, and of the Societa Filamonica, Florence, and was on the council of the Cymmrodorion Society, on its revival in 1873. He died on March 19, 1913 and was buried at West Hampstead Cemetery, London.


I have enjoyed getting to know the man and his music for about 40 years; his life and his works have fascinated me and given me (and hopefully my audiences!) great enjoyment. I urge harpists to look deeper into the varied repertoire now re-printed thanks to modern editions (mainly Adlais and Alaw, Wales). I also hope there becomes a fresh awareness of the array of pieces available, and that John Thomas’ works will once again be performed worldwide by discerning players.

Sioned Williams