Thursday 8 March 2018

Britten, America & Sci-Fi Opera

The Aldeburgh Festival comes round in June, East Anglian-based arts writer, Tony Cooper, reports

Britten & Pears in NYC (c) Britten-Pears Foundation
Britten & Pears in NYC (c) Britten-Pears Foundation
Founded by Benjamin Britten, Peter Pears and Eric Crozier in 1948, the Aldeburgh Festival goes from strength to strength and this year runs from Friday 8 to Sunday 24 June 2018. The luminous line-up features such imminent artists and ensembles of the calibre of Patricia Kopatchinskaja, Claire Chase, Sir Bryn Terfel, Pierre-Laurent Aimard, Harry Christophers’ The Sixteen, Tamara Stefanovich, Mahler Chamber Orchestra, Le Concert Spirituel, John Wilson Orchestra, Alina Ibragimova, BBC Symphony Orchestra, BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, BBC National Orchestra of Wales, Belcea String Quartet, Anne-Sophie von Otter, Piatti String Quartet and Cédric Tiberghien. As always, there's a wealth of new music including premières by Emily Howard, Harrison Birtwistle, Michael Hersch and Simon Holt.

A key programme strand surrounds Britten and America coinciding with the centenary of the inspirational composer, conductor and educator, Leonard Bernstein, whose connections with (and parallels to) Britten are fascinating to explore. And marking 70 years since the festival was founded ‘The Spirit of 1948’ will reflect on a remarkable post-war period when so much of what we now regard to be the backbone of our cultural life was launched.

Emily Howard
Emily Howard
The festival has engaged three artists-in-residence who are connected by their curatorial flair and open-minded approach to music making: John Wilson (the British conductor, arranger and musicologist), Claire Chase (the pioneering American flautist, curator and educator) and Patricia Kopatchinskaja (the outstanding Moldovan violinist).

John Wilson not only conducts the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra but also his own orchestra, the John Wilson Orchestra (an established favourite at the Snape Proms in August) who are making their Aldeburgh Festival début while Claire Chase explores the radical edge of American music ranging from Edgard Varèse (French-born but lived most of his life in America) to Morton Feldman (a major figure in 20th-century American music) and a new generation of composers whom she has committed to commissioning for the next twenty years through her Density 2036 project.

The outstanding French period-instrument ensemble, Le Concert Spirituel, will give three concerts (12, 13 and 14 June) including a performance of the spectacular baroque mass by the 17th-century, Franco-Italian composer, Orazio Benevolo, scored for eight separate choirs and ensembles, each with their own conductor. This concert marks the festival’s return to the gothic splendour of Ely Cathedral for the first time in fifty years.

The world première of Emily Howard’s new sci-fi-inspired opera (an Aldeburgh Festival commission) To See The Invisible (8, 10 and 11 June) promises a highlight of this year’s festival. Ms Howard developed the work over the course of a Snape residency with her collaborators, Dan Ayling (director) and Selma Dimitrijevic (librettist). Her music is well known for its particular connection with science (she studied mathematics and computer science) and her latest work is based on a short story by the renowned American sci-fi writer, Robert Silverberg.

John Wilson and the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra (Photo BBC/John Wood)
John Wilson and the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra
(Photo BBC/John Wood)
John Wilson and the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra will undertake two concerts comprising works by Britten, Bernstein and Copland (8 and 9 June) while the John Wilson Orchestra (10 June) will deliver a ravishing and entertaining programme of Bernstein’s popular and less well-known Broadway hits including excerpts from West Side Story, Wonderful Town, On the Town, Candide, Peter Pan, Trouble in Tahiti and 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Without doubt, Claire Chase is an inspirational trailblazer for new music of all styles and in 2013 embarked on an epic commissioning and performance adventure entitled Density 2036 performing a brand-new solo programme each year until 2036, the centenary of Edgard Varèse’s iconic piece Density 21.5 for solo flute, written, of course, in 1936.

A programme entitled Density 2036 will be performed on 14 June followed by Feldman at Sunrise on 16 June. Here Chase and her collaborators will present a performance of American composer Morton Feldman’s marathon five-hour piece For Philip Guston starting at sunrise with the audience lying on mattresses and cushions. The music critic of The New Yorker, Alex Ross, wrote: ‘To sit through a performance of For Philip Guston is to enter into a new consciousness.’

Patricia Kopatchinskaja (Photo Marco Borgreve)
Patricia Kopatchinskaja (Photo Marco Borgreve)
Patricia Kopatchinskaja’s staged concert with the Mahler Chamber Orchestra, Bye-Bye Beethoven (22 June) offers a voyage through revolutionary voices that shaped and redefined music from Bach to the present day but with the remarkable violinist Kopatchinskaja at the helm the concert will most certainly steer a fascinatingly-unorthodox course. Featuring orchestral performances and collaborations with video and sound designers, the audience can expect a gripping portrait of one of today’s leading performers and her bold and imaginative curatorial flair. The following day (23 June) she returns to explore her native Moldovan roots with her violin- and cimbalom-playing parents. ‘Classical music is like a ship,’ she fondly says, ‘and everyone’s standing at the stern and looking at how nice it was where we came from. But no one dares to go on to the bow to see what’s coming.’

An archetypally-ambitious Aldeburgh Festival event on 18 June features the Knussen and Aldeburgh Festival Ensemble performing a host of new music including the world première (an Aldeburgh Festival commission) of Harrison Birtwistle’s Keyboard Engine, Construction for Two Pianos performed by Tamara Stefanovich and Pierre-Laurent Aimard.

And one of the world’s best-loved opera-singers, Sir Bryn Terfel, makes his first Aldeburgh Festival appearance (24 June) accompanied by Malcolm Martineau in a lovely and inviting programme comprising English and American folk-song arrangements by Britten and Copland as well as classical songs by Brahms and Schubert.

This year’s exhibitions include Suffolk Voices by British-Australian artist, Samantha Heriz, who grew up in Suffolk and has long been fascinated by the transformation and dilution of the county’s accent. Following her residency at Snape Maltings last year, Ms Heriz will present at the Pond Gallery, Snape, her immersive sound installation created from recordings of today’s Suffolk voices, showing the increasing diversity in accent. The voices speak the words of a bygone Suffolk fisherman’s song, reformed to create a modern soundscape telling of migration, globalisation and the transitory patterns of our region.

Claire Chase( ©Armen Elliott)
Claire Chase( ©Armen Elliott)
Other exhibitions include a programme of exhibitions and events at The Red House focusing on Britten in America; Tom Hammick’s Lunar Voyage, a narrative cycle of 17 woodcut prints conjuring a metaphorical escape from Earth in pursuit of freedom and isolation on another planet; Dennis Creffield’s drawings of East Anglian cathedrals and a new installation alongside other work by East Anglian-born sculptor, Kate MccGwire.

For a full and informative programme visitthe festival pages on the Snape Maltings website.

Box office: 01728 687110, on-line booking via the Snape Maltings website.

(£10 tickets are available for every performance and anyone aged 21 and under can access half-price tickets for many of the events)

Elsewhere on this blog:
  • My last Duchess: the songs of Grace Williams from Jeremy Huw Williams (★★★½) - CD review
  • Remarkable dialogues - Poulenc's opera at the Guildhall - Opera review
  • Goldilocks translated: The Opera Story's latest production (★★★★) - opera review
  • Contrasting double: Puccini's Il tabarro & Gianni Schicchi from ETO (★★★★½) - opera review
  • Beyond an auspicious debut: I chat to French Horn player Ben Goldscheider - interview
  • A return to the world of sleep and dreams: Robert Carsen's production of Britten's A Midsummer Night's Dream  (★★★½) - opera review
  • The complete piano works of John McCabe - volume 1 (★★★½) - CD review
  • Handelian celebration with the Foundling Hospital Anthem  (★★★½) - concert review
  • Bach on the piano, Sandro Ivo Bartoli in Bach's smaller pieces (★★★★½) - CD review
  • Well worth crossing the Red Sea for: Rossini's Mosè in Egitto from Chelsea Opera Group (★★★★½) - opera review
  • Music, myth and time: Karen Cargill and the Scottish Ensemble at Kings Place (★★★★½) - concert review
  • A varied career: our interview with violinist Thomas Gould finds him in a thoughtful mood - interview
  • Má vlast: Jiri Belohlavek's last recording with the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra - CD review (★★★★)
  • Notable recital debut disc from French Horn player Ben Golscheider - Cd review (★★★★)
  • Home

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