On a winter's day, Britten Pears Arts' Executive Director, Sarah Bardwell, pays a visit to Benjamin Britten and Peter Pears' home, and finds it anything but hibernating...
Sometimes it can feel rather frustrating waking up on an unexpectedly sunny winter Saturday and deciding it would be the perfect moment to visit and explore a museum, historic house or heritage site, only to realise (sometimes rather too late) that it is closed for the winter.
I sometimes feel equally disappointed that one of Britten Pears Arts’ jewels, The Red House, is also not open to visitors in the winter months. But we really need the time to do vital work, maintenance, organisation and re-presentation.
One day recently, I was working from the Red House offices and was given a timely insight as to why we need this time to review and re-set. Activity as usual has started early with the garden team dealing with the fallout from Storm Eunice. Luckily for The Red House garden, there was not too much impact. One tree was completely lost, but otherwise there was little damage. With fewer hours of daylight, as well as days of work completely knocked out by extreme weather, the team really need to plan their winter work carefully as well as prepare for the unexpected.
Whilst the gardeners dealt with the clean-up, inside there was a team of three hanging the vinyl panels for the 2022 exhibition. This is a precision task which takes patience and accuracy. Not dissimilar from hanging wallpaper although I suspect with rather less room for error. From what I have seen so far, the 2022 exhibition Britten and Women is going to be fascinating. Stay tuned for more information about it in subsequent articles.
The exhibition mounting team were working to the strains of Britten's first string quartet. The Hill Quartet was being coached in the library by Hélène Clément (viola player from the Doric String Quartet, who plays on Britten’s own viola). What a thrill it must be to play Britten's music in his library.
Meanwhile, the entrance hallway to the office area was being painted. It is a high traffic area used by musicians, gardeners, volunteers, staff, contractors, couriers, and, perhaps slightly more bizarrely, it is also where the printer lives. So, after nearly 10 years, it is rather overdue a repaint.
Back in the garden, three sculptures were being repositioned. We are hoping to develop more of a trail to follow, as well as differentiating between work that Britten and Pears bought themselves, and items that were given to the organisation after their deaths. It feels important to make this distinction. With this guidance in mind, "Thumbsucker" by Georg Ehrlich has been placed in a wild garden area yet can still just be glimpsed from the rose terrace. Also, two newer works, one by Geoffrey Clark and another by his son Jonathan have been moved to frame the archive building and sit more closely to Geoffrey’s work Sirens.
As they say in those reality tv programmes, this all took place in the space of one single day. So, I can reassure you that The Red House team are certainly not hibernating. Next time I wake up on a sunny wintery morning all set for an outing, I think it might be a walk along the Sailor's Path ending up with a coffee and a large slice of cake at Snape Maltings.
The Red House will re-open on Thursday 24 March 2022
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