Author Archives: Shoel Stadlen


3 things you might not know about Aldeburgh Festival 2016

You’ve probably already heard a lot about circus and birds. Here is a small selection of things you might not know about this year’s programme:

1. Around a third of the events are in one way or another ‘home grown’.

That is, a third of the projects have been devised or developed at Snape or have grown out of our year-round programme of artist development and residencies – a statistic that marks Aldeburgh Festival out from most of the world’s other leading classical music festivals. There’s no separate strand for these events – they’re woven into the fabric of the festival, from Illuminations itself, which has been developed here over a series of residencies, to the Festival Masterclasses with mezzo-soprano Bernada Fink, Pierre-Laurent Aimard and Thomas Quasthoff and concerts with graduates (Trio Isimsiz, Britten–Pears Contemporary Ensemble) of our Britten–Pears Young Artist Programme.

There are also two highly idiosyncratic projects devised as part of our Open Space programme, which gives innovative and ambitious artists and ensembles bespoke support for several years. In The Discovery of Bomarzo (Tuesday 21 June, 3pm) the brilliant early music collective Solomon’s Knot, who have been supported by our Open Space programme since 2014, join forces with sound artist and electronica composer Mira Calix to create a 21st-century musical meditation on a spectacularly Mannerist, almost surreal 16th-century Italian sculpture garden, bringing together madrigals by Gesualdo, de Wert and others, and new sounds from Calix.

Meanwhile on Thursday 23 June the Festival Organ Crawl is a brilliantly eccentric vintage bus tour of Suffolk churches and church organs by open space artists Kit Downes and Tom Challenger. They perform their own new work for organ and saxophone on three instruments that range from the powerfully impressive to the slightly wheezing, guiding you as you travel between the three venues.

2. The avant garde of 100 years ago is pretty exciting.

The 14–18 NOW: Piano Century event on Friday 24 June is a typically exciting Aldeburgh marathon of three short recitals by pianists Tamara Stefanovich, Pierre-Laurent Aimard and Håkon Austbø pairing radical works composed during the years of WWI with new and recenly-composed music.

Beyond the familiar twin poles of Stravinsky and Schoenberg, it is remarkable to discover what was happening in the arts on the periphery of Europe. In Russia Alexander Skryabin, who would die in 1915, was writing his final piano works, using heady ever-more-complex harmonies, pushing the soundworlds of Wagner and Liszt to further and further extremes. In his last decade Skryabin planned to create spectacular, apocalyptic and mystical staged works, fusing his own performance, synaesthetic lighting and Eastern philosophy. Although his plans were never fully realised in his lifetime, his reputation as a revolutionary was established.

It seems fitting that Norwegian pianist Håkon Austbø first discovered Skryabin’s music while in Paris in 1968, having just taken part in the student uprising of that year. Yet despite being bowled over remarkable richness and ambition of the music, Austbø says it took him more than a decade after that to make sense of and interpret what he describes as Scriabin’s ‘dangerous world’.

Yet for a group of Russian composers who were a generation younger than Skryabin, the older composer was not nearly radical enough. Composers Nikolai Roslavets and Nikolai Obukhov were part of a generation of Russian artists exploring ultra-modernist, futurist modes of expression in a brief period of incredible artistic experimentation before the advent of the Soviet Union. In his article in the Aldeburgh Festival programme book, Paul Griffiths writes that although initially influenced by Skryabin, Roslavets was soon criticising him for ‘oversimplification’ and extending his tonality towards a kind of tonal organisation ‘not far removed from Schoenberg’s serialist technique’.

The different fates of Obukhov and Roslavets are representative of those of other Russian futurists. Obukhov escaped to Paris after the 1917 Russian Revolution and went on to explore the creation of new electronic instruments, while Roslavets stayed, first ignored in the 1920s and then and later declared an ‘enemy of the people’ and his music banned.

3. Aged 70, György Kurtág helped a young German sculptor find his path towards becoming an artist and took his works as inspiration for his music.

Alexander Polzin is a 41-year-old sculptor born in East Germany. At the age of 20 and unsure of whether to become a stone mason or try to make a career as an artist, Polzin met the Hungarian composer György Kurtág, then 70, in Berlin and gave him a tour of his studio.

Kurtág was so inspired by Polzin’s work that he decided to support the younger man financially for a year in order that Polzin could dedicate himself to art. He also took one of Polzin’s works for his own composing studio and over the course of the 20 years since, the two have been swapping works and fragments inspired by and dedicated to the other. The exhibition, which is spread around the Snape Maltings site, is a fascinating record of a rich creative friendship.

I particularly love his portraits of Kurtág, below. Because for many who know Kurtág it is difficult to imagine him without his wife Marta, Polzin has made their inseparable-ness the defining feature of the portraits.

Alexander Polzin: Gyorgy and Martha Kurtag © Klaus Michalek

Alexander Polzin: Gyorgy and Martha Kurtag © Klaus Michalek

Find out more about the exhibition at

And of course, see the whole festival programme at

A month today at the Snape Proms… Pavel Haas Quartet with Klára Würtz

Pavel Haas QuartetSo much of the fun of a great string quartet concert is in seeing and hearing the players listen and respond to each other. There are great quartets who’ve played together for decades and who respond to each other almost imperceptibly. And then there are groups like the Pavel Haas Quartet whose young players almost bubble over with the urgency and dynamism of their interaction – you could probably take away the sound and still enjoy just watching them perform for the rhythm and patterns of eye contact and body movement, the subtle physical ways in which musicians tell each other exactly how much a quickening will accelerate and exactly how much longer an accented note will last than an unaccented one.

And then there’s the sound… At this year’s Aldeburgh Festival the Pavel Haas gave two concerts of Czech music – quartets by Janáček and Smetana – and no matter how much of a cliché it sounds, it was impossible not to come away with the impression that these outstanding Czech and Slovak players really are able to get to the heart of the music of their homeland. Smetana’s Bohemian dances sounded wilder and more like East European folk than I remember hearing them before. And along with great energy, intimacy and warmth, Janáček’s two quartets buzzed with an electric tension – although the playing was note perfect, it was as if the music were being played for the first time, with the narrative and the drama raw and developing in front of the audience in real time, with the outcome never preordained.

It will be great to see the Pavel Haas Quartet back here at the end of August with pianist Klára Würtz to play the music of a third major Czech composer, Dvořak. And as is the way at Aldeburgh Music, the musicians won’t just be flying in, giving a concert and leaving, but instead working with Britten-Pears Young Artists over a series of masterclasses (30 August – 5 September), passing on their insights into the music to a (slightly) younger generation of musicians.

The Pavel Haas Quartet with Klára Würtz play at the Snape Proms on 29 August.

Snape Proms

A month today at the Snape Proms… The Poetry Prom

Ian McMillan and John Hegley. Find out more about the event and book.


You’d better not come
to this year’s Poetry Prom
if you’re after weighty words
from heavy duty bards
who frown, who cannot bear
audiences who dare
to grin, giggle and guffaw
about Important Things
like Yorkshire puddings,
potatoes (pink string
and sealing wax for all we know).

No, you really must go
look elsewhere if laughing
until your ribs ache
from laughing
until your ribs ache
is not your cup of tea.

Because this will be
one seriously funny show
from a dazzling duo
(more usually solo):
genius men of the live stage
(and the more private page)
whose gifts for comedy
far exceed the capacity
of this irritatingly rhymed
and undisguised plea
to fill every seat from A to Z…

Ladies and gentlemen
please welcome
the two and only
Ian McMillan
and John Hegley!

With apologies from
Naomi Jaffa

Director, The Poetry Trust

The Poetry Prom is on 28 August – find out more and book.

Snape Proms

A private and public opera: Mark Wigglesworth on conducting Owen Wingrave

Opera is at its best when it is intimate. That is not surprising, given that the earliest operas were written to be performed in a small room. They were quintessentially chamber operas – the journey towards grandiosity only arising from the competitive spirit of the promoters. So when Britten was commissioned to write an opera for television in 1969, what seemed a modern concept at the time was in some sense simply a return to the origins of the art form itself.

A room is a space for thoughts not speeches, for eye contact rather than hand gestures, and the absence of a large public creates a more private experience. Owen Wingrave is not a chamber opera, but on television that is how it comes across, and in staged performances this spirit should still be present. The heightened intensity and subtler flexibility of chamber music mean that though the physical scale may be smaller, the emotional range can be wider. David Matthews’ reduction of the work’s forces does not result in a reduction of the work’s force.

John Lennon’s remark that ‘if everyone demanded peace instead of another television set, then there’d be peace,’ would have pleased Britten. But although he did not own a television, Britten understood its possibilities instinctively. It can tackle big subjects without having to proclaim them from the rooftops – a suitable combination for a passionate yet shy man.

The notion of an audience being one or two people on a sofa just a few feet away lies at the heart of the opera’s simplicity. There is no need for the performers to project to the back of the balcony. Everyone is in close-up all the time. James’ story, Piper’s text, and Britten’s music draw the audience in with a magnetism that is harder to realize in live theatre.

Certain practicalities inevitably get in the way. One of those practicalities is the orchestra. In theatrical terms, an orchestra cuts across the drama, and even with the most sunken pits there is a significant channel to be bridged. It can be a challenge for directors and conductors to marry the emotional and physical presence of the orchestra to the purely dramatic needs of the story as whole. But in a television opera the orchestra is invisible, the barrier has gone, and the singers and audience enjoy an uninterrupted connection. Although, as singers, the performers have to listen to the orchestra for musical reasons, as characters, they must be deaf to the soundtrack of their hearts and minds. The score leads the audience to think and feel, without being a crutch on which to rest an interpretation.

We are of course performing in an opera house (of sorts!) but our approach can be true to the conception and motivation behind the original composition. To pretend that the work is on a larger scale than it is, could lead to it feeling as though it’s actually a smaller piece than it is. Britten was a supreme deliverer of the ‘less is more’ theory and his ruthless economy expresses all the powers that Owen has to fight against, as well as all the inner strength he summons up to do so.

Television can bring people together while still keeping them apart. And before video recorders, and on-demand viewing options, the experience was a simultaneous and collective one. Over a quarter of a million people saw the original broadcast of Owen Wingrave. Considering a London run of Peter Grimes gets at best a total of around 15,000, the comparative outreach is staggering. Yet in any given home, it must have felt like merely a handful watching. There was no sense of what other people might be thinking, no pressure to pass comment over an interval drink, nor even any need to applaud at the end. I suspect the idea of highly individual responses multiplied many times over appealed to Britten. The medium of television offered a perfect forum for an opera that, like so many of his works, deals with how individuals relate to the pressures and expectations of their society. Television connects people, yet still allows them to be free.

Mark Wigglesworth © 2014

wingrave-header-4 There are performances of Owen Wingrave at Snape Maltings Concert Hall as part of the Aldeburgh Festival, on Friday 13, Sunday 15, Monday 16 and Wednesday 18 June. Find out more and book tickets.

Calling all pianists: take part in a Satie marathon on Sunday 22 June as part of An Aldeburgh Musicircus


On Sunday 22 June the Aldeburgh Festival is staging An Aldeburgh Musicircus, a huge, freewheeling event that will bring together over 800 musicians to turn the town into a giant musical marketplace, inspired by John Cage’s Musicircus happenings, where the composer hoped that ‘you won’t hear a thing – you’ll hear everything’.

One of the fringe events of An Aldeburgh Musicircus is Vexations, a short passage of music written by Erik Satie with the instruction to repeat 840 times – an instruction which his admirer John Cage carried out. Starting at 11am and ending at 9.30pm on Sunday 22 June, a relay of 23 pianists including Aldeburgh Festival Artistic Director Pierre-Laurent Aimard will perform on the piano on the first floor of the ArtHouse, 31 Crag Path, overlooking Aldeburgh beach.

If you would like to take part, please contact Caroline Wiseman on 01728 452754 or

VIDEO: Pierre-Laurent Aimard introduces 2014 Aldeburgh Festival featured composer Tristan Murail

During Pierre-Laurent Aimard’s time as Artistic Director, the Aldeburgh Festival has featured a major living composer each year. Following the visits of Boulez, Carter, Stroppa and Lachenmann – and Jonathan Harvey’s sadly posthumous portrait last year) – this year’s featured composer is Tristan Murail.

In the words of Pierre-Laurent Aimard:

‘Tristan Murail is a poet whose music speaks to our ears, our eyes and our heart. He is known as a ‘spectral’ composer. What does that mean? Simply that rather than using the traditional scales and materials of western music, he works directly with sound itself, exploring its nuances. As Murail puts it, “I make music by working the sound matter like a sculptor, revealing the form that is hidden within the block of stone, rather than constructing it with bricks, as is the case in a traditional approach.” The results are very original and extremely beautiful, with a sound that is incredibly rich and natural.

Watch Pierre-Laurent talk about Murail’s visit:

Tristan Murail events at the 2014 Aldeburgh Festival:

Saturday 28 June, 3pm: Klangforum Wien I
Saturday 28 June, 7.30pm: BBC Symphony Orchestra
Saturday 28 June, 10pm: Klangforum Wien II

Find out more about all Murail events at the Aldeburgh Festival

Composer threads woven into the 2014 Aldeburgh Festival

Aldeburgh isn’t a festival that picks a single theme for the year – there are always numerous narratives and themes to explore. Britten’s music, of course, is always a recognisable feature, as is the internationalist outlook of Artistic Director Pierre-Laurent Aimard.

There are always composers whose work runs across different programmes in the Festival. This year, while many composers are featured, these are the ones whose music is a recurring theme. Click the names to view events featuring these composers:

Tristan Murail






VIDEO: Pierre-Laurent Aimard on the Chamber Orchestra of Europe at the 2014 Aldeburgh Festival

Aldeburgh Festival Artistic Director Pierre-Laurent Aimard has been introducing leading European artists, composers and ensembles to the Festival each year since 2009. One of the highlights of the 2014 Festival will be the extended visit of the Chamber Orchestra of Europe, ‘the best chamber orchestra in the world’ (Daily Telegraph), who give performances on 27 and 29 June, while the orchestra’s soloists also give an earlier concert on 21 June.

Pierre-Laurent Aimard talks about the Chamber Orchestra of Europe and why he has invited the orchestra to Aldeburgh this year:

Find out more about the Chamber Orchestra of Europe’s concerts at the 2014 Aldeburgh Festival

Owen Wingrave: cast and team arrive at Snape

Three years after Jonathan Reekie picked up the phone to director Neil Bartlett to say he’d had an idea, the cast and creative team of Britten’s Owen Wingrave have assembled here at Snape to create a new production for the same space in which the piece was originally brought to life 44 years ago.

The Wingrave cast brings together singers like Susan Bullock and Jonathan Summers who have been appearing at the world’s leading opera houses for many years alongside young singers Ross Ramgobin, Isaiah Bell, Samantha Crawford and Catherine Backhouse, most of whom have recently joined the Britten–Pears Programme.

For most of the young singers, this is their first ever visit to Aldeburgh Music and the day started with a tour of the site. They arrived at the team get-together pretty taken aback by the Concert Hall and the landscape and then we all settled down to listen to Neil set the scene for the next six weeks.

Neil Bartlett welcomes the cast and crew of Owen Wingrave

‘With all the poppies and sepia and WWI memorabilia this year, everyone is going to need some space to think about what it really means to be 100 years on from the war which was meant to end all wars but didn’t. And that’s what I want us to give audiences. I don’t want to “deliver” a pacifist message – I want to give people the space to think.’


40 minutes later, Neil finished showing us the final slide of the production model and we shared a collective shiver of anticipation. Although Owen Wingrave is known as a ‘pacifist’ opera, it is also a brilliant ghost story, and Neil’s production looks as though it will be a chilling, disturbing evocation of a family with serious skeletons in its closet and its members’ inescapable fate.

wingrave-header-4 There are performances of Owen Wingrave at Snape Maltings Concert Hall as part of the Aldeburgh Festival, on Friday 13, Sunday 15, Monday 16 and Wednesday 18 June. Find out more and book tickets.

Video: Nigel Douglas remembers the premiere production of Owen Wingrave

Tenor Nigel Douglas played the role of Lechmere in the premiere production of Owen Wingrave, filmed at Snape Maltings Concert Hall in 1970 and shown on BBC2 in 1971.

Nigel will be taking part in our Owen Wingrave Study Day on Tuesday 17 June, which will include contributions from cast and creative team members from both 1971 and 2014 productions and will feature discussion, archive footage and live musical illustrations.

wingrave-header-4 There are performances of Owen Wingrave at Snape Maltings Concert Hall as part of the Aldeburgh Festival, on Friday 13, Sunday 15, Monday 16 and Wednesday 18 June. Find out more and book tickets.