Gallery: Putting Benjamin Britten centrestage of the musical world

Benjamin Britten

Benjamin Britten - Credit: Archant

This year has seen Benjamin Britten celebrated not only as Britain’s leading composer of the 20th Century but also as a shining example of how Suffolk-born talent can inspire people around the globe.

Composer Benjamin Britten at work in his studio at The Red House

Composer Benjamin Britten at work in his studio at The Red House - Credit: Archant

This weekend sees the culmination of the year-long celebration of the centenary of Britten’s birth in Lowestoft. The events, which have included a stunning site-specific production of Peter Grimes on Aldeburgh beach, have brought Suffolk to the forefront of the cultural world and have attracted thousands of extra tourists to the county.

Brothers Alan and John Britten, nephews of Benjamin Britten, and Aldeburgh Music’s Chief Executive J

Brothers Alan and John Britten, nephews of Benjamin Britten, and Aldeburgh Musics Chief Executive Jonathan Reekie came together for Friday Afternoons, a nationwide singing project led by Aldeburgh Music to celebrate Brittens Centenary programme.

The highlights of this centenary weekend include the Friday Afternoons performance in which millions of schoolchildren and choirs around the world will be joining together to sing Britten’s Friday Afternoon works for schools. The Friday Afternoons project started as a project for Suffolk schools, grew to encompass the country and was then taken up by schools and choirs around the world.

A quick glance at the Friday Afternoons map on the Britten 100 website shows that performances are taking place in such far-flung places as Melbourne, Australia; Beijing, China; Sardinia, Italy; Marseilles, France; Athens, Greece; Hamburg, Germany and across the USA.

Friday Afternoons is a set of 12 songs composed by Benjamin Britten between 1933 and 1935. The simple songs, designed to be performed with simple piano accompaniment, were written for Britten’s schoolmaster brother, Robert, and the boys of Clive House preparatory school, Prestatyn – a school in which choir practice and singing lessons regularly took place on a Friday afternoon.


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Based on this set of songs, Aldeburgh Music conceived Friday Afternoons as a year-long project to highlight Britten’s work for young people and to encourage more singing in schools.

On Friday, November 22, performances will start in Melbourne at 3am GMT and run through to 10pm GMT in Santa Monica, California, USA. In Suffolk, 800 young people will be performing at the Snape Maltings Concert Hall, St Edmundsbury Cathedral will host a performance by its two junior choirs along with pupils from local schools, The Royal Hospital School at Holbrook will be hosting a school-wide event, St Andrew’s Church, Melton will be including Friday Afternoons into an evening of Britten’s music while Jubilee Opera will be hosting a birthday party in Aldeburgh’s Jubilee Hall.

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Jonathan Reekie, chief executive of Aldeburgh Music, said that the way that Friday Afternoons has captured the imagination of people was truly inspiring. “I think it’s significant that Britten has shared an anniversary with both Wagner and Verdi and although they have both been celebrated by the musical community, as you would expect, the world in general has not embraced the celebrations in the same way that they have for Britten and that says a lot about Britten’s legacy. Wagner and Verdi’s legacy is really only about the music they wrote, whereas Britten’s legacy is about the music of course, but it’s also about Suffolk, it’s about the coastline, the countryside, the sea, it’s about Aldeburgh, the (Snape) Maltings, it’s about Lowestoft.

“From Aldeburgh Music’s perspective we wanted to highlight not just Britten’s music but his extraordinary legacy in education and the impact his life has had on Suffolk and how Suffolk influenced his music. The Suffolk coast had a huge impact on his work throughout his life.

“I also think it is important that Britten wrote, not only for high-end performances in concert halls and opera houses, but also for schools and community choirs works that could be performed in churches and village halls with a piano. This is the reason why the centenary celebrations have been embraced by so many ordinary people.”

Lowestoft forms a major part of the celebrations this weekend. It will be hosting a series of performances of Noyes Fludde conducted by Britten biographer Paul Kildea and featuring performances from Lowestoft choirs and schoolchildren and Sunday’s performance will be broadcast on BBC Radio Three.

The Britten-Pears Foundation will be providing visitors with a special look around at Britten’s birthplace 21 Kirkley Cliff Road, Lowestoft, which was also his father’s dental practice. Kevin Gosling, of The Britten-Pears Trust, said that the house, which is now a guesthouse, will host a pop-up exhibition detailing Britten’s life in the town and will be open from 10am to 4pm.

The exhibition will see his early music manuscripts, letters, diaries and photographs returned to the place where they came from. “We are really lucky that Britten kept everything. He never threw anything away, so we have all his early life recorded in great detail.

“We will have on display one of his very first plays which is called The Royal Falily – a hilarious comedy about his aunts meeting The Prince of Wales in Barbados which has a line of child-like music in it and he wrote this when he was just six years old.”

He said that one of the highlights of the exhibition was a large scale photo-mesh graphic of the family drawing room which was on the first floor which shows a photograph of the young Britten playing a piano with his mother and sister. The graphic will allow visitors to stand where the photo was taken and see a ghosted image of how it was. The weekend will also see the return of the family’s rocking horse which is being loaned by Britten’s niece.

He said that one of their aims for the centenary was to give Britten back to Lowestoft – to highlight the importance the fishing community had on his early life.

“He retained fond memories of the town and was thrilled, in 1951, to receive the Honorary Freedom of the Borough.”

On Friday evening conductor Oliver Knusssen, who worked with Britten, and lives in Snape, will conduct the BBC Symphony Orchestra in a special birthday concert from the Snape Maltings Concert Hall.

Saturday’s Family Concert will feature a new work by young Suffolk composer Tom Rose.

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