Aldeburgh: £4.7m Benjamin Britten archive building is officially opened by Dame Janet Baker
Legendary opera singer Dame Janet Baker hit all the right notes when she officially opened a new £4.7m archive centre that will store the work of one of England’s finest composers.
Celebrations to mark the 100th anniversary of the birth of Benjamin Britten are now in full swing and nowhere more so than at his former home of the Red House in Aldeburgh.
The archive centre – designed by Stirling prize-winning architects Stanton Williams - was made possible thanks to investment from the Britten-Pears Foundation (BPF) and a £1.4m grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF).
It will house the most comprehensive collection of works by any composer in the world and tells the story of Britten‘s creative and personal life.
Dame Janet – a member of Aldeburgh’s English Opera Group and a close friend of Britten – was joined at the opening by Dame Jenny Abramsky, chairman of the HLF, BPF director Richard Jarman and the organisation’s chairman, Nicholas Prettejohn.
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She said she was honoured and privileged to officially open the archive centre. Adressing the gathering she described the Red House as a “magnetic” place. “He [Britten] chose this particular place in which to put down roots,” she said. “A place that inspired him, encouraged him, nourished him and gave him enough imagery to produce the body of work he left to us.
“The needs and hopes of creative people are to a certain extent hidden. They inhabit a world most of us can’t enter. But the life Ben lived her in the Red House is the reason for its magnetic hold for everyone who came here and continues to do so.”
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Commenting on the archive centre she said she could not think of a more appropriate setting in which to store Britten’s vast body of work.
“Composers, researchers and musicologists have the opportunity to spend time under Ben’s roof and experience the peace that he sought all his life,” she added. “It could perhaps be the project closest to his heart.”
Mr Jarman paid tribute to everyone involved in the project - including BPF staff, volunteers, the architects, builders, contractors, members of the design team and those who supported the scheme financially .
“Benjamin Britten can surely lay claim to being one of the great composers of the 20th Century,” he said. “But for one detail he has surely no rival. He was a master hoarder. It seems nothing was thrown away. We can be very grateful. The incomparable collections of manuscripts, letters, photographs, recordings and artefacts give us a rich and deep picture of Britten’s working life, friendships, cultural history of his time and of course his great creations.
“Aldeburgh will become a place of real pilgrimage for Britten lovers from all over the world.”
The low-energy archive building is the first major purpose-built composer archive in the UK and includes the re-creation of Britten’s studio in situ.
It was built following extensive consultation with the local community to ensure the design was appropriate for the surrounding area.
The space freed up on the site has also been used to develop exhibition and education facilities, which will enable the BPF to bring Britten’s life and music to many more visitors.