Aldeburgh Festival keeps its cutting-edge as it explores new territory
- Credit: Archant
Planning for this year’s Aldeburgh Festival is now well under way. Arts editor Andrew Clarke spoke to chief executive Roger Wright about how the festival is changing with the times
This year’s Aldeburgh Festival has a feel of a major cultural event that has been given a thorough spring clean. It has the same look, the same special atmosphere, the same quality when it comes to performers and events but it feels brighter, more colourful, more embracing than it has been for many years.
It’s a festival that is determined to reinvent itself for the modern age and make some more friends while doing it. The cultural and geographical reach of this year’s festival is also rather impressive. The programme includes everything from new opera, live music accompaniment to silent film, a bandstand on Aldeburgh beach, cutting edge contemporary art, a thriving fringe festival at The Pumphouse and an audacious car park concert in Ipswich.
This is in addition to a celebration/introduction to the work of veteran composer Pierre Boulez, an exploration of world music, George Benjamin is artist-in-residence and this year also sees a revival of Benjamin Britten’s only full-length ballet score The Prince of the Pagodas.
This is also the first festival produced under the auspices of new chief executive Roger Wright and he has announced a desire for the festival to spread its wings geographically as well as culturally. As a result the festival will be stretching its influence out from the Snape Maltings Concert Hall and staging events in a variety of different venues including Blythburgh and Aldeburgh churches, the Jubilee Hall and Aldeburgh Cinema.
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For the first time, the Aldeburgh Festival will be staging a major concert in Ipswich. The intriguingly-named Multi-Story Orchestra will be performing a 45-minute concert in an Ipswich car park – creating a programme around Copland’s Appalachian Spring.
Mr Wright said that one of the strengths of the Aldeburgh Festival was its ability to bring world-class talent together for a fortnight of creativity on the Suffolk coast.
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“The festival has this ability to attract extraordinary international artists. It is pretty amazing that in this two-week period you get the range and diversity of musical experience in places where you wouldn’t normally expect that range and diversity to appear.
“The other important factor is that although this is the 68th Aldeburgh Festival, the vision of the festival has remained largely unchanged since 1948 when Britten founded it – although the world and the circumstances surrounding it have changed enormously.
“The focus of the festival remains squarely on that sense of continuity between the composer, the performer and the listener and it is very important that new music remains at the heart of the event and this audience will fall happily into the arms of Bach, Haydn or Schubert but are equally happy to accompany us on a journey to different sorts of music that they don’t know.”
He added that Britten and Peter Pears, along with colleague Imogen Holst, always programmed new music into the festival, so a sense of exploration and discovery has always been an integral part of the make-up of the Aldeburgh Festival. “The idea behind the festival was pretty far-out. I think if someone suggested it now, it just wouldn’t happen. No-one would be brave enough but because we have had 68 successful years everyone knows the idea works.”
He said that creating a new Aldeburgh Festival for the 21st Century was very important, so the festival was kept as fresh and alive now as it was when it was founded.
“When I took over one of the first things I was asked was: ‘Grimes on the Beach and Musicircus were very successful. Will you be repeating them?’ But I want to do something that is more interesting than that. I don’t repeat things, I want to develop new things that are building on the success of those events that have gone before. So, this year we are unveiling Bandstand on the Beach which is a free, daily presence in Aldeburgh which will be a fun thing and will be programmed a lot closer to the time. But, it will involve a combination of musicians from the local area and visiting festival artists.”
One of the big showcase elements of the 2015 festival is the Multi-Story Orchestra which is going to perform at an, as yet un-named, location. “This is a remarkable beast which started life in a Peckham car park and we are bringing it to Ipswich. This is all part of the festival not making an assumption that people are automatically going to come to us. We want to be open enough and flexible enough to go to them and find new audiences, reach out to them and do things in an exciting and innovative way.”
A limited allocation of free tickets will be made available for Ipswich residents.
He said that both audiences and performers like spending time in Suffolk. “It’s not a jetting in and jetting out festival. People like to stay and mingle. Many of the performers are staying for ten days and playing several concerts over an extended period of time and enjoy being in Suffolk, soaking up the festival atmosphere.”
One of the innovations for this year is to create packed, diverse programmes for the weekends – which are designed to attract visitors who are staying for a three-day break and want to sample a cross-section of the festival in a short period of time.
“Part of this will be the amazing Aimard, Benjamin and Friends concert on Saturday, June 20 which will bring some powerhouse performers together, including Pierre-Laurent Aimard and George Benjamin, who will be playing Ravel, Debussy, Benjamin and the world premiere of a new piece by Martin Suckling. The performance will be in the Britten-Studio to give it a late-night, impromptu feel.”
The Aldeburgh Festival runs from June 12-28.