Aldeburgh Festival marks 70th anniversary with series of events from June 9-25

Billy Budd by Benjamin Britten which is receiving its first performnace at The Aldeburgh Festiva;. P

Billy Budd by Benjamin Britten which is receiving its first performnace at The Aldeburgh Festiva;. Picture: Clive Barda - Credit: Archant

The 70th Aldeburgh Festival opens tomorrow with an eclectic programme of music. Arts editor Andrew Clarke spoke to Roger Wright about how the event has evolved while remaining true to its roots.

Multi-story Orchestra, Aldebugh Festival. Picture: SAM MURRAY-SUTTON

Multi-story Orchestra, Aldebugh Festival. Picture: SAM MURRAY-SUTTON - Credit: Archant

The Aldeburgh Festival, one of East Anglia’s cultural gems, unveils its 70th programme of concerts, walks, talks, films and visual arts tomorrow, and celebrates the 50th anniversary of the opening of the Snape Maltings Concert Hall.

Over the next 17 days, the Aldeburgh Festival will host 50 events in the main programme along with a further 30 non-classical events in the fringe venue The Pumphouse. There are also free family-friendly events every lunchtime at the Bandstand on the Beach in Aldeburgh.

Roger Wright, chief executive of Snape Maltings (formerly Aldeburgh Music), the organisation that stages the Aldeburgh Festival, says that although the festival has evolved over the years, the essential elements which Britten and Pears put in place 70 years ago still remain at the heart of the event.

“The key principle behind the Aldeburgh Festival remains unchanged in that this is an international festival but it is rooted on the Suffolk coast, the place that provided the inspiration for so much of Britten’s work.

Roger Wright outside the Snape Maltings Concert Hall. Picture: Matt Jolly

Roger Wright outside the Snape Maltings Concert Hall. Picture: Matt Jolly - Credit: Archant


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“Going back to that first festival in 1948, it was never just about Britten’s music. It was more about promoting a great range of new music, it was doing things in this extraordinary location, it was about combining local talents with international performers and engaging with the wider community.”

He said that the creation of The Snape Maltings Concert Hall was another remarkable demonstration of Britten’s forward-thinking approach to performance and community involvement.

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“We take for granted that former industrial buildings can be put to cultural purpose but at the time the transformation of The Maltings into a concert hall was really groundbreaking.

“What has developed rather than changed is the way that our music world has become more international and the nature of programming has reflected the fact that musicians and composers have a broader range of music and styles to be influenced and inspired by.

La Voix Humaine at the Aldeburgh Festival.. Claire Booth as 'L'. Picture: Polly Thomas

La Voix Humaine at the Aldeburgh Festival.. Claire Booth as 'L'. Picture: Polly Thomas - Credit: Archant

“Artists today don’t always want to be put in one particular box. They are more likely to be interested in a range of musics but also working with performers from a range of different genres.”

He said that this was then reflected by the range of residencies and workshops which were hosted by Aldeburgh Festival and Snape Maltings.

The Aldeburgh Festival runs from June 9-25.

Sound artist Bill Fontana who is creating a soundscape around the Snape Maltings. Picture: Sam Murra

Sound artist Bill Fontana who is creating a soundscape around the Snape Maltings. Picture: Sam Murray-Sutton - Credit: Archant

Aldeburgh Festival – Highlights

A Midsummer Night’s Dream (9, 11, 12 & 14 June)

At the 1967 festival, seven years after the work’s premiere, Britten chose his opera A Midsummer Night’s Dream to celebrate the newly opened Snape Maltings Concert Hall. The 2017 festival opens with a new production, directed and designed by Netia Jones, described by The Observer as ‘the most imaginative director of opera working in Britain today’. Conducted by Ryan Wigglesworth, the production features a cast of internationally renowned singers including Iestyn Davies (Oberon), Sophie Bevan (Tytania), Matthew Rose (Bottom), Clive Bayley (Theseus) and Andrew Shore (Quince).

Sitar star Nishat Khan who is performing at the Aldeburgh Festival. Picture: Snape Maltings

Sitar star Nishat Khan who is performing at the Aldeburgh Festival. Picture: Snape Maltings - Credit: Archant

Bill Fontana: Acoustic Visions – Snape Maltings (9 – 25 June)

Newly commissioned installation by pioneering American sound artist Bill Fontana exploring the hidden music of Snape’s natural environment and industrial heritage.

Billy Budd (24 & 25 June)

Never previously performed at Snape Maltings, Britten’s 1951 opera is conducted by Garry Walker in the company of Opera North’s acclaimed 2016 production in a specially-devised concert staging.

Hommage à Klaus Nomi (10 June)

Countertenor Andrew Watts and the London Sinfonietta perform Austrian composer Olga Neuwirth’s homage to the German singer, showman and countercultural hero – an anarchic, neon-lit encounter between Purcell, Weimar cabaret, bubblegum pop and The Wizard of Oz.

La Voix Humaine (15, 16 & 17 June)

A moving operatic experience in a mystery country house location… You are invited to a special, intimate drinks party in a country house near Snape. The host, Elle, is on the phone to her lover. It seems that their relationship is over. The party and the phone call continue simultaneously. Transferred to a domestic environment in a production devised by David Poutney, Poulenc’s moving setting of Jean Cocteau’s monodrama is music theatre at its most vivid and intense.

Nishat Khan: Indian raags at Orford Church (17 June)

Raags, the melodic backbone of Indian classical music, respond to and express every aspect of their environment: the atmosphere, the light, the location, and the shifting patterns of day and night. Through the course of a single day, sitar virtuoso Nishat Khan brings this tradition alive in the atmospheric sacred space of Orford Church. Starting at 8am, he creates music for each season of the day: a Suffolk summer morning, the point at which afternoon starts to tilt towards evening, and finally, late into the night, as the cycle of the day approaches its end and its renewal.

Music on the Meare (21 June)

A short indoor concert at Aldeburgh’s Jubilee Hall is followed by a vintage bus journey to the water of Thorpeness Meare, where you can relax in a rowing boat to hear a magical moment in Aldeburgh Festival heritage recreated.

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