Author Archives: James Calver

Behind the Scenes at Aldeburgh with the Britten-Pears Young Artist Programme

Every time the Britten–Pears Orchestra are in residence, one thinks the quality, musicality, dedication and professionalism of its members can surely never surpass that of those who’ve gone before. Wrong! The BPE (Britten–Pears Ensemble), made up of 16 of the very finest young emerging professional instrumentalists assembled for our production of Owen Wingrave last month exceeded all expectations, providing the most musically sensitive and conciencious backdrop in the form of David Matthews reduction of Britten’s penultimate opera of 1970. One of those musicians, Oliver Pashley (clarinet), who writes for the online publication Interlude, decided to document his three weeks here as an Owen Wingrave Orchestra Member. The article was originally published on, a website put together by Juliette Liu ‘’…created by lovers of music for those who share their passion’’. It is with her kind permission and that of the author that we are able to republish the blog below:

Behind the Scenes at Aldeburgh with the Britten-Pears Young Artist Programme

Behind the Scenes 1Many think of big festivals in the UK as happening in the bigger cities – London, Cambridge, Huddersfield… But tucked away in the not-too-far reaches of Suffolk lies the quiet town of Aldeburgh, home to one of the most formidable festivals this country has to offer, a festival of which I was about to be a part. I was about to spend three weeks with the Britten-Pears Young Artist Programme working on Owen Wingrave, Britten’s penultimate opera, originally written for television. We were performing a reduced orchestration for 16 players, and then touring to Edinburgh in August as part of the Edinburgh International Festival. This was the first time this piece had ever been performed at the Aldeburgh Festival, in addition to this being the very first event of the Festival this year… no pressure then.

Behind the Scenes 2Both Aldeburgh and the nearby Snape Maltings have strong connections with Britten; he was born just down the road in the village of Lowestoft and moved to Aldeburgh in 1947, where he founded the Festival. Britten was buried in the local churchyard in Aldeburgh, testament to his roots here.

The rocky beach, with the bracing wind and expansive views of the North Sea, forms an ideal backdrop to this idyllic town in the east of England where we were about to spend three weeks – and so off I trotted to get a dose of sun (well, sort of), sea, and sand (well, pebbles), in addition to a good dollop of Britten, and decided to blog about the most exciting bits along the way…

Behind the Scenes 3Day One

Greetings from day one of the Britten-Pears Young Artist Programme! Looking forward to getting to know this bunch of incredible (and mostly still jetlagged) musicians from all over the world.

Day Three

The sea air definitely has a relaxing effect – well, it could also be knowing you’re only 100 meters from the nearest pub, but I’m pretty sure it’s the sea air… We’ve settled into rehearsals now, and enjoying using the wonderful Britten Studio at Snape Maltings for our tuttis. Apparently this is the first time the concert hall pit will have been used in quite a few years – better start dusting off the cobwebs then…

Behind the Scenes 4Day Five

Brief recording for BBC Radio 3, and then a dash to the train station to get back to London – I’m temporarily leaving the tranquil coast behind and diving back into the city for a gig with The Hermes Experiment.

Day Six

5.30am and on the bus back to the station to make it back to Aldeburgh for the 10 o’clock call! Spotted this on the train – we’re famous!

Later on…

Behind the Scenes 5It’s now a reasonable time of day, and I’m fully recovered from the coffee-induced daze of such an early start. Currently in the process of moving into the pit… mind that stepladder!

Day 11

Just had our final dress rehearsal – looking and sounding great (we hope!) Got a day off now (to dash back to London to teach), then we open on Friday 13th… hope no-one’s superstitious!

Behind the Scenes 6Day 13

What better way to prepare for the first show than a quick dip in the North Sea…that sea air is pretty bracing!

All ready to go!

Later on…

Behind the Scenes 7A full house, and a great show! Now for the swanky drinks reception…

Day 17

A day off after our third show – and what better way to spend it than to sightread the Schubert Octet in a kitchen?

Behind the Scenes 8Day 18

Our final show done – what an amazing few weeks! Sad to leave the Land of No Mobile Phone Reception, but we have Edinburgh to look forward to. Thanks to everyone for such a memorable time, and here’s to the tour!

Britten–Pears Orchestra – Mozart 1786

A little over two weeks ago, 53 of the most talented young musicians from around the globe descended upon Snape Maltings, under the baton and directorship of Christian Zacharias, performing two concert programmes, one comprised of Mozart’s meisterwerks written in the space of just a month in 1786, and the other centered around Berlioz’s 1856 song cycle Les Nuits d’Été.  Following the Britten centenary celebrations and massive contribution the orchestra made (Peter Grimes on the Beach!) throughout 2013; 2014 was always going to be the first of a new cycle, and we saw some of the largest numbers of applicants for the programme to-date versus the fewest orchestral places.  Competition was incredibly fierce, and the outstanding quality of this orchestra was evident from the very first notes they played together.

As always, the finest orchestral specialists and academics were assembled to work with the young artists, first in intensive sectional rehearsal sessions and then observing tutti sessions.  Michael Harris (formerly of the Philharmonia, now professor at RCM) coached winds and brass, Roberto Carillo Garcia (of the Halle Orchestra) double basses and Danusha Waskiewicz (former Berlin Philharmonic principal) tutored violas.  Violins and cellos were coached by Markus Däunert and David Geber respectively, who joined Christian Zacharias in a performance of Mozart’s Bb Piano Trio K502 in the second of the two concerts.

The weather was fine (so fine, in fact, that the orchestra took themselves back to Aldeburgh on foot via the Sailor’s Path one evening after rehearsals), food hearty and beer in the Cross Keys thirst-quenching.   Their time onstage at the Maltings was captured by photographer Rob Marrison, and a selection of shots are posted to this article.  Needless to say, the week was incredibly fulfilling both on and off the concert platform.

© Rob Marrison

As comments trickle in, we were particularly struck by what one young artist had to say about their experience of the course: ‘The Britten-Pears Young Artist Programme is undoubtedly one of the most enriching and rewarding schemes of its kind. The passion and commitment apparent in the music-making of these vibrant young musicians, coming together from all corners of the world, is indeed a wonder to behold. The uniformly high standard of playing, coupled with the sincere spirit of camaraderie fostered by Aldeburgh Music, results in a truly special experience for all the young professionals involved. I loved the time I spent on the BPO courses, and would not hesitate to recommend it to any of my friends.’

Both Christian Zacharias and the team of tutors were astounded by the standard of musicianship, and like us, felt a great sense of pride following performances.  Danusha Waskiewicz, viola tutor, commented: ‘I think everybody in the group had a high level of understanding, realising it immediately. Observing the tutti rehearsal after the work we did in the sectional, I was very content because I have seen that every single player tried to improve upon the social and artistic point during playing’.

James Calver, Artist Development Manager, May 2014