Tuesday, 22 December 2009

Christmas letter 2009

Dear Friends and Family,

Inspired by some of our friends like Graham and Dorothea Smallbone and Lyn and Robin Austin who every year send us a wonderful letter full of news , we've decided to send one of our own this year. We hope what it loses in its rather general format that it will gain in the renewed connection and communication with all of you who are close and important to us (get on with it, ed.!)

So here's how our year unfolded and some of things that happened to family and friends. It's been a very musical year once again, of course, so lots of our highlights are musical ones. In January, we went to London to hear a performance of John's Paradise Haunts at the little hall at Schott music publishers. George Ross and Sally Truss were over from Canada and it was great to have the chance to catch up with them. The following night we went to the Royal Festival Hall to hear Ann Sophie Mutter playing the Mendelssohn concerto. Among our February highlights were the recording of John’s new CD – Paths of Song - at the Oak Hall in Rhosygilwen, near Cardigan. It is a CD based around chamber music including the harp and one of the performers is the amazing harpist – Eleanor Turner who is one of the many stars of our year. During the recording, John stayed with Buddug Verona James nearby. Her heartfelt response to the concert at the end of two days recording was really appreciated by John.

John with Eleanor Turner at Rhosygilwen

At the end of the month, we planned to escape the wet Welsh winter. So we flew to Nice,spent a few days there before taking the train along the French/Italian Riviera to Genoa to visit Harriet and Adriano and the Alvigini family. The weather was cold but the hospitality was warm. We saw Harriet and Adriano’s wonderful new house at Poggio up on the mountain. It was very inspiring.

Harriet and Adriano's house-to-be at Poggio.

March and April past in a blur of creative energy and diligent library work. If you believe that, you believe anything! But even a Christmas newsletter can lack from time to time the creative spark. In May, we had a lovely holiday
in Bordeaux, staying at an eco hotel on the Quay and indulged our favourite pastime of dreaming of a rather longer relocation to France. Dolly roller- skated all along the Quay; John cycled sedately in attendance and we heard one of the concerts of the Bordeaux String Quartet Festival. We met up with the wonderful pianist Ivan Ilic who championed John’s work and he gave us his apartment right in the middle of Bordeaux for the first night of our stay. Vive la France!

In May, Dolly went to London with Taiga, her Tai Chi & Qi Kong teacher to hear talks by a Tibetan Buddhist nun called Tenzin Palmo
who live in a cave for 18 years in India. At the end of May, Alex visited us for a week just prior to his exciting move to pastures new in Canada. We had a great time and an uncharacteristically low-scoring round of golf ! His move to British Columbia is a fresh start for him and he sounds excited and much happier for the choice.

While all this was going on, James was living out the experience of being away from home and down and out in Neath. The most valuable and demanding university is the University of life ! James’ life changed at the end of June when he flew out to work at the White House Hotel in Herm on Channel Islands. He flew from Bristol so en route we stayed with Thomas and Jen at their flat – one of several lovely visits to them this year. James got on
well on Herm and worked very hard over the summer months. Meanwhile, Dolly had joined Merched y Wawr (Women of the Dawn) –the Welsh version
of the W.I. (Womens' Institute). The fact that she is approximately a generation too young and Chinese into the bargain didn't stop her. She went on the Merched Y Wawr summer trip in June – a total Welsh immersion
experience – and followed up with a week-long summer course at Lampeter university where she works. She is fairly fluent in Welsh now and can hold her own in conversation. In July, we went to a lovely party for the Golden Wedding anniversary of Gilly and David Williams in the Vale of Glamorgan. It
was a chance to reconnect with old friends particularly from the world of opera. In the last week of July, John was again resident composer at Musicfest in Aberystwyth. There was a wonderful concert featuring his work including the Septet commissioned by Anthony and Dot Griew in memory of Anthony’s
parents. In August, Dolly did a week-long Latin course in the university – her 10th language (approximately!) After that, John and Dolly went to Wiltshire for a mini break, staying at a pub which was selected as the best pub in Wiltshire and the 5th best pub for the U.K. for 2009. (You can’t win them all!) We worked off the good food by cycling around the Cotswold Water Park and visiting the Westonbirt Arboretum.
Bordeaux in May Cotswold Water Park – John doesn't like squirrels!

September brought the annual Vale of Glamorgan Festival with many wonderful concerts of contemporary music. It was the 40th Festival though John still denies starting it. A further highlight at the end of the month was the
gathering at Swansea of wonderful artists (old collaborators and new), for the first workshop of his new opera – Dylan Thomas’ Under Milk Wood. Sybil Crouch and Stella Patrick set this all up and their efforts were, well, stellar. Having the Director Keith Turnbull and |singer and co-producer Michael
Jones to stay at Ty Yfory was a pleasure and privilege. Michael's an impressive cook and helped us to perfect the recipe for Apple Tarte Tatin in a beautiful heart shaped oven dish which we bought in Bordeaux in May.
Michael's Tarte Tatin – October Under Milk Wood workshop – John with Keith Turbull, Michael
Jones and Wyn Davies at Ty Yfory

As if this was not enough, the amazing Barbirolli String Quartet came to stay with us later in the month prior to their performance for Lampeter music club. Their performance of quartets by Haydn, Britten and Brahms was a revelation. It introduced Dolly to a whole new genre of classical music repertoire. She
is still working hard at the violin and is closing in on Grade 7. Given fresh impetus by the workshop, John was working hard on the opera, often starting at as early as 4 o’clock in the morning. So the dark days of November were very fruitful.

In more than one way . . . We love our garden. It continues to provide us
wonderful food and nurture us for all 12 months of the year. While we still dream from time to time of living in France, we also know how benign, if wet, the climate is in Ceredigion and we treasure the magical place
in which we live.
From our garden – Taiga's birthday present – August
It is now December and James has gone to an equally magical place – Churchtown farm on St. Martins in the Isles of Scilly off Cornwall to work on packing fresh flowers to be sent out for Christmas. That seems a suitably
bright note on which to end this short letter. We wish you all a wonderful Christmas and a peaceful and joyful New Year.

Lots of love,
Dolly and John ♥ ♥ ♥

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