In Aldeburgh, Britten and his musical and life partner Peter Pears quite simply changed the course of British musical history. The composer both entertained and amazed audiences with his musical innovations and the couple created opportunities for artists who became the backbone of 20th-century performance and visual art.
We can't head for Aldeburgh and its winning mix of music and coastal life as this year's festival – its 73rd –is postponed. But we can revisit landmark productions, and discover more about the remarkable men behind them.
During the period that the Festival would have taken place, Britten Pears Arts presents a celebration of the festival’s unique programming over more than seven decades, in collaboration with BBC Radio 3 and BBC Four, part of BBC Arts' Culture in Quarantine.
Iestyn Davies as Oberon in A Midsummer Night's Dream, broadcast on Sat 20 June
Here are the highlights:
Britten on Camera (Fri 12 June, 7PM, BBC Four) narrated by James Naughtie. Britten was one of the great classical composers of the broadcasting age and his music was regularly performed on radio and television throughout his working life. This documentary explores the dynamic relationship he developed with the BBC to bring classical music to wider audiences. Contributors include naturalist David Attenborough, actor Michael Crawford and Barbican director Nicholas Kenyon.
The 2016 Aldeburgh Festival opened to great critical acclaim with Illuminations, a new work for soprano, string orchestra and an ensemble of circus performers. You can re-live the premiere performance on the Britten Pears
Arts YouTube channel ( Fri 12 June, 9PM, and on demand for 30 days). Poems by Rimbaud are set in Britten’s song cycle Les Illuminations, director Struan Leslie fusing music and contemporary circus performance. Soprano Sarah Tynan joined an ensemble of nine international circus performers, Aurora Orchestra and conductor Nicholas Collon in a devised performance.
The open-air staging of Britten’s Peter Grimes on the very beach that inspired the opera was set against the dramatic backdrop of the North Sea. The cast was led by Alan Oke in the title role, as a fisherman and misfit who is turned upon by a suspicious community. Steuart Bedford conducts the Britten-Pears Orchestra and the Choruses of Opera North and Guildhall School of Music & Drama. See it onBBC iPlayer from Friday 19 June or on demand for 30 days.
In 2014, Aldeburgh Festival presented a version of John Cage’s Musicircus, which took over the town of Aldeburgh for two hours. Cage’s concept was to invite anyone to perform anything they want to at the same time. Cage said, ‘You won’t hear anything: you’ll hear everything.' The Aldeburgh Festival performance featured around 1,000 performers, from artists and ensembles featured in the Festival to local bands and community music groups – the largest ever gathering of musicians in Aldeburgh with performances all over the town. Audiences can now create and mix their own Musicircus with an interactive digital experience based on the 40 performances that were filmed. This web app will be available from 12 June.
John Cage's Musicircus involved 1,000 people. From 12 June you can participate online. Photo: Peter Silk
BBC Radio 3 revisits six memorable concerts at Aldeburgh Festival, starting at 7:30PM on Fri 19 June with John Wilson conducting the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra in a concert from 2018 which explored Britten’s wartime experience of America. The programme features the first performance of Colin Matthews’s orchestration of Britten’s Seven Sonnets of Michelangelo with tenor Robert Murray, Britten’s Sinfonia da Requiem, Copland’s Quiet City and Bernstein’s Symphony No. 2 The Age of Anxiety with pianist Cédric Tiberghien.
Netia Jones’s new production of Britten’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream opened the 2017 Festival. Hear it conducted by Ryan Wigglesworth, with a cast of internationally renowned singers including Iestyn Davies (Oberon), Sophie Bevan (Tytania), Matthew Rose (Bottom), Clive Bayley (Theseus) and Andrew Shore (Quince) (Sat 20 June, 6:30PM, Opera on 3).
Sir Simon Rattle conducts the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra (CBSO) in a performance of Messiaen’s Et exspecto resurrectionem mortuorum and Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde from the 2011 Festival. He is joined by soloists Magdalena Kozena and Michael Schade (Tues 23 June, 7:30PM, BBC Radio 3).
In 2018 Cédric Tiberghien and the period strings of the Chiaroscuro Quartet explored chamber music by German romantic greats with a programme including Schumann’s Fantasy Op. 17 and his Piano Quintet alongside Mendelssohn’s String Quartet Op. 12. (Wed 24 June, 7:30PM, Radio 3).
In 2017 Lionel Meunier and his award-winning Belgian early music vocal group Vox Luminis made their Aldeburgh Festival debut. This programme from Blythburgh Church marked the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther’s Reformation and includes two Bach Cantatas set alongside Schütz’s Musikalische Exequien, (Thurs 25 June, 7:30PM, BBC Radio 3 in Concert).
The composer Oliver Knussen had a long-standing relationship with both the Aldeburgh Festival and the BBC Symphony Orchestra that ended with this, his final concert. In a characteristically eclectic programme, hear the world premiere of Philip Cashian’s The Book of Ingenious Devices, a piano concerto in a single movement performed by Huw Watkins, Morton Feldman’s Structures and music by Aaron Copland – Music for a Great City, and the Appalachian Spring Suite (Fri 26 June, 7:30PM, BBC Radio 3 in Concert).
Visit Snapes Maltings, Britten Pears Arts, and BBC Radio 3 for more details of A Celebration of Aldeburgh events
|What||A Celebration of Aldeburgh|
|Where||Online | MAP|
12 Jun 20 – 28 Jun 20, Many events, times vary
|Website||Click here for more information|