Britain’s love affair with Benjamin Britten will culminate in a year-long celebration of the composer’s 100th birthday at various sites in Suffolk.
Many people consider the composer, pianist and conductor one of the UK’s most prized treasures. He wrote twentieth-century classical British music that is still loved today by both the young and the old and everyone in between.
Suffolk’s Benjamin Britten Centenary
The son of a dentist, Britten was born in 1913 in Suffolk. He first came to public notice in 1934 with his a cappella choral piece titled “A Boy Was Born.” Feeling frustrated and rejected, Britten journeyed across the Atlantic in 1939 to see if his music might enchant American audiences. While in America, he composed the “Seven Sonnets of Michelangelo” and his first drama operetta piece titled “Paul Bunyan.” He also wrote a number of orchestral pieces, including “Violin Concerto” and “Sinfonia da Requiem”
After finding that American audiences had a similar lack of enthusiasm for his work, Britten returned to England in 1942. He managed to be granted conscientious objector status to avoid military service. This normally would have resulted in a public shunning and destroyed his career, but heavenly stars lined up in his favor.
A composition was needed to reopen the theatre at Sadler’s Wells after the war, and Britten was commissioned for the task.
The result, an opera titled “Peter Grimes,” enraptured British audiences as a piece of stirring drama and a musical style they had never heard before. This made Britten a sort of cult hero. The citizens of Britain had finally accepted Britten’s genius although they couldn’t completely understand it. Britten was exactly what Britain needed and wanted. Thus, the love affair was born.
After this initial success, Britten poured his heart and soul into six more operas that would establish him as one of the great composers of that century. He explored various musical genres, including instrumental, chamber, solo vocal, choral and orchestral. He tried his hand at film music and composed pieces for amateurs and children. One of his most masterful pieces is “The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra,” which he affectionately dedicated to children of friends. Britten was also a brilliant pianist and a conductor.
Britten, along with producer Eric Crozier and vocalist Peter Pears, founded the Aldeburgh Festival in 1948. While on tour in Switzerland, the trio asked themselves why a modest festival of concerts couldn’t be staged in Britain. Thus, the festival was born.
Benjamin Britten Festival
The festival first featured a core programme of operatic pieces. The offerings were expanded later to include poetry, literature, lectures and art exhibits. As the festival grew, Britten wanted to expand the venues. The trio persuaded the owners of an old malthouse at Snape Maltings to sell them the building as a new concert hall for musical performances. The Queen opened the new venue in 1967. Britten passed on in 1976.
Today, the events at the various venues at the festival are directed by Adelburgh Music. The 66th festival runs until November, 2013. The festival retains its original rural and unique charter as envisioned by Britten and his cohorts, featuring new music, unique interpretations and the rediscovery of forgotten music. Artists from throughout Britain and the world make pilgrimages here to present their works. Here, then, is a listing of the programmes for the Britten Centennial.
Benjamin Britten Events : February
“In Britten’s Footsteps” is a tribute to Britten presented by Faster Than sound. This is a new score by Chris Watson that highlights Britten’s love for walking along the winding paths in Aldeburgh after he completed a piece of work. The composition includes sounds of nature from these paths.
Benjamin Britten Events : March
The Aldeburgh Snape Maltings Concert Hall is the center for a fun concert titled the “Big Britten Shout.” Attendees are invited to sing along with a good number of Britten’s favorite songs from “Peter Grimes.” Children can attend free and are encouraged to sing along.
At a later date at Snape Maltings, more than 1,500 students from 50 schools across Suffolk will engage in “A Celebration of Schools’ Music,” that will focus on various music that was inspired by Britten.
At the end of the month, the Suffolk Orford Church will perform Britten’s “Sacred and Profane” work. Easter weekend will highlight Britten’s “Hymn to St. Cecilia.” Works by Purcell and Blow will follow.
Benjamin Britten Events : May
The Five Canticles by Britten will take place at the Britten Studio. These hymns celebrate Biblical passages and works by Edith Sitwell and T.S. Eliot.
People can enjoy a documentary film titled “Benjamin Britten: Peace and Conflict” at the Aldeburgh Cinema. The film tells of Britten’s pacifist beliefs and subsequent inspiration to create “War Requiems.”
Benjamin Britten Events : June
Britten’s seminal opera classic “Peter Grimes” will be performed on the beach at Aldeburgh. This Suffolk location is the actual spot where the opera takes place. It’s a tragic drama that follows a fisherman who is shunned and harassed by residents over the death of his apprentice.
On the last day of the festival in November, thousands of students across the realm will participate and sing in “Friday Afternoon.” It’s a collection of Britten songs that he wrote for children.
Suffolk Hotel for Benjamin Britten Events
Kesgrave Hall Hotel in Suffolk is twenty minutes drive away from most of the Suffolk events.
Situated just off the A12 between Ipswich and Woodbridge – the Suffolk Heritage Coast with towns and villages such as Aldeburgh, Southwold, Walberswick and Dunwich are all within a 30 minute drive and well worth a visit.
Kesgrave Hall Boutique Hotel
Hall Road, Kesgrave