The 2015 Aldeburgh Festival opens with a double bill of operas by Harrison Birtwistle, The Corridor and The Cure. George Benjamin is the Festival’s Artist-in-Residence, and as well as bringing some of his own work to be performed, conducting and performing this June, he has selected seven young composers whose music will feature in the programme.
It’s sometimes hard to imagine the graft that goes into composing. With these clips, we can find out what these two cornerstones of the 2015 Aldeburgh Festival programme do in order to be creative, through listening habits and cooking, to the type of pen and pencils they use to put new music onto paper.
Trio Kanon from Italy have just finished their 2-week residency. As well as their 2 sold out concerts at Jubilee Hall, and a solid couple of weeks of rehearsing, they snapped away throughout and got some incredible photos of a storm over the reeds.
“We hadn’t been to Aldeburgh before but had heard very good things from friends and colleagues at home. So we had high expectations, which of course have been met. Our time here has been unbelievably productive, with time to settle in, work on even the tiny sections of the music in great detail, and still have a good time over food! We feel more like a family after these two weeks.
Something we didn’t expect was the effect the landscape would have on us, and especially seeing the colours change in the space that surrounds us every day. One of the days we watch a hailstorm come in – the view went from bright and blue to stormy and overcast, and finally to sunshine and a rainbow in less than an hour!
The space inside has also been a luxury – originally we loved the Jerwood Kiln where we rehearsed but after spending a couple of days in the Britten Studio with our tutor Robert Cohen, it felt small in comparison! One of the things we worked on with Robert was how to adapt our playing to suit different rooms and halls and with the difference between those two rooms and the Jubilee Hall, it’s already been a valuable lesson.”
Sir Simon Rattle’s comments that concert halls in London aren’t up to scratch has sparked up a bit of a debate. BBC Radio 4’s PM programme weighed in on it with an extremely scientific “acoustic-off” in their programme this afternoon. We were invited to take part and were very pleased to be selected by Salford University’s Professor of Acoustic Engineering, Trevor Cox, as the winner.
A special thank you to our clarinettist Chris Allen for coming in at such short notice to perform the Mozart, and playing so well in a chilly concert hall! He first played here in 1974 while at Royal College of Music, in the first few years of the building’s use as a concert hall, when its sound was just being established as one of the best.
Trio Isimsiz had heard a lot about Aldeburgh before they visited, and one of the first things people get excited about when they’re staying in the town is the fish and chips.
“We were looking forward to cooking some fresh fish from scratch. With the many fishmongers along Aldeburgh beach, we thought this would be plain sailing, but not one was open! We did spot a fisherman bringing his boat in, but when asked he reported that ‘all the fish had swam north’. We did enjoy some great mushy peas with our fish and chips in the Plough and Sail at Snape Maltings though.
During the day, we had some fantastic lessons with the Gould Trio. We’ve had coaching with the group before, but this time we had each of the members individually, on separate days. Each came from the same place musically, as you’d expect from a group that plays those pieces all the time, but what was interesting was how they expressed very similar views on the music from a different angle.
After rehearsing and having lessons, we returned to our little cottage in Aldeburgh. This was the best part of living there, and every night after some poker and a sip of whiskey, we had little midnight strolls along the beach, looking at more stars than you’d ever see in London, trying desperately to identify any constellation other than Orion!”
The Solem Quartet have just finished their two weeks at Aldeburgh Music, working on repertoire with Simon Rowland-Jones. Although the Manchester-based group haven’t been here as a quartet, Steph and Mike have both performed in the Britten-Pears Orchestra in the past.
“It’s such an inspirational place to be! We’ve had so much time and so much space – headspace and physical space – to progress as an ensemble. Now we’ve all finished studying we have been applying for a lot of courses and projects, but we were invited to study and perform here. It’s great that Aldeburgh Music keep tabs on emerging ensembles and invite them for an opportunity such as this.
“The most valuable thing we had was an incredible amount of time with our tutor, Simon Rowland-Jones. We’d only had one lesson with him before but when were asked who we wanted to learn with while were here, Simon was top of the list. It was a bit of a gamble as we don’t know him personally, but it’s turned out to be a real joy. Having the opportunity to rehearse in the Peter Pears recital room every day for 2 weeks has also been fantastic – we can tune the balance much better than we can in the flats and practice rooms we normally have.
“One of our favourite things to do in Aldeburgh was to go the beach after our concert and sit on the scallop, contemplating the sea after playing Britten 1. It was really special feeling to be in Aldeburgh playing Britten by the sea when it was stormy and atmospheric.
“We were planning on going for a swim all together after our first concert, but couldn’t quite muster up the courage to brave it. So we’re planning on going for a dip after our final concert, but it really depends on how heated it gets during the Mendelssohn!”
As everyone prepares to wind down for the Christmas break, we thought we’d give you the chance to watch footage from the events we’ve documented in 2014. We hope it goes down well with a glass of mulled wine…
Have a great Christmas and we hope to see you in 2015.
2014 Aldeburgh Festival
Neil Bartlett’s production of Britten’s opera Owen Wingrave opened this year’s Festival and our Owen Wingrave Study Day brought together members of the 2014 and original 1970 casts. An Aldeburgh Musicircus was a remarkable extravaganza involving around 1,000 musicians that turned the town into a glorious sonic marketplace and was later turned into a fun and innovative online experience in partnership with The Space. Meanwhile our contemporary art show SNAP commissioned new works from Anya Gallaccio inspired by the landscape and heritage of Orford Ness in partnership with the WWI cultural programme 14-18 NOW.
Faster Than Sound
Our Faster Than Sound strand of cutting-edge, cross-artform projects devised in the course of residencies completed the final year of its current programme with collaborations between musician and writer Richard Skelton and The Elysian Quartet, EXAUDI Vocal Ensemble and noise artist Russell Haswell, and composer-performer Jennifer Walshe, sound artist Lee Patterson and Aldeburgh Young Musicians. You can also watch 14 projects from the Faster Than Sound back catalogue.
Following last year’s project, which was one of the highlights of the worldwide Britten Centenary celebrations, in 2014 we commissioned new folk song arrangements for children by Sally Beamish, Jon Boden, Gwyneth Herbert, Nico Muhly, Rachel Portman, Talvin Singh, The Unthanks, John Woolrich and Jason Yarde. On the culmination day, Friday 28 November, events took place in many regions of the UK and in Belgium, Greece, Norway and the USA, several of which were live streamed at fridayafternoonsmusic.co.uk and theguardian.com. The project will continue in 2015 – look out for an announcement about the new songs in the spring.
Nurturing the creation of new operas is a central part of our work and in initiating a three-year co-commissioning and co-producing partnership with The Royal Opera and Opera North, we hope to provide a rare platform for medium-scale opera writing. In March 2014 we launched the project with The Commission and Café Kafka, new operas by Elspeth Brooke & Jack Underwood and Francisco Coll & Meredith Oakes. Meanwhile behind the scenes in the Jerwood Opera Writing Programme we continue giving composers and writers support as they begin thinking about approaching opera for the first time, as seen in this work-in-progress scene by Benjamin Scheuer and Tom Swift.
This year’s Britten Weekend fizzed with the energy of new collaborative work, with the inspirational Italian-based unconducted orchestra Spira mirabilis accompanying Rob Murray in Britten’s Nocturne song cycle and premiering Colin Matthews’ Spiralling, and young artists from the Aldeburgh Middle Eastern Orchestral Development Programme joining Aldeburgh Young Musicians to perform two new orchestral songs by young composers Samantha Fernando and Jay Richardson.
We continue to welcome a hugely diverse range of musicians and artists to our campus to develop their skills and create new work, from the outstanding under 18s of Aldeburgh Young Musicians to established artists such as Mahan Esfahani. Here are just a few of the highlights from the huge amount of artist development work that takes place behind the scenes all year round.
We’re currently finalising the details of the Aldeburgh Festival 2015 programme, which will be announced in full on Tuesday 27 January. In the meantime we thought we’d whet your appetite with some highlights to help you plan your time in June. Priority Booking starts in late January (find out more and sign up) and General Booking will open on 3 March.
The Corridor & The Cure
Harrison Birtwistle, photo by Hanya Chlala
Friday 12, Sunday 14, Monday 15 June
A double bill of chamber operas by Harrison Birtwistle and David Harsent, with the world premiere of The Cure and a new production of The Corridor, which was premiered at Aldeburgh in 2009. The double bill brings together a star cast and team of trusted Birtwistle interpreters including singers Mark Padmore, Elizabeth Atherton and designer Alison Chitty, while director Martin Duncan returns to Aldeburgh after his highly-acclaimed Britten centenary production of Noye’s Fludde.
Co-commissioned and co-produced by the Aldeburgh Festival and The Royal Opera, with additional support from the London Sinfonietta.
Resident artists and ensembles
Mahler Chamber Orchestra
John Eliot Gardiner & The Monteverdi Choir
Three concerts by John Eliot Gardiner and the Monteverdi Choir
Friday 19 & Saturday 20 June
The Monteverdi Choir, photo courtesy of Anima Mundi festival
In 2015 John Eliot Gardiner brings his much-loved ensemble for an extended visit, with a Monteverdi Choir & English Baroque Soloists concert of Mozart’s Requiem and Bach, and two concerts framing Bach’s solo violin music (Isabelle Faust) with the choral motets.
More early music highlights
Ensemble Organum, photo by Marion Moulin
Countertenor Andreas Scholl in recital
period orchestra Arcangelo
two performances of early Mediterranean music by Ensemble Organum (above)
Pierre-Laurent Aimard plays selections from Book I of Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier and Art of Fugue
Four Sea Interludes, photo by Kristen Loken
The Mahler Chamber Orchestra (Saturday 13, Sunday 14, Tuesday 16 June) visits with two orchestral concerts conducted by George Benjamin and François-Xavier Roth and a chamber performance by its soloists, with Ravel’s music as the thread that runs through the series. The BBC Symphony Orchestra returns with Sakari Oramo and Alice Coote (Wednesday 24 June) in a programme of Sibelius, Mahler, Frank Bridge, and the Four Sea Interludes and Passacaglia by Britten accompanied by visuals specially commissioned from acclaimed video and animation artist Tal Rosner.
Multi-story Orchestra, photo by Mary Turner
The London Sinfonietta (Thursday 25 June) play Ligeti’s Piano Concerto with Pierre-Laurent Aimard and a programme that also includes music by Benjamin, Birtwistle and Knussen. The Festival finale sees the Britten–Pears Orchestra perform a suite from Britten’s Prince of the Pagodas under Oliver Knussen (Sunday 28 June). Meanwhile we spread our wings beyond the confines of the concert hall to present the Multi-Story Orchestra, which specialises in giving audiences in urban areas their first experience of orchestral music, in the bustle of central Ipswich (Sunday 14 June).
Chamber music highlights
Alice Coote and Christian Blackshaw
Quatuor Mosaïques play Beethoven and Schubert
Messiaen’s Quartet for the End of Time in Blythburgh Church by Pierre-Laurent Aimard and friends
pianist Louis Lortie plays Chopin
For the first time music will be played on Aldeburgh beach every day of the Aldeburgh Festival. The beach stage will host an hour of music each day, with a mix of Festival performers, non-classical artists appearing at The Pumphouse and local Suffolk acts.
Boulez at 90
Wednesday 17 – Friday 19 June
Pierre Boulez, photo by Philippe Gontier
We mark the 90th birthday of one of post-war Europe’s leading modernist artists with a series of events. We present two of his great works, Livre pour Quatuor (played by Quatuor Diotima) and Piano Sonata No.3, and a multimedia portrait of Boulez curated by Gerard McBurney and featuring live performance by the Royal Academy of Music’s Manson Ensemble conducted by Susanna Mälkki.
The Prince of the Pagodas
Britten’s only full-length ballet, inspired by his trip to Bali in 1956, has a sparkling score and is much loved by those who know it, yet rarely performed. We present a three-part exploration of the piece, with a Britten–Pears Orchestra (Sunday 28 June) performance of a concert suite from the ballet conducted by Oliver Knussen, a study session in partnership with the Britten–Pears Foundation and a new dance project inspired by the piece. You may even have the chance to play Suffolk’s only gamelan!
Continuing our exhibitions of leading international contemporary artists, we present Mat Collishaw’s Last Meal on Death Row and Whispering Weeds, Tracey Emin’s Roman Standard and Damian Ortega’s Through / True Stone. In addition we host an exhibition of the work of East Anglian artist John Craske, including his tapestry of the evacuation of Dunkirk, on loan from Norwich museum.
Pierre-Laurent Aimard, photo by Rob Brimson
In his seventh year as Festival Artistic Director, Pierre-Laurent Aimard plays Ravel’s Piano Concerto in G with the Mahler Chamber Orchestra and Ligeti’s Piano Concerto with the London Sinfonietta. He joins Quatuor Mosaïques in Schubert’s Trout Quintet, Isabelle Faust and Jean-Guihen Queyras in Messiaen’s Quartet for the End of Time and George Benjamin for a four-hands piano version of Ravel’s Mother Goose suite. His solo recital focuses on Bach, with pieces from Book I of the Well-Tempered Clavier and the Art of Fugue interspersed with miniatures by Kurtág.
Artist in Residence: George Benjamin
George Benjamin, photo by Robert Millard
One of the UK’s outstanding composers will be resident at the Festival, appearing as conductor, pianist and curator. He conducts the Mahler Chamber Orchestra (Saturday 13 June) and the London Sinfonietta (Thursday 25 June), joins Pierre-Laurent Aimard and friends on piano in a late-night chamber concert (Saturday 20 June), and brings to the Festival the music of a generation of younger composers including Luke Bedford, Tom Coult, Helen Grime, Saed Haddad, Edward Nesbitt and Martin Suckling.
Friends book sooner
Friends Festival priority booking for these concerts and more opens on Tuesday 10 February, so, if you want more from Aldeburgh Music, now could not be a better time to join us.
As a Friend, you’ll also benefit from:
An extended priority booking period ahead of the general public
An annual programme of special social and cultural events
Regular updates on upcoming events and our dedicated newsletter, Friends News.
This is the second time that Spira mirabilis have visited Aldeburgh Music, and so we knew we were in something a bit different when they returned last month. In 2011 they descended on Ipswich for a Beethoven flashmob while here for the Aldeburgh Festival, and it was during this week that the idea for a new piece formed in Colin Matthews’ mind. Commissioned by Aldeburgh Music, this new piece was first performed at the Britten Weekend at the end of October.
The group were very keen to show off their way of working. One piece of music in a concert only. With no conductor, all the players have a say in how any piece should be performed. And they work extremely hard to make sure that everyone’s view is heard and tried, meaning seemingly endless rehearsal schedules. Jessica Duchen wrote an excellent article with a lot more detail on their process in the Independent.
For Colin, this was an experience that he was sure no other composer had experience – at least 30 hours rehearsal on Spiralling. At the start of the concert he gave the audience a little guided tour to the piece, and you can hear how excited he is when talking about it.
On Friday night’s concert of Britten’s Nocturne with Robert Murray (see picture above), Spira mirabilis also invited the audience to sit in and see their rehearsal process for themselves. We took a camera. See for yourselves just how many people get a say. It can be painfully slow at times, but always moving forward, and when you hear the results, it’s most definitely worth it!
“I’ve just agreed an interesting interactive video project with The Space for the summer, so you should have a fun start!” – the last line in the email I received just before my first day working at Aldeburgh Music back in Spring. As ominous as that sounded, I’d nearly forgotten about it in the blur of new faces and places, trying to remember codes to doors, and the excitement of a new home by the sea.
But when we started to discuss the filming of a 1,000 musicians spread over a 400 metre stretch of Aldeburgh’s seafront, all playing different things at the same time, so that each performance could then be pitted against any other performance online, I began to feel a bit apprehensive once more. That feeling grew after initial meetings with Daniel and Aly at AVCO, the developers of the Musicircus online experience, led to the conclusion that every video made had to be isolated as possible – i.e. with very little extraneous noise – something that seemed impossible given the proximity of other musicians.
Planning shots, with a view
Filming absolutely everything that was going on would not be possible either, so Tracy Virr (chief Musicircus organiser) plotted to make sure we could cover as much as possible. With the help of some very detailed spreadsheets, endless post-it notes on large maps of Aldeburgh, and a tool called Workflowy, a plan started to fall into place.
I formed 4 camera crews, made up of professional events camera operators and media students at Suffolk New College. They each had 3 cameras and sound recording equipment, but for more complicated performances, for example a full orchestra or 100-strong choir, there was an additional sound recording team with many more microphones and more wind-protectors than I have ever seen! For a little icing on the cake, I also booked a remote-controlled quadcopter-mounted camera and operator.
On the day, we gathered early, painfully early for one crew member travelling from south-west London. I gave all 20 a tour of the site, putting the timetables they had been armed with in the week before into context and distributing equipment to each team. Before we knew it, the 3 airhorns along Crag Path sounded and 2 hours of musical chaos had begun.
At this point there wasn’t much more I could do, other than hope the crews had battled through the crowds (we’d hoped it would be busy but the road was more densely packed than expected) and enjoy the show.
Two hours later, the crews returned with empty batteries, full memory cards, and a little bit of sunburn. While they headed off to get their well deserved fish and chips, the most stressful part of the day for me began: copying all the footage to hard drives (twice for safety) while keeping it organised to make the start of the edit easier. With 500GB of video and audio across at least 25 cards, this needed a lot of concentration to make sure everything recorded was ingested.
AVCO tried a lot of different ways of visualising it, from a hedgehog type layout with videos at the end of the spines, to floating videos moving backwards and forwards, but after some work with Justin Spooner of Unthinkable Consulting, came up with a much simpler flat layout, like a fruit machine. This made it fun to play with as well as making it easy to find new videos.
I ploughed on with the remaining performances, ranging from a single camera view of an autoharp player in the shelter next to the Moot Hall, to a 6-camera edit of the CBSO playing Ravel’s Mother Goose.
These all came together a couple of weeks before the launch, and we tested, tested and tested some more to see what the different browsers and platforms were capable of. On devices like the iPhone where only one video could play at a time, AVCO had the online version fall back to audio only, so as many people as possible could use it. Testing is always gruelling, but I do find it oddly interesting learning the limitations and capabilities of different bits of kit.
We’d aimed to have the online experience ready for the end of the summer, so it was a great moment to be able to release it on John Cage’s 102nd birthday, the 5th September. The digital version of An Aldeburgh Musicircus lives on The Space – I hope you enjoy it even more having read a little into how it was created.
Thanks to the crew: Camera operators – Ian Ellerby, Jasmine Robinson, Tom Maine, Matt Dove, Victoria Butcher, Alex Smith, John-Connor Shaughnessy, Samuel Miller, Olivia Penny, Laura Katkute, Eddie Chesney and Daniel Wilcox Sound engineer – Alex Barnes of Apple and Biscuit Recordings, Freddy Harris Aerial camera – Louis-James Parker Roaming cameras – Joseph Barton, Harry Marshall, Freddy LaBella, Daniel Roberts and Darren Simons (special thanks to Darren for organising the Suffolk New College students too!)
As is traditional, there is no Prom on August 18 as we’ll all be at the Aldeburgh Carnival instead! We’ll be back with our daily blog covering every Snape Prom tomorrow, but until then here’s our trailer with a smashing soundtrack by Canzoniere Grecanico Salentino.