Another String to the Bow for Burtch; the World's Leading International Contest for Young Violinists, the Menuhin Competition, Will Be Held in Wales for the First Time as It Marks Its 25th Anniversary. Julie Richards Speaks to Mervyn Burtch, below Right, Whose Composition Will Receive Its World Premiere at the Opening Gala

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Byline: Julie Richards

HE may be one of the country's most prolific composers, but Mervyn Burtch admits that his latest commission was aparticularly exciting challenge.

His new work, Elegy for King Arthur - featuring a libretto from Mark Morris, will be given its world premiere at the opening gala of the 2008 Menuhin Competition.

Founded in 1983 by celebrated violinist Yehudi Menuhin, it is the leading competition for young violinists under the age of 22.

"It was about a year ago that I got the call out of the blue from the Menuhin Competition director Gordon Back, also a Welshman," says Burtch, who was awarded an MBE for his services to Welsh music in Wales in 2003.

"The project was both exciting and a new challenge for me as I was composing not only for the violin, but for the harp and a choir.

I knew immediately that I wanted something that was both Welsh in subject and mood and I decided to focus on the death of King Arthur."

The score will be conducted by Timothy Rhys-Evans and performed by Akiko Ono on the violin, Catrin Finch on the harp and sung by the Serendipity Choir.

"Although the title Elegy is normally a lament, I wanted to compose a celebratory piece that would reflect both the international nature of the concert and its location in Wales - and King Arthur is undeniably deep in the iconography of legend in Wales and across the world.

"There was probably an historical Arthur, in the sixth century, and the earliest Arthurian legends are Welsh, long before he was taken up in medieval times.

"One legend is that he did not die, but sleeps in a Welsh cave, awaiting the call to awake and rescue Britain in her darkest hour.

"We drew on this to imagine a Welsh memory of Arthur, a ritual lament, as might have been sung in the eighth century.

"The piece shifts from a rather introspective mood to almost a frenetic dance at the end and captures the joy.

"The words are written by my friend, the Welsh librettist, writer and photographer Mark Morris, who now lives in Canada, and we are both really pleased with the overall composition."

Burtch, who was born in Ystrad Mynach, and Morris first worked on an opera together more than 20 years ago for the students of the RoyalWelsh College of Music and Drama.

Later this month another opera which they have collaborated on, Jason and Hanna, will receive its Canadian premiere.

Morris, who is the son of writer Jan Morris, will be returning to Wales for the premiere of Elegy for King Arthur.

The opening gala will also feature a performance of Tchaikovsky's Violin Concerto by renowned violinist Joshua Bell. …