Author Archives: Matt Jolly

Castalian Quartet February 19th

Perceptions – Castalian Quartet at Warren Hill Prison

Daniel Roberts from the Castalian Quartet reflects on their time in Aldeburgh and a very different experience at Warren Hill Prison:

Have you ever been to prison?

A two-week residency in nigh-on-mythical Aldeburgh is about as liberating as it gets for a young string quartet. It’s Hollywood for classical musicians there, where legends are forged and second violinists get recognised in restaurants. Forget the Circle line, we were chauffeured up to our Snape studio. ‘No human being….was ever so free as a fish.’ Well, Mr Ruskin, we were definitely more so than the unfortunate old cods and their like who ended up swimming no more in Chris’s classic hollandaise (he has a way with the bass, our cellist-cum-chef). Speaking of Fins, Sini too flipped into her element, casting competition aside as Boggle champion in 5 languages. As for Chaz? Our Alpine Butterfly (Google it, I did) routinely tied herself into yogic knots more complex than any local shipman could fathom. (My non-rehearsal times, for the record, revolved around devouring fish, losing at word games and cursing my inability to even touch my toes.)

Have you ever been embarrassed by your own privilege?

On the penultimate day of this bliss, as London loomed, we were taken to Her Majesty’s Prison Warren Hill. The Chef, Yogi and Boggler already knew this was going to be a meaningful, memorable and positive experience for all involved. I must admit that I was not sure at all.

In fact, I was anxious. I’d never visited a prison, nor knowingly met a criminal, let alone a ‘lifer’. Was entertaining and creatively engaging with men who had been found guilty of serious crimes the worthiest of activities? Were there not purer sufferers more deserving of introduction to the uplifting powers of chamber music making?

Safety surely wouldn’t be an issue? But then, the voluntary prison choir we were to visit had been decimated by transgressions and there would be no guards in the room with us. Even Aldeburgh Music staff had the keys to the place.

I was not definite in my feelings about any of the above, but such questions were summoned by lingering doubts.

Overwhelming sadness greeted me for the first thirty minutes of our two hours at the prison. As the inmates introduced themselves, I couldn’t help feeling sick for them – incarcerated, unfree, forever. Victims, whoever they were, shared my thoughts too. What if my life had been upturned by one of these men? How would those suffering terrible loss at the hands I was now shaking feel about us being there? I was desperate not to cry.

What did they think of me? I couldn’t speak for fear of broadcasting privilege. And when I did, I made some joke – my typical reaction to feeling uncomfortable – about conductors being the scum of the earth. ‘What do you think of me then?’, responded one of the choir. ‘You should meet a conductor’, I choked, wishing to be anywhere else. I didn’t believe in anything I was saying. The conductor barb had been intended as a lighthearted reaction to a prisoner asking ‘so what’s the point of the man who waves his arms around’, following our claim that musicians can play ‘together’ without visual contact. Instead, I’d blurted out nonsense in a vain effort to get over myself.

It then dawned on me, as I’m sure it already has you, that I was being pathetic. I was the one feeling upset? I’d be walking out of there in a couple of hours or so.

We performed Schubert’s ‘Quartettsatz’. The beauty of live performance is, of course, that each rendition is different, affected by unique circumstance and our reaction as an ensemble to the collective energy of an audience. This being the antithesis of your average music society crowd, our ‘Quartettsatz’ felt quite radically different, each contrasting gesture and dynamic supercharged, as if we too were hearing a string quartet for the first time. Something of it remained in our performance at the more traditional setting of Jubilee Hall the next day, where Britten premiered his operas. For enhanced drama and an instinctively emotional response, he should have chosen Warren Hill.

In return, the Warren Hill Boys sang us one of their compositions, the brilliantly catchy ‘Seventh Avenue’. Their remarkable musical director Yvette (‘Miss’) soon geed her musicians – shy at first – into three part harmonies, with solo rap sections that were, without exaggeration, heartbreaking.

One attendee, who’d arrived partway through and was built like a prizewinning Aberdeen Angus, had to leave early for an exam (many inside were pursuing qualifications). Before departing he announced that he’d only bothered turning up to mock the others (he put it a little more strongly) for training up their larynxes instead of their lats. He’d been converted: ‘same time next week lads?’. This choir gives performances to the rest of the prison population; they demand respect.

Yvette had also expertly arranged some string parts for ‘Seventh Avenue’, and after a bit of rehearsal, we recorded it with the singers forming a semi-circle around us and the mic. It was impossible to keep the neck hairs down. This was gut-wrenching chamber music that we’ll never forget.

Following our Schubert, and with barely a word having yet been spoken by any of us, a particularly boisterous Welsh prisoner piped up with a description of each Castalian:

Chris – ‘well posh, like.’
Charlotte – ‘absolutely crazy.’
Me – ‘not as posh as him, but pretty posh.’
Sini – ‘it looked like you wanted to eat your violin!’

We should have it as our biography!

‘Hey Posho’, he beckoned me in a Valleys lilt just before we left, ‘you’re a cross between Justin Bieber and Harry Potter, isnnit?’ (I fancy he was alluding more to my new geek chic specs and need of a haircut than any heartthrob wizardry). He guessed I was from Oxford (‘definitely Oxford’) and when I informed him I was actually a Welshman, he was stunned. Wales (‘We’) were playing France at rugby the next evening – conversation sparked, human contact in full swing, connection cemented, boundaries tackled. Music had rendered our perceptions imperceptible.

Have you ever been to prison?

We have, and we’ll be back.


How to get a soprano airborne – rehearsals for Illuminations

There’s a lot going on in Illuminations, the show that opens the Aldeburgh Festival on 10 June. A chamber orchestra, a soprano and a troupe of circus performers on a set to fill Snape Maltings Concert Hall stage to convey the opulent sounds of Britten’s settings of Rimbaud’s poetry. Over the past few months the ideas on how exactly this will happen are starting to fall into place.

In late January, director Struan Leslie worked with circus performers over an intense 10 days to devise some of the elements of the work, using the strengths of each performer and introducing them to the music in the concert. We chatted to him then to get a better idea of why try to stage Illuminations with circus performers at all.

Our soprano, Sarah Tynan, had her first glimpse of some of the moves and positions that might be involved in the production at a photoshoot (more on that soon), and it was not long before she was off to the the National Centre for Circus Arts to learn how to get sky high herself. With great success!

Sarah Tynan on a trapeze


There will be three performances of Illuminations – on Friday 10, Sunday 12 and Monday 13 June. More info & tickets >>


Why stage Illuminations with circus artists?

Since January, Struan Leslie has been at the National Centre for Circus Arts working with a hand picked ensemble of circus performers. They’ve been devising the moves and sequences that will accompany and “illuminate” the music the creative team have picked to go with Britten’s song cycle. In this video Struan explains why circus goes so well with that music and you can see some of the moves that are being prepared by the group.

Struan’s also been tweeting about the sessions:

Illuminations is on sale for all from 23 February, and you can book online for the performances on Friday 10, Sunday 12 & Monday 13 June 2016.

Tir Eolas perform in front of art by Jo Lewis

Tir Eolas and Jo Lewis in Aldeburgh – Hedi’s diary

Hedi Pinkerfeld of Tir Eolas has written this account of their residency as part of the Open Space programme. They came to Aldeburgh with the aim of creating a set of new music and artwork on the theme of the sea/seaside, based on our surroundings and the sessions at Squirrel Lodge care home.

Tir Eolas perform in front of art by Jo Lewis

I boarded the train from Liverpool Street carrying 1 x bass, 1 x guitar, 1 x duffle bag, 1 x shoulder bag, 1 x plastic bag with trainers. All this stuff meant there wasn’t enough space for me to sit with Laura and Jo, so I settled in a carriage further along where I sat opposite a girl who may or may not have been breaking up with her boyfriend on the phone, but in either case her conversation proved just far too engaging for me to be able to do any kind of meaningful reading for the entire journey. In fact, our days in Aldeburgh didn’t end up being the ideal time to catch up on reading that I kind of hoped it would be, but also totally knew it would not be. There were too many other things to be getting on with. These included:

  • Going to Ruairi’s room and playing through some ideas he had, hoping there was no one in the room directly below, and wondering exactly what the cut-off time of night was for making noise.
  • Sitting down with Jo and the group around the kitchen table with a bowl of real Kellogg’s Cornflakes and planning the workshops we would deliver at Squirrel Lodge care home.
  • Delivering those workshops.
  • Driving each morning to the Snape Maltings and spending the day writing and rehearsing new music.
  • Having a break around midday and going for lunch together at the Granary Tea Shop, where I was the most adventurous in trying out different lunch options, and also made the happy discovery that I could substitute my complimentary drink for a slice of cake.
  • Arguing about who was most insecure, generally, and other things.
  • Going back to my room at around 8pm and taking exactly 1 minute to look out at the sea only a few feet away (the housekeeper said that I was lucky to have been given the best room) before sitting down to practice.
  • Taking an evening off and surprising myself by swimming in the actual sea, in England, fully submerged etc. and to my further surprise, enjoying it (but not returning, obviously).

Our first meeting with the residents at Squirrel Lodge was a turning point. It very quickly became clear that our, in hindsight totally naïve and ignorant notions of the seaside being primarily a lovely place for all to bask in the sunshine and eat ice cream while flying kites, was indeed naïve and ignorant. Many of the residents, belonging to a previous generation, had first hand experience of being out on the fishing boats, and many of the women had husbands or brothers who would spend extended periods away at sea. A much darker narrative begun to emerge – one which encompassed the harsh realities and dangers of the fishing trade as well as the vulnerable anguish of loved ones left on land.

One particular story that the women told really moved me: Sunday was the regular day on which they used to do their laundry. But while their husbands were away, the women wouldn’t do it for fear that it would wash them away.

This story along with many others they told us, became the inspiration for the music that we then wrote during our stay.

While we were working at the Snape, Jo was going down to the beach early each morning to produce the artwork that was such a key part of the project. While trying to politely deflect the attention of interested passers-by, she used paints on long strips of paper which she then dipped into the sea, letting the water wash over them to create paintings of unique and ethereal beauty.

The project culminated in a performance at the Snape Maltings in which we showcased the new music with a backdrop of Jo’s incredible paintings. It was thrilling to perform a whole new set. Song titles included, Edge of the Ocean, Wash Him Away, Harry and Me, Oh Captain.

I was relieved that we had managed to do it. It’s always a bit of a risk because I’m never quite confident that the songs will materialise. On the train back I was carrying all my stuff again and there was no room to sit with everyone as I had to be near the luggage storage area of the carriage. By that point however I had had enough anyway and was thankful for the sounds of other voices.


Tir Eolas and Jo Lewis, after showing new songs and art produced

Concert in a phonebox

Building the concert in a phonebox

Through the wonders of virtual reality, we’ve squeezed a packed Snape Maltings Concert Hall and the BBC Symphony Orchestra into a phonebox. Visitors can step inside and use the goggles to look at the different sections of the orchestra, and even at the audience and the beautiful interior of Snape Maltings Concert Hall, from a position about 3 feet above Martyn Brabbins as he conducts.

As well as the phonebox, you can experience video using Youtube’s 360 video viewer below – just click play and use the arrow keys to look around (needs Google Chrome, I think). Even better is if you look at the video using the Youtube app on a smart phone – you can move the phone around you to see different angles of the concert. Please do let me know what you think in the comments! And read on for how I filmed the video.

I filmed the performance of the BBC Symphony Orchestra’s concert at this year’s Aldeburgh Festival. Having played with the cameras before, with no cutting between cameras or b-roll, it’s straightforward (but still time-consuming!) to put something together which is still relatively new and a lot of people haven’t seen before. Capturing a video that points every direction at once – forwards, backwards, left, right, up AND down – has been fascinating.
I’m very grateful to three companies for their help in this project. The first is Bruizer, who lent me their 360 camera rig. It’s made of 7 GoPros in a frame to capture video in every direction. Here it is, on Aldeburgh Beach.

Filming in all directions on Aldeburgh Beach

The GoPro camera prides itself on being a handy little automatic box to capture whatever you put in front of it, so the first step of making 7 videos all exposed at the same level was to go into the menu and turn off all the automatic functions. And then do it again, and again, until all 7 cameras had matching settings. As the cameras are so small, they also have tiny batteries, which mean you’re lucky if they last a full hour. So plugging in 7 charging cables at every available opportunity became a necessity.

The second company I’d like to thank is the BBC Symphony Orchestra, who let me film their performance at the Aldeburgh Festival. I suspect some orchestras might balk at the prospect of no editing allowed, but as their performances are almost all broadcast on Radio 3 live, they didn’t mind at all. Here they are in rehearsal with Martyn Brabbins, working on Britten’s Sea Interludes with video projections by Tal Rosner. You can just about see the 360 rig high above above Martyn’s head.

Martyn Brabbins conducts the BBC Symphony Orchestra

Once it was filmed, the next task is to get the footage from the cameras. This has to be done in order so as not to confuse the software. And, with 7 cameras filming greater-than-HD-resolution footage for 40 minutes, the files are huge. The 360 folder on my computer, with the concert and a few other clips in, currently stands at 295.7GB. Here’s 7 cards waiting to be copied.

Another 7 cards to copy...

The repetitiveness of doing every task 7 times was starting to get to me by now – can you tell? But there was more to come…

Stitching these 7 files together into one all-encompassing video is quite tough for a computer to do. The Mac Pro I was using at work was struggling, with 12 minutes of rendering time for every one minute of video, even before any colour correction:

Here I am grateful for the third person, Rich at Hammerhead VR, who gave me some tips on processing the footage. It all seemed to be working though, and some of the musicians that pop in seemed to enjoy the footage too:

Finally, after a lot of tweaks, we have it up and running – our very own Concert in a Phonebox at Aldeburgh Music, where you can walk in and watch the BBC Symphony Orchestra, hovering above Martyn Brabbins’ head, whenever you want. These are the first happy virtual concertgoers:

First users of the Concert in a Phonebox

Schoolchildren at the Ten Pieces takeover

The second week and final days of the Aldeburgh Festival

Ensemble a Cumpagnia roaming through the audience at Blythburgh Church

Ensemble a Cumpagnia roaming through the audience at Blythburgh Church

The second week began with a pair of concerts focussing on Corsican polyphony at Blythburgh Church. Ensemble A Cumpagnia looked at sacred and traditional music from the Mediterranean island on Monday, while Ensemble Organum under the direction of Marcel Pérès explored ornamentation on the Tuesday.

The BBC’s Ten Pieces took over the entire site at Snape Maltings and the Red House on Wednesday. Suffolk schoolchildren performed and took part in workshops as well as stepping into see the BBC Symphony Orchestra rehearse Storm from Peter Grimes. The orchestra finished off the day with a briny programme of Sibelius, Helen Grime, Mahler (with Alice Coote), Frank Bridge and Britten.

George Benjamin and London Sinfonietta at Aldeburgh Festival

George Benjamin calls composer Saed Haddad down for a bow with the London Sinfonietta

Thursday saw the return of London Sinfonietta who had nearly finished their run of The Corridor and The Cure at the Royal Opera House. Broadcast live on BBC Radio 3, their concert contained a very concentrated version of the contemporary presence at the Festival, with Artist-in-Residence George Benjamin conducting a piece by one of his group of young composers, Saed Haddad, Pierre-Laurent Aimard performing the Ligeti piano concerto, a piece by BPO conductor Oliver Knussen, and the London Sinfonietta performing one more piece of Birtwistle.

The Doric Quartet at Aldeburgh Festival. Photo by Matt Jolly 380

The final weekend was now upon us. The Doric Quartet presented the first of their concerts, in Snape Maltings Concert Hall, on Friday night, which was recorded for broadcast on BBC Radio 3. The next morning they played in Aldeburgh Church, with a programme that included Britten’s second string quartet, which the Doric Quartet found especially poignant.

In fact, this weekend was particularly focussed on Aldeburgh with Gabriela Montero’s improvised accompaniments to 2 classic films, and the Bandstand on the Beach and the Pumphouse with a packed schedule of acts.

Aldeburgh Festival - Pierre-Laurent Aimard in recital Photo Sam Murray-Sutton001

On Saturday night, it was finally the turn of the Festival Director to take to the stage for a full recital of his own. In another of his ingenious programmes, Pierre-Laurent Aimard combined Bach’s Art of Fugue and Well-Tempered Clavier with selections of Játétok by Kurtág.

aldeburgh-festival BPO with Oliver Knussen Photo by Sam Murray-Sutton

The last day, Sunday, completed our look at The Prince of the Pagodas. Young people from our Fludde Choir, Lowestoft Sixth Form College and Suffolk Youth Dance Company working with choreographer Sarah Lewis and beatboxers Testament and Jason Singh presented their own response to Britten’s only full-length ballet in an event titled Rebuilding Pagodas. Finally, the Britten-Pears Orchestra, under the baton of Oliver Knussen, performed extracts from the ballet, alongside Gunther Schuller’s Seven Stories on themes of Paul Klee. In a moving tribute, Knussen talked to the audience about the composer, his friend and teacher, who had died earlier in the week. It was an inspiring end to the Aldeburgh Festival, seeing the huge orchestra of talented musicians embrace the programme, and this was noted in the Telegraph, who gave it 5 stars.


The second weekend of the Aldeburgh Festival

The Britten-Pears Alumni concert this year featured Arcadia Quartet with a rousing performance of Haydn, plenty of wooping in Bartók’s Romanian Dances and a premiere of a new work by Fabià Santcovsky.

Our third and final exploration of Boulez’s work saw the Royal Academy’s Manson Ensemble playing extracts from Improvisations Sur Mallarmé I and II with introductions from Julian Anderson.

Julian Anderson in his third Boulez Exploration, with the Royal Academy's Manson Ensemble

Friday concluded with the first of three performances by the always impressive Monteverdi Choir, who presented a sumptuous concert of Mozart and Bach to a packed Snape Maltings Concert Hall.

Saturday was another busy day, especially for Quatuor Diotima, who found time to play both in Aldeburgh Church with Mark Simpson and then a quick set on the Bandstand on the Beach.

Monteverdi Choir returned to the stage, this time with the choir contrasting with the solo violin of Isabelle Faust.

Saturday finished with a late-night treat of Aimard, Benjamin and Friends, featuring a host of special moments, including a premiere of Martin Suckling’s new piece Visiones, commissioned especially for this year’s Festival, as well as the two artistic powerhouses of this year’s festival dueting together on Ravel’s Mother Goose.

Sunday brought a real highlight of the Festival for many this year – Quartet for the End of Time, assembling the various talents of Pierre-Laurent Aimard, Isabelle Faust, Mark Simpson and Jean-Guihen Queyras in Blythburgh Church’s rarefied surroundings.

We then returned to Snape on Sunday night for Arcangelo and Christine Rice for a concert including a passionate and heart wrenching performance of Britten’s Phaedra.

Elizabeth Atherton & Mark Padmore in The Corridor

The first weekend of the 2015 Aldeburgh Festival

The first weekend of this year’s Aldeburgh Festival went as expected – in a whirlwind of music, stretching over Suffolk with events in Aldeburgh, Snape, Blythburgh and Ipswich.

The official start to the Festival was a double bill of operas by Harrison Birtwistle and David Harsent. Both are based on Greek mythology: The Cure starts with Jason’s triumphant arrival home with the Golden Fleece, and focuses on the magical rejuvenation of his father by his sorceress lover Medea; and The Corridor freeze-frames the devastating moment when Orpheus turns to look back at Eurydice as they leave the underworld, thus losing her forever.

Friday’s performance was the world premiere of The Cure, which was a neat reminder that The Corridor was premiered in the Britten Studio in 2009, while the venue was still pretty much brand new.

The pieces have had great reviews, with outstanding performances by Mark Padmore, Elizabeth Atherton and London Sinfonietta leading to 4* in the Guardian, Telegraph, Times, and FT, with another glowing report in the New York Times. If you still want to see the production, it starts a six night run at the Linbury Studio Theatre in London tomorrow.

Back in Aldeburgh, the Bandstand on the Beach had already spun up with a mix of Festival & Pumphouse performers and local Suffolk acts, beginning with Pierre-Laurent Aimard’s “Prelude to the Festival”, an exploration (in the loosest possible sense – you had to be there) of preludes and fugues by Bach. The outdoor stage has already established itself as a musical hub in the town, with jazz and folk over the weekend, and another wonderful Festival moment as old BBC chums Roger Wright and Humphrey Burton played a series of piano duets with varying accuracy.


The alternative Aldeburgh Festival at the Pumphouse has also been very busy this weekend, with even more variety – drag queens, stoner rock, comedy and film music. Check out The Pumphouse on Facebook for some pictures and the rest of the programme.

For a week, Andreas Scholl and Tamar Halperin have been giving masterclasses to the singers on the Britten-Pears Programme Baroque Vocal course. These have proved to be very popular, and Andreas & Tamar’s recital on Saturday in the beautiful Blythburgh Church was one of the quickest performances to sell out.

Another ensemble that have been in residence for a week now are the Mahler Chamber Orchestra. Over 3 concerts they are working with a whole host of other artists – premiere of works by young composers Tom Coult, Luke Bedford and Edward Nesbitt, a concerto with Pierre-Laurent Aimard and a couple of pieces with soprano Claire Booth, and concerts conducted by François-Xavier Roth and George Benjamin. Their performance on Saturday was broadcast on BBC Radio 3 and you can hear it again on iPlayer.

Finally, we ventured to Ipswich for Multi-Story – an orchestra in a car park! Framed by Beethoven and Copland, the orchestra’s found Kate Whitley had also written a piece for Suffolk school children, which they sang beautifully in Suffolk Council’s car park at Endeavour House. The whole experience left all who were there with a warm feeling inside, and this even spread to the critics, with the Telegraph giving the event 5 stars.

The Aldeburgh Festival 2015 continues till the 28 June – with a wide range of events covering classical and contemporary music, visual arts, exhibitions, plus our alternative fringe events at The Pumphouse. See all Festival events

Filming Grimes on the Beach

‘Grimes on the Beach’ as it happened on Twitter

We’ve gathered some of the commentary from the showing of Grimes on the Beach on BBC4 at the weekend. You can even read them as you watch it on iPlayer!

Grimes on the Beach set

Making the film of ‘Peter Grimes on Aldeburgh beach’

On Sunday 24 May, Aldeburgh Music’s unforgettable staging of Peter Grimes on Aldeburgh Beach will be shown on BBC4. Tune in at 7pm or watch on iPlayer. The broadcast has had the Aldeburgh Music staff reminiscing about the all-encompassing production that sat at the heart of the Britten Centenary celebrations. Here’s a few photos and an account by the film director, Margaret Williams, of bringing the outdoor production to the screen.

Ever since I was in my primary school hall, listening to the sounds of ‘The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra’, my life has been affected by the music of Benjamin Britten. While I was at Art School, Aldeburgh and the marshes around Snape, were my locations of choice to ‘be alone’, to wander with my thoughts; to think about life, relationships, things. 

As an adult, I’ve been lucky enough to work with Britten’s magnificent String Quartets for the television series ‘Music and the Mind’ and to make a fully dramatised film version of Britten’s opera ‘Owen Wingrave’, with Gerald Finley in the title role. 

In 2012, Jonathan Reekie – Chief Executive of Aldeburgh Music – asked me if I’d like to make a film version of Peter Grimes, a landmark project with open-air stagings on Aldeburgh beach. I felt honoured to be asked and accepted immediately. Jonathan has been an exceptional and exemplary Executive Producer, supporting us every step of the way.

At a meeting with stage director Tim Albery and designer Leslie Travers, Tim talked me through the opera with Leslie’s beautiful set model. The 40 metre long set was a ‘storm destroyed’ promenade, designed as a metaphor for the turmoil in Peter Grimes’s mind. The inspired Lucy Carter was the lighting designer. The set stood right on the pebbles, on top of the slope of beach that led directly down to the sea; the audience sat watching from the beach. The staging was set in 1945, the year the opera was first performed at Sadler’s Wells to great acclaim, in the aftermath of the Second World-War.

Grimes on the Beach set

Rehearsals began in London 29th April 2013; then from 27th May, rehearsals were on Aldeburgh beach. From these rehearsals I wrote the camera script. For the multi-camera recording of Peter Grimes on Aldeburgh beach, the first performance on 17th June was our camera rehearsal. We filmed the two remaining performances 19th and 21st June, with one ‘pick up’ day (only 4 hours filming) on 20th June with cast and chorus, plus additional crane/jib and tracking camera.

The Britten-Pears Orchestra recording Peter Grimes for Grimes on the Beach

The Britten-Pears Orchestra recording Peter Grimes for Grimes on the Beach, photo by Rob Marrison


The Britten-Pears Orchestra, conducted by Steuart Bedford, were recorded live at the concert performances in Snape Maltings in early June, prior to the performances on the beach. Mike Hatch, Recording Engineer of Floating Earth, who I’ve worked with on many different operas, supervised our sound and provided us with edited orchestra tracks for playback on the beach. In addition to conducting the singers and chorus, Steuart had to ‘conduct’, in real time, the many different orchestra playback files provided by Mike. Steuart conducted from a ‘literal’ pit – dug into the pebbles – in front of the stage.

For shooting the performances we used five Sony HDC 1500 cameras, we shot progressive at a ratio of 2.38:1. It was important to me, and for the film, to see the sea behind the set as much as possible, so three cameras were high on scaffolding rigs, while Senior Cameraman, James Day stood behind the audience on the beach with his camera on a tripod, the fifth camera was in a pit, dug out next to the conducting hut. We also had 2 Canon 5Ds placed in different parts of the set for each performance.

I asked John Walker, a cameraman who lives locally, to shoot material to accompany the Sea Interludes from Peter Grimes. From January until May 2013, John set up his Canon 5D camera to capture time-lapse images of amazingly vivid, beautiful skies, seascapes, changing weather states and the landscape of Britten’s “composing walks”, in the marshes around Snape and along the Suffolk coast.

Filming Grimes on the BeachAn amazing cast gave extraordinary performances under Steuart Bedford’s brilliant baton. Their performances too, occurred in the most varied, challenging climate conditions. As film makers, something you learn very early in your career is how to deal with weather. We are not afraid, we live in the British Isles.

Making ‘Peter Grimes on Aldeburgh beach’ was a terrific, exhilerating experience made possible not only by our exceptional crew; my producers Anne Beresford, Debbie Grey and Jonathan Reekie but also with generous support from Aldeburgh Music, the Britten Pears Foundation and kindness and patience from the people of Aldeburgh.

Margaret Williams, 30 October 2013