From Britten to Bandstand

Aldeburgh Musicircus on the beach and Crag Path, part of the Aldeburgh Festival

Aldeburgh Musicircus on the beach and Crag Path, part of the Aldeburgh Festival - Credit: Archant

The 68th Aldeburgh Festival starts a fortnight of cultural celebration on June 12. Andrew Clarke spoke to chief executive Roger Wright about how the festival is speeding its wings – both artistically and geographically

pierre-laurent aimard with britten pears orchestra, jamie man conductor

pierre-laurent aimard with britten pears orchestra, jamie man conductor - Credit: Archant

A bandstand on Aldeburgh Beach, a concert in a multi-storey car park, a rare revival of Britten’s only full-length ballet score and a tribute to avant garde composer Pierre Boulez are just some of the highlights awaiting audiences at this year’s Aldeburgh Festival.

The festival is once again curated by artistic director Pierre-Laurent Aimard, but is the first for Aldeburgh Music’s new chief executive, Roger Wright.

Roger, talking at the launch, said he was keen for the festival to expand its reach and attract new audiences, and to explore new areas.

The bandstand on the beach, the performance in Ipswich with the Multi-Story Orchestra and a packed fringe festival programme at The Pumphouse in Aldeburgh are all part of this aim while at the same time offering long-term Aldeburgh Festival audiences new and challenging performances, mixing revivals with premieres, all with the same international quality that they have come to expect.

The Multistory Orchestra will be performing the Suffolk County Council car park as part of the Aldeb

The Multistory Orchestra will be performing the Suffolk County Council car park as part of the Aldeburgh Music Festival. Composer Kate Whitley and Roger Wright in the venue. - Credit: Archant

Roger, formerly head of BBC Radio 3 and artistic director of the BBC Proms, wants to keep the Aldeburgh Festival relevant to the needs of 21st century audiences, while honouring the original guidelines laid down by Benjamin Britten and Peter Pears when they founded the event in the 1948.

“Although this is the 68th Aldeburgh Festival, the vision of the festival has remained largely unchanged since 1948 when Britten founded it – although the world and the circumstances surrounding it have changed enormously.

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“The focus of the festival remains squarely on that sense of continuity between the composer, the performer and the listener. It is very important that new music remains at the heart of the event. This audience will fall happily into the arms of Bach, Haydn or Schubert, but are equally happy to accompany us on a journey to different sorts of music that they don’t know.”

Britten and Peter Pears, along with colleague Imogen Holst, always programmed new music into the festival, so a sense of exploration and discovery has always been integral to the make-up of the Aldeburgh Festival.

Roger Wright

Roger Wright - Credit: Archant

“The idea behind the festival was pretty far-out. I think if someone suggested it now it just wouldn’t happen. No-one would be brave enough, but because we have had 68 successful years everyone knows the idea works.”

Creating a new Aldeburgh Festival for the 21st Century is important to keeping the festival as fresh and alive now as it was when it was founded.

“When I took over one of the first things I was asked was, ‘Grimes on the Beach and Musicircus were very successful. Will you be repeating them?’ I want to do something that is more interesting than that. I don’t repeat things, I want to develop new things that are building on the success of those events that have gone before.

“So, this year we are unveiling Bandstand on the Beach, which is a free daily presence in Aldeburgh – a fun thing, programmed a lot closer to the time. It will involve a combination of musicians from the local area and visiting festival artists.”

Weekend packages

Aldeburgh audiences and performers alike enjoy spending time in Suffolk.

“It’s not a jetting in and jetting out festival. People like to stay and mingle. Many of the performers are staying for ten days and playing several concerts over an extended period of time, and enjoy being in Suffolk, soaking up the festival atmosphere.”

New this year are packed diverse programmes for the weekends, designed to attract visitors staying for a three-day break who want to sample a cross-section of the festival.

“Part of this will be the amazing Aimard, Benjamin and Friends concert on Saturday, June 20 which will bring some powerhouse performers together, including Pierre-Laurent Aimard and George Benjamin, who will be playing Ravel, Debussy, Benjamin and the world premiere of a new piece by Martin Suckling. The performance will be in the Britten-Studio to give it a late-night, impromptu feel.”

This year’s festival is launched on June 12 with the premiere of a new opera double-bill by Harrison Birtwistle .

“Classical mythology has inspired many of Harrison Birtwistle’s theatre works and to open Aldeburgh Festival 2015 we are staging a new production of The Corridor, premiered at Aldeburgh in 2009, along with the world premiere of The Cure, new chamber work, written with poet David Harsent, his chief collaborator in recent years.”

This double bill brings together a 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.

Avant garde composer Pierre Boulez’s 90th birthday will be celebrated at this year’s Aldeburgh Festival with a multi-media retrospective.

Roger Wright says Pierre Boulez is arguably one of the most significant musicians of our time, both as composer and conductor.

“No doubt there will be a variety of celebrations throughout the year, but the Aldeburgh Festival will be the only place in Britain where you will be able to experience A Portrait of Pierre Boulez, a special event created by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, to help introduce the work of this amazing composer to new audiences.

“The idea was conceived by Gerard McBurney and developed in the United States as pre-concert attractions to illuminate music for all audiences, whether you’re a seasoned concert-goer or a complete newcomer. They proved so popular that they have now developed into events in their own right.”

This introduction to the world and the work of Pierre Boulez knits together 15 of his works in an 80 minute concert augmented with archive video footage, which mixes interviews with scenes of Boulez at work.

“This footage will be project onto a set designed by Frank Gehry and will open up music which will not be familiar to a lot of us but it will be an amazing way to discover something new.”

A Pierre Dream, will a very theatrical way of introducing audiences to a special man and his music.

This will be followed by Boulez Exploration, two performances in the Britten Studio which seek to put Boulez’s work into some context within the contemporary music landscape.

Introduced by Julian Anderson, they will be discussed and extracts played as illustrations before the whole piece is performed. “It is a wonderful way of breaking down barriers. It’s something the festival has done for years in that it introduces audiences to new music but it is done in a new way and takes the audience by the hand to help get a different soundscape in their heads.”

Aldeburgh Cinema has invited director Barrie Gavin to introduce his documentary Pierre Boulez - Living in the Present which has been woven together from a wealth of BBC archive material.

The Bandstand on the Beach

For the first time this year, Aldeburgh Festival is also offering an hour of free live music every day at Bandstand on the Beach, near the Moot Hall.

“Seeing the vibrant way Aldeburgh came to life for last year’s Musicircus,” said Roger Wright, “we learned how high quality music-making can sit in unusual places and engage lots of local musicians, so the notion of a bandstand on the beach is the next incarnation of that.”

From 1pm-2pm each day there will be a mix of musicians including international artists appearing at the main festival, non-classical artists appearing at The Pumphouse (including Kate Dimbleby, Vagabond Trills, Busking Sharks and Perhaps Contraption) and artists resident at Aldeburgh Music (including Britten–Pears Young Artists and Aldeburgh Young Musicians, plus grass-roots acts from Suffolk and beyond). It will include the mass-participation Rabble Chorus, hip hop-inspired drumming group Drumheads, New Orleans-style swing band Tuba Swingy and jazz singer Olivia Castle.

“It’s very much in the spirit of Musicircus, but not all happening at the same time in that same wonderful, mad way. It’s a really good opportunity to have that openness and celebration of music and music-making of all different types back on the beach,” said Roger.

Different Voices

The major Britten work this year will be The Prince and the Pagodas, his only full-length ballet work.

The festival will be brought to a close by the Britten–Pears Orchestra performing a rarely staged concert version of work, which will be conducted by Britten collaborator Oliver Knussen.

“This is a major work which is very rarely performed, and is unlike any other Britten piece,” said Roger Wright. “It was composed for The Royal Ballet in 1957 after a visit to Bali the previous year. Incorporating the layered rhythms and pentatonic scale of Balinese gamelan music, Britten’s orchestral score is also one of his most lusciously romantic.

“As part of this festival experience we are inviting people to take part in a number of gamelan workshops where they can explore the basic techniques of the gamelan, to have a go on a beautiful full set from Java and experience this beautiful music.

“We want to involve people and shine a light on some Britten’s more unfamiliar works and encourage orchestras to re-introduce Britten into their repertoire.”

Aldeburgh Cinema will also be offering audiences a rare opportunity to see a filmed version of The Prince and the Pagodas performed at the Royal Opera House in 1990 with Darcy Bussell, Jonathan Cope and Anthony Dowell.

Want to go?

The Aldeburgh Festival runs June 12-28. There’s a full visual arts programme to complement the music.

For full details, tickets and information about Snape Maltings Concert Hall go to

A Multi-Story Performance

One of the showcase performances this year will be by The Multi-Story Orchestra at Suffolk County Council’s Endeavour House Car Park in Constantine Road.

The 60-piece symphony orchestra and 100-strong choir, will perform Beethoven’s Creatures of Prometheus Overture, Aaron Copland’s Appalachian Spring and a new piece by composer and Multi-Story’s founder Kate Whitley.

The orchestra has attracted a lot of attention since it was founded in 2011 by Whitley and conductor Christopher Stark, with a first performance of Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring in a car park in Peckham Rye, London.

The Aldeburgh Festival concert will be the first time the orchestra has played outside London.

Kate Whitley said: “We are determined to take concerts out of traditional venues and give people a first chance to experience the power of live orchestral music. We haven’t done anything outside London so it’s absolutely ideal to come to Ipswich and work with Aldeburgh Music. There’s a guy who comes to Peckham every year who always brings his dog. And people bring their kids. The whole atmosphere will be so different to how you are normally sat in concert halls.

“The idea is take a space like this, which is in many ways a blank canvas. Nobody comes to it with any preconceptions except I’ll park my car here – that applies to anyone of any age, background, knowledge of art. That’s why car parks work well for concerts, there’s a lot of room and you feel like this has popped out of nowhere.”

The orchestra will be placed at one end, with the audience in a semi-circle close around it. People are free to stretch their legs and there will be refreshments on the roof.

“The conventional packaging of classical music has defined how it is generally perceived, but live, it can be one of the most exhilarating, visceral, subversive experiences – a thrill that traditional concert-going can numb.”

The Multi-Story Orchestra will be performing at Endeavour House Car Park on June 14 at 3pm.