With Summer at Snape around the corner, we talked with Fraser Wilson, Head of Performance & Public Engagement, about how the process works, his relationship with music and a first look into this year's Summer at Snape programme.
Tell us a bit about the Summer at Snape programme
It's a special time of year because the evenings are long, the weather is warm, the sun is out and people of all kinds are looking for lovely things to do out and about. Schools are on holiday and people visit Suffolk because it’s a wonderful destination. It’s just a delightfully rich, buzzing time of year and this year’s programme matches that.
The programme is now longer; the August Proms used to last for one month, but this summer programme is six weeks, basically over the school holidays, from the last week of July to the beginning of September.
There is a lot of variety – not just top-class artists from around the world, but plenty of opportunities to participate, to make music and get involved in the creative arts for people of all stages of life. We have also varied the format, so in addition to more formal concerts, there are short bite-sized taster events, free things and outdoor activities around the site. There’s more flexibility and more variety.
What does the planning process look like?
It began last summer everyone involved in running and attending all the events in the summer programme and reflecting on what worked. Then, we discussed what we would want to change for this year and laid down some parameters.
The performance team, for example, assembled a list of artists and then contacted those people and scheduled them one by one. The Community team said what groups they wanted to work with and what sessions they wanted, so those were knitted into the diagram. We had a master spreadsheet which, by the end, had 98 rows of things that were happening. There was a great team effort to unify everything. We might put a performance and a workshop on a particular day and then build the clusters of associated events we think would be of interest to our audiences.
Even compared to last summer, the world is a different place and it’s good to be responsive. A lot of people like shorter concerts, so we’re doing a series of concerts that are no more than an hour long. Being open to the permutations and possibilities of what people would like to see is really important.
The last stage of programming was putting it all together and writing descriptions of each thing that was happening. That was such fun because it’s a moment to go “wow, we’ve built this amazing programme”. The communications team have come up with a wonderful brand that I think people will love to see. Of course, in doing this process, it also makes us think about next year and we’ve already got our ears and eyes open to see what the 2024 summer programme will look like.
What other teams at Britten Pears Arts do you collaborate with?
With the summer programme, and indeed the Aldeburgh Festival programme that precedes, I have worked with pretty much everybody in the organisation. It’s pretty awesome for us to collaborate so easily and instinctively; it’s not just that the producers produce, the communications people communicate and the finance people manage the finances – we’re all one team.
What is your favourite thing about the design for Summer at Snape?
I love the brand. The stickers, the shapes, the colours, I just think these are such summery colours and they make me think of sunshine, big skies, ice creams, river trips. If I had seen this design and had to build a programme around it, I’d have built exactly the programme that we did.
Where did your love for music start?
One of my earliest childhood memories is standing under the fir trees at Snape Maltings being aged no more than about three. I grew up in Lowestoft, just up the coast, the son of a dentist, and was always fortunate to have musical opportunity. We had a piano at home. I got to study music at school and with my family, and I had opportunities to experience live music as well. We came to concerts here when I was small. I was always making music myself. I remember realising that this is a thing I can do and have used my musical opportunities to get involved in all sorts of things from composing and collaborating, to recording with people in different countries, and writing music that people can perform.
I've always had an understanding of music as a thing that creates opportunities that can take you places, that can open doors, that brings people together, that creates shared common ground for experiences that we can all have together. It is a force for good in the world, a source of wellbeing and transformation and change. It is fun, lively, enjoyable. It matches your mood, or consoles you or uplifts you. Music can play so many roles in people's lives, and I've been fortunate to experience quite a lot of them.
I’ve had the huge privilege of spending my working life and personal life helping to create those opportunities for and with others. To be able to do that here, in a place that in many ways feels like home, and which is endlessly challenging and exciting, is such a wonderful thing. This is where I first found my love of music, here in this county, among these reeds and with this big sky. I still love it.
What is the most rewarding part of your job?
It's when the activity happens. It's when a concert that has been planned for months, or in some cases, years, actually happens. The audience is there. They love it and you can feel the energy. The artist is thrilled by performing in our venue. You have this wonderful sense of ‘It's happening. This is it. This is music in action. In a sense, this is why we're here. This is the thing that brought us here.’ All of the time, effort, expertise and care that goes in from so many people, leads to that moment of truth, live in the room. I think that's so fulfilling. To be part of it. To enjoy other people experiencing it. To learn from it and then to set about creating another one. It's the reason we're all here.
What has been a highlight of your career?
One from Britten Pears Arts is the launch event for this year's festival, which was just before Christmas. We started earnestly planning this year's festival during last year's. Between June and December was six months of creative conversations, negotiations, scheduling, confirming, and then promoted launching. That night, therefore, felt like a turning point from the intense planning work to handing people the printed booklet and presenting the Festival programme. The reception on the night was really positive. We were joined by artists Pavel Kolesnikov and Samson Tsoy, Sarah Angliss, Phoebe Rainer and Nathan Williamson, Lauren Young and José Javier Ucendo and John Wilson. When the brochure came out, I picked a copy up and I said to myself, I helped to make that, as a small part of an amazing team. That was a real ‘pinch yourself’ moment.
There is something magical about hearing a thing that you made out in the world. A few years ago, I had music that I'd written performed live on Radio 3, by a group of singers, Apollo5, who had put my music on their album. I was in a pub and crept outside into the streets to listen to this live broadcast. I thought ‘wow, that was me. I helped make that. I'm part of that’. But it's not about you, it is almost like you're part of the process. And what I love, I suppose, is I love being part of that connection, that creative process. But it does stop you in your tracks when some people sing on the radio and the presenter says, that was blah, blah, blah, by Fraser Wilson. And you think ‘What? That's me!’.
Another career highlight. In Sheffield, we used to put on concerts with resources and participation so that young children could have a really immersive musical experience, which was good for their learning, their development, their confidence, their self-esteem. There was something special about that project, which gave them such an incredible experience at such a young age. I think all young people should have those opportunities and that provision, which they all deserve. I think music is a human right. I think it's as important as water. To be involved with that project, with all of those really important ideals at the heart of it, which took that music making every bit as seriously and treated it with as much importance as the adult concerts, to do justice to our youngest audiences, or our oldest ones or our most unexpected ones. And to do that with integrity and with passion and with joy was wonderful and something which I often think about and always want to bring to whatever I'm involved with. It's about the whole range of musical possibilities.
What do you enjoy most about your job?
Helping to find ways, like creative producing, when you have got all the ingredients, and you make them into a successful thing that can and does work. Which might involve working with artists who have a really great seed of an idea, and helping them to shape it, and then turn it into something real for the stage. Or it could be bringing together four or five performances or different aspects into a day, scores of them into a festival, building a programme, and doing that with my friends and colleagues and in conversation with artists and audiences. Being part of that creative process, that connected machine, that infrastructure. Doing it in this amazing place - I get to travel in every morning under the big sky and then get to work here, what a privilege. I wander around the reedbeds and think how fortunate I am to do this here. Being here in this place, which has inspired so many people, that certainly inspires me.