During a year of global celebrations for the composer Benjamin Britten’s centenary - with performances of his works taking place in St Petersburg, Zurich, Tokyo, Brisbane, Glasgow and Berlin on one night alone last month - a small English coastal town is taking centre stage.
Over the course of the centenary, Britten's War Requiem will soar to the roof of New York’s Carnegie Hall and the Vienna Symphony Orchestra will fill the city’s grand Musikverein with the sound of his Violin Concerto. But what is arguably the highlight of the celebrations takes place next month in the more intimate surroundings of a former Victorian malthouse.
The 830-seat Snape Maltings Concert Hall in Aldeburgh, Suffolk was converted from a derelict building in 1967. Since then, it has been the home for a festival that Britten set up in 1948 with his partner Peter Pears and writer Eric Crozier.
In rarely seen footage recorded by the BBC as part of the preparations for the 20th Aldeburgh Festival, Britten rehearses a choral overture written for the hall’s inaugural concert. The piece, The Building of the House, will feature in this year’s Last Night of the Proms.
Instructing members of the English Chamber Orchestra and the East Anglian choirs with genteel commands and expressive gestures, Britten appears in his element.
“I belong at home - there - in Aldeburgh,” he said in a 1964 lecture, “and all the music I write comes from it.” Born just 25 miles away in Lowestoft, Britten lived in Aldeburgh for 30 years until his death in 1976 - and the town provides the setting for his best-known opera, Peter Grimes.
Opening with two concert performances of the opera at the Snape Maltings, this year's Aldeburgh Festival also features an open-air staging amid the town’s salt marshes and mudflats.
Throughout the festival, cutting-edge immersive theatre company Punchdrunk will be taking audience members on hour-long individual journeys through Peter Grimes’ Aldeburgh, accompanied by extracts from Britten’s score. Other Britten works on the programme include the Church Parables, performed in the venue for which the trilogy was conceived, and Cabaret Songs, with the addition of eight new songs from playwright Mark Ravenhill and composer Conor Mitchell.
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