A Celebration of Aldeburgh Festivals

Published: 12 June 2020
Reporter: Vera Liber

Aldeburgh Festival on the Suffolk coast, founded in 1948 by composer Benjamin Britten, tenor Peter Pears and the librettist/producer Eric Crozier, would have celebrated its 73rd event this year, but instead, Britten Pears Arts will presents a celebration of the Festival’s past in collaboration with BBC Radio 3 and BBC Four as part of BBC Arts' Culture in Quarantine.

Commissioned for Britten’s centenary in 2013, Britten on Camera, narrated by James Naughtie, presents some of the highlights of Britten’s broadcast legacy. Contributors include David Attenborough, Michael Crawford, Humphrey Burton and Nicholas Kenyon (12 June, 7PM, BBC Four).

The 2016 Aldeburgh Festival opened with Illuminations, a new work for soprano, string orchestra and an ensemble of circus performers. Inspired by the poems of Rimbaud set in Britten’s song cycle Les Illuminations, director Struan Leslie created a devised performance in which soprano Sarah Tynan joined an ensemble of nine international circus performers, Aurora Orchestra and conductor Nicholas Collon. It will be broadcast on 12 June on Britten Pears Arts’ YouTube channel at 9PM and will be available on demand for the following 30 days.

In 2013, Aldeburgh Festival presented an open-air staging of Britten’s Peter Grimes on the beach that inspired the opera, with a cast led by Alan Oke in the title role and Giselle Allen as Ellen Orford. Steuart Bedford conducted the Britten-Pears Orchestra and the Choruses of Opera North and Guildhall School of Music & Drama. This will be available later this month.

In 2014, Aldeburgh Festival presented a version of John Cage’s Musicircus. It featured around 1,000 performers, from artists and ensembles featured in the Festival to local bands and community music groups. Audiences can now create and mix their own Musicircus with an interactive digital experience based on the 40 performances that were filmed, available from 12 June.

John Wilson conducts the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra in a concert from 2018 which explored Britten’s wartime experience of America, the relationships that took him there and echoes of home. The programme features the first performance of Colin Matthews’ 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 (19 June, 7:30PM, BBC Radio 3).

Netia Jones’s new production of Britten’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream opened the 2017 Festival. Conducted by Ryan Wigglesworth, it features a cast that includes Iestyn Davies (Oberon), Sophie Bevan (Tytania), Matthew Rose (Bottom), Clive Bayley (Theseus) and Andrew Shore (Quince) (20 June, 6:30PM, BBC Radio 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 joined by soloists Magdalena Kozena and Michael Schade (23 June, 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. (24 June, 7:30PM, Radio 3).

In 2017, Lionel Meunier and his Belgian early music vocal group Vox Luminis made their Aldeburgh Festival debut. This programme from Blythburgh Church includes two Bach Cantatas set alongside Schütz’s Musikalische Exequien, (25 June, 7:30PM, BBC Radio 3).

Oliver Knussen's final concert features 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 (26 June, 7:30PM, BBC Radio 3).

Britten Pears Arts is now collecting people’s memories of as many of the 72 Festivals as possible, inviting anyone who has a story to tell about a Festival visit to post their memories.

There will also be podcasts, articles and social media projects (including an “On This Day” feature) giving insights into the festival over the years.