Dare you explore spooky Snape for concert weekend?
- Credit: Archant
The acclaimed Aurora Orchestra are arriving at Snape for a weekend residency and bringing with them a theatrical concert version of Benjamin Britten’s ghostly opera The Turn of the Screw. Arts editor Andrew Clarke finds out more
A translucent mist hovers two or three feet over the marshes. The sun has just dipped below the horizon. Dusk is swiftly enveloping the countryside. Suddenly there is an unnatural and rather unnerving chill in the air.
For the first time you are aware there is no longer any bird song, just an eerie silence. This is no time to be lost out of doors. In the distance a distinctive roofline is just visible in the gathering gloom.
It could provide a welcome refuge on this rather unsettling evening. As you head towards this large hall, you are aware the world is closing in around you. Out of the corner of your eye you glimpse (or think you glimpse) shapes and shadows moving around – just out of reach.
You pick up speed, a walk becomes a trot, a trot becomes a run, these shadowy figures keep pace, lunging out of the reed beds one side of the path forcing you into the brambles and on the other.
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A thorn-encrusted branch snags on your trouser leg causing you to stumble, all around the mist has turned into a cold, damp fog, and the shadowy figures are now looming over you. Desperate to reach safety you pick yourself up and make a mad, breathless dash to the nearby building. It looks large and secure against the darkening landscape.
However, once inside all is not what is seems. You are then confronted with unsettling spectral images which could have been torn from a Victorian horror novel or atmospheric illustrations from a Penny Dreadful.
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As you process this onslaught of half-imagined terror, operatic music emanating from a vast hall fills your ears. You ask yourself will this place really provide sanctuary?
Halloween is almost upon us and this half-imagined ghostly walk and musical refuge could be a reality for those brave souls looking for a suitably supernatural experience next weekend.
The acclaimed Aurora Orchestra is marking its 10th anniversary with a ghostly dusk walk from Iken Woods to Snape before staging a theatrical concert version of Benjamin Britten’s opera The Turn of the Screw, based on Henry James’ ghostly Gothic novella.
The immersive event is part of Aldeburgh Music’s annual Britten weekend and this year they are staging a series of events which not only have a Halloween theme but have been specifically designed to be child and family friendly.
Roger Wright, artistic director and chief executive for Aldeburgh Music, said he was thrilled with the new look for the Britten Weekend.
“We often talk here of the magical combination of music and place, and The Turn of the Screw is a good example of that pairing. In Snape we have the chance to create in our various spaces and landscapes a unique response to Britten’s opera. The ghostly Bly House will be powerfully conjured in Andrew Staples’ and Sophie Hunter’s atmospheric re-imagining, and the walk from Iken to the Maltings promises an eerie evocation of the opera, its characters, images and sounds.”
He added that the pairing of the adventurous Aurora Orchestra with Britten’s ghostly masterwork was also another winning combination.
“Since the publication, at the end of the 19th Century, of the gothic novella by Henry James, there have been many creative responses to the book and its haunting subject matter. For Britten, the ghost story was ‘an incredible masterpiece’, and the composer’s own interpretation of the story is in turn aptly described by John Bridcut as ‘one of the wonders of twentieth-century opera, with a strong claim to be Britten’s greatest. Not a note is wasted, not a note needs changing’. The confidence of his operatic writing within a tight musical structure remains astonishing to this day.
“Britten’s ‘incredible masterpiece’ remains a rich and complex work, but also direct and powerful. Its performance, and the variety of satellite events that surround it this weekend, offer a haunting and memorable few days. I hope everyone will enjoy the experience.”
John Harte, the Aurora Orchestra’s chief executive, said that their Aldeburgh residency was a match made in heaven because their raison d’etre was not only staging world-class performances but reaching out to new audiences and providing something that was a little bit different. Something he described as “added value”.
He said: “One of our chief interests with Aurora is finding ways of further enriching the audience’s enjoyment of the music we perform through a creative approach to programming and to concert formats.
“Over recent years we’ve begun to imagine what a new kind of ‘orchestral theatre’ might look like, introducing a sense of spectacle, playfulness and surprise to concerts, and often collaborating across art forms. In doing so we’ve tried hard to ensure that everything we do is both faithful to and firmly rooted in the music we’re playing, with musical content and musicians always providing a primary artistic stimulus for everything else that happens. The result is an approach that – we hope – has the capacity not only to draw in new audiences, but also to bring bold new perspectives to performances for experienced concert-goers.”
He said that Roger Wright and Aldeburgh Music were keen to support their experiments not only with a different sort of concert-staging but with the introduction of a family workshop which will introduce not only children to Britten’s opera but also adult audiences who are unfamiliar with the world of classical music.
The workshops on Saturday and Sunday (October 24-25) rejoice in the name The House of Secret Sounds and have been inspired by Aurora’s concert series for families on London’s Southbank.
“One of Aurora’s most adventurous artistic endeavours over recent years has been our family concert series Far, Far Away, which explores great instrumental music through a combination of specially-commissioned stories and chamber arrangements, along with audience participation and elements of design and theatre staging.
“This weekend sees us apply the same treatment to Britten’s music with shows for young people and families (The House of Secret Sounds), but also break new ground by creating a special event for adult audiences infused with the same accessible, playful and interactive approach which we are calling Spirit House which will be held on Friday (October 23).
“Aldeburgh has always encouraged us in ploughing new furrows, so for this residency we were drawn to the idea of exploring orchestral theatre in a variety of contexts and we are delighted too to be collaborating with Andrew Staples and Sophie Hunter who are not only directing a special performance of The Turn of the Screw but have curated walks from Iken to Snape which are intended as a kind of prologue to the performance.”
He said that the pair were very visual and worked a lot with projections which gave the performances added atmosphere and that they worked with the orchestra to redefine what a concert was.
“They seek to re-imagine and re-define the limits of a concert presentation. It will be neither a staged nor a traditional concert performance, the event that Andrew and Sophie have devised takes Britten’s score as its cornerstone and constant artistic focus, but illuminates the music in a variety of new ways. “I hesitate to use the word immersive because it is very over-used these days but it is really the only way to describe what will be a hugely engaging and very atmospheric event – or rather series of events. Britten’s music will remain at the heart of the performance but the extra elements will provide atmosphere for what we describe as orchestral theatre and for what is a remarkable opera and a real masterpiece from Benjamin Britten. As we celebrate our 10th anniversary this weekend, this residency will help us define who we are as an orchestra, creatively, artistically and aesthetically. What has been interesting for us is really sitting down and thinking about what cross-art-form collaboration really means.
“From our perspective, it was really important that every event is music led. Over the last five years or so, orchestras have got a lot bolder about collaborating with other art forms. You often see interesting film and dance collaborations but what is interesting is that a lot of the cross-art form collaboration ends with the orchestra playing a background or a wallpaper role to an external collaborator’s artistic vision.
“It tends to be an orchestra accompanying a live dance piece or a theatre performance whereas with Turn of the Screw and the other projects we do, the music remains at the heart of the event.”
Britten Weekend : Supernatural Suffolk featuring Britten’s The Turn of the Screw takes place from Friday, October 23 to Sunday, October 25.