The Britten Pears Young Artist Programme will be 50 in 2022. This year the programme is changing to focus on year-round development for a group of composers, performers and ensembles. One of our new 2021-22 Britten Pears Young Artists, composer Robin Haigh gives an insight into how it’s going so far.

by Robin Haigh

Being a Britten Pears Young Artist means a lot of things. There’s the legacy of Benjamin Britten and Peter Pears themselves, romantic and musical partners, and founders of Aldeburgh Festival. Between them, their musical roles were composer and instrumental performer, and singer, and this is reflected in the singers, composers and instrumentalists chosen to continue this legacy in 2021.

Then there’s the commitment to create a new project for Aldeburgh Festival 2022 – whether the project is a new piece, a performance, an installation or a film. There’s also the legacy of the Britten Pears Young Artist Programme itself, which will celebrate its 50th anniversary in 2022, and for me in particular the contemporary composition and performance course started by Britten’s successors, Colin Matthews and Oliver Knussen in 1992.

It is very much in the forefront of my mind that the 2021/22 iteration of the composition course is different in many ways to the earlier version, which, I’m comfortable saying, I applied for unsuccessfully on multiple occasions.

Many pieces I treasure were created in the courses. The stories of legendary cohorts – for example, the first ever course which featured Thomas Adès and Julian Anderson as students – are many. While that programme was an intensive crash-course on collaborating with a fairly specific large ensemble, my peers and I were offered a broader, year-long process of creative exploration that could lead to whatever we felt would best serve our own goals, provided it could form some part of the 2022 Aldeburgh Festival. I don’t know the details of how the year will develop, but for now, I am finding the current version of the course with its flexibility, scope, and sense of large-scale camaraderie to be really rewarding.

So far, we have met for two full-cohort residencies with as many of the composers, ensembles, pianists and singers are able to find time away from their already burgeoning professional calendars. During this time we have done workshops to uncover our own artistic identities, learned about each other's work and values, and more recently received fascinating and thought provoking seminars and workshops from Zubin Kanga, Larry Goves and Lore Lixenberg. Simply being in the same surroundings with the rest of the cohort so often has already created extremely strong bonds before anyone has even written a note of music for our festival projects.

On that topic, I will give a glimpse of my plans for my commission. I hope to write a twenty minute piece for four trombone soloists and large ensemble. This goes considerably beyond the scope of what would have been available to composers in previous years and is very much in line with my artistic goals at present – to write works on a much larger scale that I have had the opportunity to create to in the past.

The inspiration for this piece was very much facilitated by the conversations and collaborations that have occurred at our residencies, allowing me to get to know the incredibly talented and dynamic Slide Action trombone quartet. The freedom to dream big on this course has gone far beyond even the freest of previous opportunities and has struck me as showing an incredible and rare commitment from Britten Pears Arts to its Young Artists and their goals.

With the world as it is, I will not be too hasty to predict what the future holds for our cohort of Young Artists, but I hope and predict that future excursions to Aldeburgh and Snape will lead to even richer collaborations, discussions, and moments of musical breakthrough.

Robin Haigh

Britten Pears Young Artist Programme 2021