Gregynog (pronounced [ɡrɛˈɡənɔɡ]) is the oldest classical music festival in Wales, founded by Gwendoline and Margaret Davies in 1933. As the last private owners of Gregynog Hall between 1920 and 1963, the sisters also established the Gregynog Press, one of Europe's finest private presses, in 1922, and assembled an outstanding collection of Impressionist art and sculpture which they bequeathed to National Museum Wales in Cardiff.
Origins and the first Festivals
The sisters purchased Gregynog at a time when they were becoming increasingly involved in the patronage of music as well as art. In 1919, they endowed two positions held simultaneously by Henry Walford Davies as first Gregynog Professor of Music at the University College of Wales, Aberystwyth, and first Director of the National Council of Music for Wales. Once Walford Davies began bringing his Aberystwyth students to Gregynog on retreat and arranged that the National Council of Music's annual conference should also take place at the Hall, the sisters decided to transform the existing billiard room into a dedicated space for music-making. The elaborate central fireplace gave way to a three-manual organ, built to Walford Davies' specifications by the noted maker Frederick (‘Daddy’) Rothwell, and a small raised platform was built to accommodate the Gregynog Choir, an ensemble of estate workers and other local people which first performed at the Hall in 1929. Both sisters and Dora Herbert-Jones, a noted folksinger who acted as Gwendoline's secretary, sang in the Choir and its principal conductors were Walford Davies and Adrian Boult.
Following a performance of Ralph Vaughan Williams’ Benedicite, directed by the composer, in 1932, the Choir became the backbone of the first sequence of Gregynog Festivals, 1933-38. Their fellow performers were Jelly d’Arányi, Leila Mégane and Elsie Suddaby, while audience members included George Bernard Shaw and Joyce Grenfell. The Choir was invited to appear at Royal Command Concerts in London's Albert Hall in 1935 and 1938 and made several BBC broadcasts including a live relay of Bach’s St Matthew Passion from the Music Room at Easter 1939.