by Roger Wright, Chief Executive, Britten Pears Arts.
Announcing plans for artistic activity is a moment of release. Often the ideas have been long in the planning, and so to be able to talk about them and share our excitement with audiences is really special. This feels particularly strong in the spirit of festivals – those special gatherings in which audiences and performers interact, share experiences, ideas and responses and move on, enriched and changed by their contact and encounters.
We are lucky in Suffolk, against the backdrop of huge skies and with an abundance of birdlife, to be able to see and marvel at the wonder of murmurations, when flocks of birds fly together, change direction and swoop with energy and grace. It’s not too much of a stretch of the imagination to think of this as a representation of the thrill of the festival experience where friends gather, new friendships are formed, lives are changed and new perspectives are revealed.
The celebration of music and place has always been at the heart of the Aldeburgh Festival and as we reveal our plans for June 2023, we look forward to hearing music, familiar and new, in the unique surroundings and landscapes of Snape Maltings, Aldeburgh and other Suffolk settings.
From the beginning, when the vision of Benjamin Britten and Peter Pears created the Festival with their friends back in 1948, composers and performers have always shaped the programme.
The 2023 Festival has two composers (Anna Thorvaldsdottir and Cassandra Miller) and two performers (pianist Pavel Kolesnikov and baritone and composer Roderick Williams) as featured musicians. They have helped us curate the Festival and their work runs like a shining thread through the programme.
Anna is renowned for her mighty, elemental scores recalling the wild natural landscapes of Iceland, her home country. Cassandra’s music is hauntingly atmospheric and often draws on existing composed music (and birdsong) to entrance with a mixture of playfulness and spirituality. Pavel Kolesnikov has already made a name for himself as one of today’s most acclaimed pianists and has also built a reputation as a thinker, programmer and exploring mind. He will give seven concerts across his residency including a number with his pianist partner Samson Tsoy. Roderick Williams’ residency showcases every aspect of his artistry from masterclasses, chamber music with friends, orchestral collaborations and his own compositions and arrangements. He closes the Festival with the world premiere of his new arrangement of Schubert’s song cycle Die schöne Müllerin. This arrangement is for baritone and string quartet, and Roderick is joined by the Carducci Quartet.
This concert is one of a number of events celebrating the art of the string quartet with some of leading quartets playing today. Chamber music has always played a key role in our Festival, particularly the juxtaposition of much-loved established classics and new work. The Danish String Quartet play Schubert and Thorvaldsdottir, the Heath Quartet includes Fanny Mendelssohn and Nathan Williamson, the Kreutzer Quartet plays music by Mozart and David Matthews, the Ligeti Quartet plays Ligeti in his centenary year. Across the Festival we also have the chance to hear the three Britten quartets, see four contemporary quartets in film treatments by Tim Hopkins and enjoy the Ravel and Debussy quartets in a world premiere staging by Bill Barclay based on letters by Rilke and Kappus. The music of Britten is always included here and the presentation of new opera has been a regular feature too. The 2023 Festival opens with a Britten Pears Arts commission and world premiere of Sarah Angliss’ new opera Giant which tells the story of the 18th-century “Irish giant” who was betrayed in the name of science. Written for five voices, Giant uses eighteenth century instruments, live electronics and bespoke music machines as it vividly recalls an extraordinary story that resonates through the ages.
There is a wealth of orchestral music on offer with visits from the BBC Philharmonic, BBC Symphony, CBSO, Knussen Chamber Orchestra, Britten Sinfonia and the Festival debut of John Wilson’s remarkable Sinfonia of London, described recently as “quite simply the most exciting thing currently happening on the British orchestral scene". Their two concerts are just some of the mini-residencies also featured this year – so come and hear the Kings Singers, pianist, composer and conductor Ryan Wigglesworth, the Bozzini Quartet, the soprano Juliet Fraser in a range of performances.
There is so much I haven’t mentioned – the remarkable dance project, the talks, the films, the visual art exhibitions. Let the murmurations begin!
The 74th Aldeburgh Festival runs from 09 – 25 June, 2023. Booking opens for members on 10 January.