The Aldeburgh Festival 2018
Tony Cooper previews the programme
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 8th to Sunday 24th June. The luminous line-up features such notable artists as Anne-Sophie von Otter and Sir Bryn Terfel and eminent ensembles like Harry Christophers’ The Sixteen and the John Wilson Orchestra. As always, there is a wealth of new music, including premières by Emily Howard, Harrison Birtwistle, Michael Hersch and Simon Holt.
A key programme strand is ‘Britten and America’, to coincide with the centenary of the inspirational composer, conductor and educator, Leonard Bernstein. His connections with and parallels to Britten are fascinating. 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 established.
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. They will be making their Aldeburgh Festival début. Claire Chase explores the radical edge of American music ranging from Edgard Varèse, French born but who 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 centenary of Edgard Varèse’s iconic piece ‘Density 21.5’ for solo flute.
The outstanding French period-instrument ensemble, Le Concert Spirituel, will give three concerts (12th, 13th and 14th 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, entitled ‘To See the Invisible’ (8th, 10th and 11th June) promises to be 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 known for its 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 will undertake two concerts comprising works by Britten, Bernstein and Copland (8th and 9th June) while the John Wilson Orchestra (10th June) will deliver a 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.
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’. She will be performing a brand-new solo programme each year until 2036. A programme entitled ‘Density 2036’ will be featured on 14th June followed by ‘Feldman at Sunrise’ on 16th 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’s staged concert with the Mahler Chamber Orchestra, ‘Bye-Bye Beethoven’ (22nd June) offers a voyage through the revolutionary voices that shaped and redefined music from Bach to the present day. With the remarkable violinist Kopatchinskaja at the helm, the concert will doubtless steer a fascinating and 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. The following day, she returns to explore her native Moldovan roots with her violin- and cimbalom-playing parents. ‘Classical music is like a ship,’ she 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.’
A typically ambitious Aldeburgh Festival event on 18th 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 (24th June) accompanied by Malcolm Martineau in a 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. She grew up in Suffolk and is fascinated by the transformation and dilution of the county’s accent. Following her residency at Snape Maltings last year, Ms Heriz will present her immersive sound installation at the Pond Gallery 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, creating a modern soundscape that tells of migration, globalisation and the transitory patterns of our region.
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. Enjoy…
For the complete programme visit:
TONY COOPER is QR’s Opera Critic