Interview with George Lee, Britten Pears Young Artist Programme Manager.
Please give a brief summary of Chamber Music in Residence and Friday Lunchtime Concerts.
Chamber Music in Residence, which is part of the Britten Pears Young Artist Programme, is a series of two week residencies offering emerging ensembles the opportunity to undertake intensive study, rehearsal and reflection.
The residencies look really different for each ensemble, depending on what they need. Some just need time to learn their music and rehearse because it can be really hard for early career freelance musicians to prioritise time together and find suitable rehearsal space for three or four musicians. Some ensembles want to explore new music, whilst others use it as a chance to prepare for big events, concerts or competitions.
Each group generally does two Friday Lunchtime Concerts as the output of their residency. As with all BPYAP courses, they don't pay anything to be here; we cover all travel costs, accommodation and lunch each day.
Can the artists choose anyone as their tutor?
They can choose anyone in the world. The most important part of a Chamber Residency is that they get to choose whoever they want. It might be someone that they have always wanted to work with or someone who will really help them with one particular aspect of their work as an ensemble. They have two full days with their tutor so they can do whatever they want – and quite often, they'll go for lunch or have tea and coffee with the tutors. There’s as much tuition focussed on playing as there is about what it’s like to be a musician and make an ensemble work in a sustainable way.
What do artists gain from doing Chamber Music in Residence?
It’s all about time and space. Allowing groups to reconnect with why they do this, why they play together, to explore new ways of working on music, and to rehearse new concert programmes. For lots of groups who are at this stage of their careers, because they are not working full-time in a chamber group or string quartet, being in a chamber ensemble is just part of what they do. Often, it’s really difficult for them to carve out that time as a group and protect it; if they’re working with orchestras, other chamber ensembles or their own solo projects, actually finding two weeks to keep the diary free can be really hard. Similarly, finding a rehearsal space that is big enough or has a good acoustic can be really tricky. By coming on a chamber residency at Snape Maltings, ensembles block out two weeks and do nothing else but focus on their work as an ensemble. We provide them with one of our world class rehearsal spaces for two weeks in the Suffolk countryside.
Are there any particular stories from the residencies that have resonated with you?
My favourite stories that come out of the residencies are often about how groups reconnect as friends as well as musicians. Often our location and the freedom we provide can help groups remember why they decided to play together in the first place. Artists often explore the countryside in rehearsal breaks, go on morning swims, do group yoga in the mornings and cook together. The time away from normal life helps ensembles just connect as people, beyond their relationship as colleagues.
There are also really lovely stories of tutors taking extra time to go for lunch or dinner and really get to know the ensembles. These are often the moments when the real gems of knowledge get passed on to the next generation or mentors share stories from their careers.
What is your role on a Chamber Music Residency?
Whilst groups are here the BPYAP team will get to know them quite well. I've had conversations with ensembles here who were feeling really lost about what the next step was, and I spent some time listening and helping them find their way. Quite often we get groups that are really outstanding but just need a sounding board to bounce ideas off and offer a different perspective. It’s about being a critical friend, rather than advisor or mentor and helping them work out what their identity is as a group, what they're interested in and how they can then make that into a sustainable career.
How does the location of Snape Maltings impact a Chamber Music Residency?
It just lets them switch off from normal life and focus on the music. I think there is something in the history of the place and the programme. We offer them time at the Red House and the archive, some of them even have the library as their residency space. There's a strong connection to the past of the programme and the people that have come through Snape and Aldeburgh. Often ensembles will play music written by Britten or Imogen Holst. We've got a group this year doing some works by both composers, and the time to explore that music in Snape is really special. There's a feeling that young artists are part of that legacy and lineage that comes with a programme that's been running for 50 years.
What makes Friday Lunchtime Concerts special?
I think it’s the audience. The audience are really loyal, have been coming for a long time and know their stuff. There is an incredibly warm and welcoming feeling in the room, everyone is there to support the young artists. Every group that comes off stage always says it was such a friendly environment and that makes it really special for them to perform there. There’s also something in Jubilee Hall, it’s a venue with so much history; all the groups and musicians that have played there before, the history of Britten and being the original home of the Aldeburgh Festival. I think that's quite special for groups to discover.
Coming to watch these concerts gives audiences a chance to see the next generation of incredible chamber ensembles as they are just starting their careers and building something as a group together. Many of the ensembles have gone off to forge starry careers as groups and quite a lot of them have come back in later years to perform in the Festival or returned to teach on the young artist programme. It's a unique chance to see chamber groups when they're fresh and working out what they want their career to look like.
Do you remember the first Friday Lunchtime Concert you went to?
I do. It was the first Friday Lunchtime Concert that had happened in two years due to the pandemic. I remember being immediately struck by how invested the audience were, so many people had dearly missed these concerts and I know the ensemble performing absolutely loved it. We encourage all the groups to introduce themselves and talk about what they're going to play, and that first group did such a marvellous job, everyone left the Jubilee Hall feeling thoroughly charmed!
How would you describe this year’s line-up?
This year's line-up is really interesting and varied. We've got a selection of up and coming groups from across the UK and Europe performing such widely ranging repertoire. We've got some really phenomenal string quartets, but we've also got a really dynamic, interesting early music group. For those that want to try something a bit different we have a group called Dopey Monkey, a Euphonium, Tuba and percussion trio based in Norway. They sit within the contemporary classical genre but they write all their own music and have a truly unique voice as an ensemble. The Chamber groups emerging on the scene now are exploring and programming lots more music written by diverse voices and that makes for an exciting series of lunchtime concerts.
What do you see for Chamber Music in Residency and Friday Lunchtime Concerts going forward?
The Chamber Music in Residence series is such a core part of what we do, which we are of course planning to continue. It's one of the most special parts of the Britten Pears Young Artist Programme, the freedom, time and space is quite unique. There aren't many places in the UK, or even across Europe that offer chamber ensembles something like this. We're currently open for applications for the next year's programme, which includes Chamber Music in Residence again. There's a real need for this type of support. Every time we welcome a group to Snape they always say how transformative their time here has been.