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There was a time when Owain Arwel Hughes was rarely off tv. He did much to popularise classical music and brought epic productions to the screen: Walton’s Belshazzar’s Feast (in the uncomfortable presence of the composer), Verdi Requiem or Britten’s War Requiem. Hughes even ran a whole series recorded by Southern Television called Music in Camera – an amazing thought when, today, anything remotely serious is consigned to the hidden depths of digital channels.

Hughes has worked with most major British orchestras as well as, increasingly, orchestras in Scandinavia and South Africa. He has worked with contemporary composers, has explored unusual repertoire and has pushed the boundaries of classical music. He has worked with major Welsh composers, as well as the likes of Walton and Patterson.

This book is an intensely personal recollection. Who knew that, when newly married and trying to make a career as a conductor, he took to driving taxis around Harrow, where he eventually settled? Who knew he had set his heart on becoming a Baptist minister? Who could have predicted the success of the Welsh Proms and the way the BBC’s London establishment dismissed them outright? The Welsh Proms, however, are still there. The BBC types are long forgotten.

Coming from a musical family (his father was the revered Welsh composer Arwel Hughes and head of music at BBC Wales), what is perhaps lacking (the taxi story apart) is some idea of how hard it really is to make a career as a freelance conductor. There is rather a feeling that everything fell into place too easily. But even that does not disguise the fact that Hughes has managed to forge a glittering career through sheer hard work.

There are a few tiny factual glitches: Trelawnyd Male Voice Choir has managed to find itself based in Gwynedd, not Flintshire and the Queen Mother was demoted to HRH. Not that she’d be bothered. That’s because this is a heart-warming personal view of the way music was from the 1970s. What is sad is the way broadcast music has suffered.

GLYN MON HUGHES Read the full review on Agora Classica

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