Aldeburgh’s Roger Wright has a room with a view and a vision for the future
- Credit: Archant
Roger Wright, former controller of BBC Radio 3 and artistic director of the annual Proms concerts at the Royal Albert Hall, loves the view from his office.
Situated on the top floor of the admin buildings which abut the Snape Maltings Concert Hall, he can see out over the reed beds towards Iken and Aldeburgh. Cross the room and looking out of the other window he can see the hustle and bustle around the Hoffman Building in the main Snape Maltings complex.
He loves being at the centre of things and as the new chief executive of Aldeburgh Music he plans to make sure the Suffolk-based centre of musical excellence is at the heart of local cultural life.
He wants to reach out to other local cultural institutions and find out how they can work together to tell the world about what is happening here in Suffolk.
“I am very much the new boy on the block but one of the things that I have been struck by is the range and quality of what goes on in Suffolk.
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“But even when you look at what goes on here at Snape I was struck by the lack of awareness in the outside world of what goes on here throughout the year – not because the people haven’t been shouting about what’s been going on but because there is so much else going on elsewhere.
“What I want to do is come up with a way of promoting Snape as, for want of a better phrase, a creative campus.”
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He is keen to point out that there are no grand, sweeping, overnight changes planned to either the Aldeburgh Music programme or to the Festival.
Instead he is feeling his way into the job, tapping into the years of experience which is on hand, around him.
He says that he enjoyed Flipside, the literary and arts festival, last autumn and wants to see more of this sort of thing at Snape. He wants to see the Concert Hall and the other Aldeburgh Music facilities used year round for a wide variety of cultural events and not just regarded as a home for the Aldeburgh Festival and the Snape Proms.
He said that one of the key elements that keeps Aldeburgh Music fresh was the flexible nature of Benjamin Britten and Peter Pears’ original ideas for the organisation.
“I think one of our strengths is the way that we can re-imagine their founding vision each year, so we can keep it relevant in the world in which it has to exist.
“If you have an organisation created by a composer and a performer, in a place which is all about its roots and community and also dedicated to inspiring young musicians and training the next generation of young artists, then you have permission to develop any element of that.”
He said that as far as connecting with the community and celebrating the cultural diversity of Suffolk, Aldeburgh Young Musicians (AYM) provided a shining example of the quality of home-grown talent across a huge range of different musical styles.
“So if anyone asks whether the Britten-Pears founding vision is alive and well today then they have to look no further than AYM because it is built on extraordinary quality. It is from this region and it fosters the development of an amazing range of musicians.
“The one thing that is different from 1948, when the festival was founded and Britten began his work with young people, is that today young musicians don’t put music into compartmentalised boxes as we might have done a generation ago. In today’s world they just see music as music and ask the question: ‘Is it any good or not?’ That means that there is now a lot more crossover between different music styles. There is a sense of energy and rediscovery in modern music as a result of this cross-fertilisation.”
He said that also the presentation of music has changed, much more is expected of singers and audiences are used to sophisticated lighting arrangements in theatres and so concert halls need to embrace an element of showmanship in the presentation of their work.
“That doesn’t mean to say that everything has become theatrical but you do need to respond to and build upon an audience’s expectations. You don’t do it because you can, you do it to serve the piece that is being performed.”
Roger said that his immediate goal is to find ways of integrating Aldeburgh Music’s activities more fully with the rest of the arts provision in Suffolk.
“I am looking forward to meeting and talking with DanceEast, the New Wolsey, HighTide and various others to find out how we can work together – whether it is in terms of cross-promotion or full-scale co-productions or whatever but I think we should be shouting about the quality of work that is being created here in Suffolk.”
He said that the challenge for the future was building something new that served the changing demands of contemporary arts and its many audiences while also being respectful of the heritage of Aldeburgh Music.
“The other challenge is to open up Snape and the concert hall and the rehearsal studios, make them available, while also making sure that areas can be kept private and quiet so development work can continue, away from public glare until it is ready to be unveiled. It is a question of balance. It’s challenging but also very exciting.
“I think with Britten’s centenary so successfully behind us, everyone is now saying: ‘That was great but how does the next 10-20 years look? I think the centenary celebrations have re-energised everyone, not just us here at Snape,but across the music world. We are looking to use the legacy of the Britten celebration as a springboard to go forward and that is all about opening up, diversifying and engaging with wider audiences and local organisations. I will be thrilled if we can be a catalyst for new projects or we can host events like Flipside. It’s all about being part of an important arts network across the region and what we can do, because of our history, is give Suffolk arts bigger audience – an international audience.”
He said that he wanted Suffolk to feel there was an open door policy and hoped to give local people a sense of the magic which exists in a concert hall or a theatre between performances. “I was watching footage of the acoustic tests that were carried out in the concert hall after it was rebuilt in 1970 and I marvelled at the care and the dedication that went into getting the building exactly right. We are lucky recipients of that love and dedication and it is up to us to share that with the community at large.”
He said that it was the quality of Suffolk’s arts provision and the opportunities of taking it to the next level that tempted him away from the BBC.
“I had spent 17 years back at the BBC, before that I had worked for Deutsche Grammophon in Hamburg and before that as artistic administrator for The Cleveland Orchestra in the United States.
“I count myself really lucky to have been asked to work in those places. So when the question was first put the idea was so intriguing and the more I thought about it I thought I would love to work here. It’s a remarkable organisation with an extraordinary heritage, reinventing itself throughout its history in one of the most beautiful places in the world and having one of the great concert halls of the world.
“Trust me, I have seen a lot of concert halls in my time and there is nothing to match this. It was also about giving back and having that unique opportunity to work at a local, regional, national and international level was a big new challenge.”
He said that with the Britten centenary having been so successful, there was a sense of renewal about Aldeburgh Music and a fresh approach that acknowledges its heritage but looks ahead to the future.
“Today we are investing in communities and the way that an organisation like Aldeburgh Music interacts with the community has changed beyond all recognition. Take the recent production of Noye’s Fludde in Lowestoft.
“I would say that 25 years ago we would have rehearsed a production of Noye’s Fludde here at Snape, taken it to Lowestoft, performed it in a local church and come away again saying ‘wasn’t that great that we went and performed Noye’s Fludde for the people of Lowestoft’.
“But today, after multiple years investment in time and the building of relationships, we have had an amazing, heart-warming production of Noye’s Fludde created in the community, in Lowestoft, and I still get tears in my eyes thinking about it because it was such a special event. “This, then, allows us to carry on engaging with the community, to build and develop those relationships further and say ‘we are not interested in using your venue as a one-off but we think it is important that we maintain this connection we have with you’.”