Set aside current trials and tribulations. Some music festivals are not just trying to keep going, but making plans for a better and bigger future. Having proven to be one of the most determined to stay active over the past 18 months, the Aldeburgh Festival, co-founded by composer Benjamin Britten and tenor Peter Pears, his partner, today announces a 2022 festival. who aims high.
It promises to be a busy year. Queen Elizabeth will celebrate her 70th birthday on the throne with a Platinum Jubilee Festival June 2-5, which coincides with the festival’s opening weekend. It’s also the 50th anniversary of the Britten Pears Young Artist Program, now extended to projects and events throughout the year, and a day of concerts will mark what would have been the 70th birthday of the composer and former artistic director of Aldeburgh, Oliver Knussen.
“With these birthdays and everything in between, we felt the program could get very crowded,” said Roger Wright, CEO of Britten Pears Arts, which runs the festival. “So next year’s festival will last three weeks instead of two, as was the case for a short period in the late 1960s.”
There is no other festival like Aldeburgh. Located on the windswept east coast of England, it overlooks the gray expanse of the North Sea and the flatlands of Suffolk. In the stillness of this endless landscape, Britten found his perfect place to live and work, and on a hazy night it is still possible to imagine the anti-hero fisherman of his opera Peter Grimes stalking the shore. Britten’s spirit and his ambitions for music here continue to cast a powerful spell.
No festival, however, can afford to stand still. In 2022, Aldeburgh will present the largest number of new music creations in its history, including 19 commissions from composers such as Laura Bowler, Francisco Coll, Bushra El-Turk, Colin Matthews, Mark-Anthony Turnage and Tom Coult, including ‘opera Purple gets its first delayed performance.
Among the featured artists are violinist Nicola Benedetti, playing baroque music and the work of Messiaen Quartet for the End of Time, cellist Laura van der Heijden, the Doric string quartet and Mark Simpson, clarinetist and composer of the day, after his breathtaking violin concerto earlier this year.
It will also be a pleasure, and probably a relief, to find festival venues across the region, such as the churches of Orford and Blythburgh. The main venue, Snape Maltings, makes an impressive multi-venue hub these days, but the festival was never meant to be rooted in one location.
Much of what it represents now was planned by Britten and Pears when they founded the festival with librettist Eric Crozier in 1948. Britten’s music will play an important role, as always, but is never dominant. , in particular because very little of its production is awaiting rediscovery.
The expansion was driven by the acquisition of the entire Snape Maltings site, which raised the profile of the job throughout the year. This includes top-level masterclasses and young musicians from Aldeburgh, but much more: community work in creative health, such as for patients with dementia and Parkinson’s disease, and in criminal justice in local prisons.
“This is all true of the vision Britten and Pears had,” says Wright. “They would not have known that our society would have such a challenge with dementia, or would have expected the socio-economic deprivation of our region. But what they did know and work with was the unique power of music to connect people. The vision they had for a music site that is locally rooted, but has a national and international impact, is absolutely where we are now. “
This is also true for the development of the campus. “Nowadays, a program for young artists is not that unusual, but 50 years ago it was very innovative,” he says. “I wonder if seeing Tanglewood [the Boston Symphony Orchestra’s summer home] in the 1940s made a lasting impression on Britten. There are photos of him and Pears looking at a model of a refitted Snape Maltings before he even acquired some of the additional buildings. A 1970 master plan looks suspiciously similar to how the site has developed since.
The result is that Britten Pears Arts has become an important force in the local economy. About 150-200 people work there, mostly in retail, food service and charity, and a much larger impact comes from tourism. The aim is to raise £ 2million per year through fundraising, more than what is received from the Arts Council, and this is a challenge for the people of the Suffolk Coast.
Wright says he saw the importance of engaging with the community when he was artistic administrator of the Cleveland Orchestra. “It’s as unlikely to have an orchestra of this quality in a place like Cleveland as it is to have a festival like Aldeburgh on the Suffolk coast,” he says. “What they share is an audience and a set of supporters who have [a powerful] sense of ownership, and it will pay off in all kinds of ways. If the alternative is indifference, you are dead in the water.
As a result of this could be closer cooperation with the United States. The Ojai Music Festival in California runs closely parallel to Aldeburgh and the two have shared projects in the past. Wright favors such a collaboration “if festivals in general can be less valuable in knowing who gets what first”.
A cloud on the horizon is Britten’s music coming out of copyright in 2047. A taste came during the lockdown, when £ 1million in performance royalties was lost overnight.
Wright says Aldeburgh knows he can’t delay thinking until 2045. One possible answer is to develop the last third of the derelict Snape Maltings site, likely for student and tutor housing. . “It would be a throwback to Britten and Pears’ vision for a creative campus. It’s in our sights, but it represents a huge investment project.
In the meantime, all eyes are on the 2022 festival. The Queen’s jubilee will be marked by the music of her coronation year, such as the sequel to Britten’s opera Gloriana. A highlight of the homage to Knussen will be the premiere of his unfinished orchestral work Cleveland Pictures. A series of works on climate change includes the intriguing work of Gregor A Mayrhofer Recycling Concerto, featuring hundreds of rubbish reshaped in percussion. As Wright says, “No stillness. “
Aldeburgh Festival 2022, from June 3 to 26, brittenpearsarts.org