Monday, 11 June 2012

Britten Year, Aldeburgh 2013

"My music has its roots, in where I live and where I work," said Benjamin Britten. Aldeburgh Music marks Benjamin Britten's centenary with a year-long celebration. Aldeburgh is "Britten territory" Britten was shaped by Suffolk and its coast, not by London or the Cotswolds. The North Sea and its changing moods, the endless, opaque horizons, ruined churches and anciernt hamlets, all evoke aspects of Britten's music. While there will be Britten celebrations everywhere (Gloriana at ROH), the Suffolk coast is where you really channel Britten, in winter  as well as summer.

To mark Britten's birth in November, Death of Venice is directed by Yoshi Oida. This is part of Opera North's four-opera Britten season next year, so it's not clear where it will take place. But I hope it's at Snape, because Oida  connects to the deepest levels of the opera, and incorporates into the very fabric of the theatre at the Maltings. It's as if Britten's spirit inhabits the very walls, and the water imagery that meant so much to him enters the building itself. Not comfortable or pretty. But then, neither was Britten. I wrote about the 2007 Aldeburgh premiere and will do more later. Recommendation : hear Curlew River on DVD, directed by Oida. .

BBC Radio 3 dedicates the weekend of 22-24th November to Britten. This will be good. Keynote concert conducted by Oliver Knussen, the string quartets (The Belcea Quartet), Noyes Fludde (performed live in Lowestoft - rare experience), a recreation of the first-ever Aldeburgh Music Festival, a special series of choral works, and many other favourites. No-one could top the BBC Schubert week (Britten's not "that" prolific) but if they stick to high-quality commentary, this will be good.

This year's Aldeburgh Music Festival has just started but some details of next year are out already. TWO Peter Grimes, one a concert performance at the Maltings with Alan Oke (who's also singing Eschenbach) and one actually on the beach directed by Tim Albery, and a separate Grimes Journey through the town, by Punchdrunk. This isn't as odd as it sounds because nearly every year they do open-air music and theatre at Aldeburgh, and they tend to know what they're doing. How are they going to "kill" the kid? How will Peter G sink his boat? Since it's Peter Grimes no-one can complain if they get wet or cold. Indeed, it might be better if the weather's inclement. Ice creams and colourful buckets somehow won't seem right.

Speaking of Ellen Orford, if you nip down to Orford Church in June next year you can hear a special staging of all three Britten short works for music theatre - Curlew River, The Burning Fiey Furnace and The Prodigal Son, all staged by Mahogany Opera. Since the church is tiny, and parking is almost non-existent,  it's good to know it will be broadcast on BBC Radio 3.

Britten  never intended that the Aldeburgh Festival should be about his own music. He actively supported new work, so next year's Aldeburgh Festival will pair Britten works with newly commissioned works by Harrison Birtwistle, Wolfgang Rihm, Magnus Lindberg and others. Top-rank professionals, superb performances. Yet that other aspect of Britten's legacy won't be forgotten. Throughout the year local community celebrations, including A Ceremony of Carols at Christmas, children's choirs, semi-amateur Albert Herrings (and of course the Lowestoft Noyes Fludde mentioned above).For Britten, music was meant to be experienced as a living art.

Definitely a year to become a Friend of Aldeburgh Music!

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