Aldeburgh Festival blossoms
By Andrew Clarke
From EADT.co.uk - 20 June 2006
The world renowned Aldeburgh Festival opens this week. This year the annual music event started by composer Benjamin Britten as an antidote to the austerity years following the Second World War is celebrating its 59th anniversary.
What started as a small scale event held over the course of two weekends at a number of local churches and Aldeburgh's Jubilee Hall is now a massive international event commanding live broadcast time on BBC's Radio Three. Today the scope and range of The Aldeburgh Festival is encompasses a much larger view than it did in Britten's day even when the festival venue moved down to the road to the purpose built Snape Maltings concert hall in the late 1960s. Although, Britten used the Festival to showcase his new works, the Festival was never exclusively about his music. It was designed to showcase new works by contemporary composers, particularly British composers, and to revive neglected classics.
Today that guiding principle still continues and the programme is put together by the Festival's long standing artistic director Thomas Ades with that in mind and although music remains the central focus of the festival, it is no longer solely a music event. Today, the Aldeburgh Festival embraces a whole range of diverse events including films, art exhibitions, walks, lectures, cabaret and a programme of fringe festival events which runs at the Pump House in Aldeburgh alongside the main concert programme at the Snape Maltings.
Aldeburgh Productions chief executive Jonathan Reekie said: “The Aldeburgh Festival includes the usual eclectic mix of old and new, internationally-renowned artists and emerging talent, music from the 17th Century to the present day. It performs at a wide variety of venues ranging from Snape Maltings Concert Hall, local churches, a former military airbase, and this year for the first time, Southwold Pier.“ A major new departure is Faster Than Sound, a 'sound experiment' including DJs, sound installations, electronic music and artists performing in the main Festival programme. This event at Bentwaters Airbase on June 24 aims to attract a new, younger audience.Meanwhile the Pumphouse, now in its seventh year, is where the Festival lets its hair down with everything from magic to performance poetry, comedy and the cutting edge of new music.” At a time when Aldeburgh Productions is developing its music education programme and has been declared a centre of European excellence by the Arts Council it is fitting that several of this year's highlights include concerts involving singers or musicians from the Britten-Pears Young Artist Programme. The Festival opens with a performance of Stravinksy's The Rake's Progress, which brings together singers from the Britten-Pears Programme and the Philharmonia Orchestra. Anita Crowe, Director of Artist Development at Aldeburgh Productions, which runs the Britten-Pears Programme and the Aldeburgh Festival, said: “It is so exciting for these young singers to be working with a world-class orchestra, experienced conductor Martyn Brabbins and director Neil Bartlett. The cast have been chosen through our international audition process: three of them are from Canada, one from the US and the others are UK-based.” It's not just Britten-Pears Programme singers who will get their chance to shine at the Aldeburgh Festival. Following a five-day course with Aldeburgh veteran Oliver Knussen, the Britten-Pears Orchestra will present a programme of 20th and 21st Century music, including Dutilleux's Correspondences with Barbara Hannigan (June 24). A second course, this time led by period string players Elizabeth Wallfisch and Alison McGillivray, culminates in the Britten-Pears Baroque Orchestra performing works by Handel, Bach, Locatelli and Vivaldi (June 14).
Two other major Artist Development showcases during the 2006 Aldeburgh Festival are productions of Raymond Yiu's The Original Chinese Conjurer (June 15, 17 & 18), a piece for vaudeville-style music hall, and Emily Hall's chamber opera Sante (June 22), an experimental story of love and betrayal set in the weeks running up to the Rwandan genocide. The 2006 programme also sees appearances from festival favourites like pianist Pierre-Laurent Aimard (June 11), Britten Sinfonia (June 16), the Belcea Quartet (June 18), Ian Bostridge and Craig Ogden with the Birmingham Contemporary Music Group (June 19), and three concerts with the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, conducted respectively by Sakari Oramo (June 17), Michael Seal (June 25) and Aldeburgh Festival Artistic Director Thomas Adès (also June 25). Artists making their Aldeburgh Festival debuts include Trio Ondine (June 13), recent Aldeburgh Residency participants Robin Ticciati and his ensemble Aurora (June 22), and the Royal String Quartet (June 23).
Woven throughout the Festival are the words of Britten's friend and collaborator, W.H. Auden. As well as The Rake's Progress for which Auden wrote the libretto, and a recital of existing and newly-commissioned works composed to Auden's poems (June 12), the Festival programme is additionally peppered with performances of Britten's settings of Auden's words, including Cabaret Songs and Night Mail (June 13).
The Rake's Progress forms the central theme of this year's festival with a rare screening of Sydney Gilliat and Frank Launder's 1945 film starring a youthful Rex Harrison. It's a magnificent comedy which is rarely seen and still has a lot to say about the public attitude towards the crusty British establishment. The Rake's Progress is being screened at Aldeburgh Cinema on June 12 at 2.30pm. Jonathan Reekie said that there are a strong selection of films this year, each designed to complement a musical strand of the Festival, in addition to The Rake's Progress, there was Theremin - An Electronic Odyssey (June 15), examines the extraordinary life of Leonard Theremin, the inventor of the world's first electronic music instrument; and Pandora's Box, one of the last great silent films, followed by a documentary about the film's star Louise Brooks, entitled In Search of Lulu (June 22).
A late edition to the Festival programme is Murmurations, which follows the screening of Theremin: An Electronic Odyssey at the Aldeburgh Cinema (June 15). Murmurations will bring alive some early electronic musical instruments, offering the opportunity for hands-on encounters with the theremin, the trautonium, rare analogue modular synthesizers and other fascinating antique creations. As an alternative to spending the day indoors at the cinema or at a concert, why not join in one of the Festival walks? There are two walks during the Festival, with coaches departing from the Moot Hall in Aldeburgh. The first is in the Stowmarket area, taking in the tiny village of Onehouse with its Saxon church, the ancient Northfield Wood, and the Museum of East Anglian Life (June 14), while the second is at Minsmere Nature Reserve, exploring the wondrous labyrinth of paths and hides (June 20).
Then there's Faster Than Sound, a super-sonic experience at Bentwaters Airbase that features a mixture of top-level performers and quirky installations (June 24). Bringing together artists including Venetian Snares, Luke Vibert, Mira Calix and Tim Exile, as well as pieces from the Sonic Arts Research Archive, Faster Than Sound will join the dots between the ever-evolving worlds of classical and electronica music, for what will be the first large scale music experiment of its kind. For more information please visit www.fasterthansound.com
As a warm-up to Faster Than Sound, Alexander's Annexe will perform at the Jubilee Hall in Aldeburgh, with support from Goodiepal (June 23). This is a return visit to Aldeburgh for Alexander's Annexe (Warp Records DJ Mira Calix, pianist Sarah Nicolls and sound designerDavid Sheppard), who performed to a sell-out crowd at the Pumphouse last yearfollowing a series of Aldeburgh Residencies.
For art-lovers there is the exhibition The Poetry of Crisis: British Art 1935-1950 at the Peter Pears Gallery, above the Aldeburgh Productions Box Office and the Tourist Information Centre, on Aldeburgh High Street. The exhibition shows the extraordinary diversity of styles explored as artists examined notions of 'Englishness' or of an English art, and includes works byTrevelyan, Nash, Bridgwater and Craxton. There is also an exhibition exploring 40 years of cover design for Faber Music scores, at Snape Maltings Concert Hall Gallery, and Wild Echoes at the Britten-Pears Library, focusing on Benjamin Britten's work in less familiar fields. Last but not least there's the Pumphouse, the Aldeburgh Festival's informal, alternative performance venue and bar. Open Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays from June 10-24 , the Pumphouse offers everything from poetry, comedy and cabaret to sculpture workshops, jazz and classical music, as well as the second Pumphouse Open Mic Session (earplugs not provided).Performances this year include new music from PowerPlant, lunch-time favourites the Badke Quartet and Drumcliffe; jazz from Ambulance, who recently took part in an Aldeburgh Residency; clay-figure self-portrait workshops with Shirley Jones; comedy from Michael Mcintyre; a selection of sea-related readings from Libby Purves; and a performance by Edinburgh Fringe favourite Mike Maran of Novecento, an extraordinary tale about a ship's pianist.Making return visits are popular Pumphouse performers Phyll et Gilles, DominicMuldowney, the Camberwell Composers' Collective, Fay Presto, and the Sonny and Cher of 'four hands on one piano', Cal Fell and Humphrey Burton.