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Aldeburgh Festival 2006: Fifty nine years of musical innovation. (BK)





Aldeburgh Festival was founded in 1948 by Benjamin Britten, Peter Pears and Eric Crozier. The idea sprang from the trio's wish to find a home for their touring opera company, the English Opera Group, and from its inception, the festival aspired to become an international event that drew on the distinctiveness of its coastal location in Suffolk.

 

The festival's Suffolk roots have always included not only the community as audience and onlookers, but also as participants. With a composer at the Festival’s centre, new music was a key element from the beginning as were fresh interpretations of classical repertoire and the rediscovery of forgotten music. These elements were blended together to create something that was unique to Aldeburgh and they are still retained today although the Festival is very different now from what it was in its early years.

These days, Aldeburgh strives to be a Festival that is distinctive. It distances itself from the usual international festival circus, and develops long-term relationships with both established performers and young artists inspired by the fifty-nine year heritage. The festival is also unique in that Aldeburgh Productions is responsible for the Britten–Pears Young Artist Programme (formerly the Britten–Pears School for Advanced Musical Studies), for the Snape Maltings Concert Hall and for Aldeburgh Education, all of which considerably enrich the Festival mix.

 

 

 

Steered by Artistic Director Thomas Adès, the 59th Aldeburgh Festival of Music and the Arts opens on Friday 9th June with a co-production with the Philharmonia Orchestra of Stravinsky’s The Rake’s Progress, directed by Neil Bartlett. Cast from participants in the Britten-Pears Young Artist Programme, this performance is a conscious bid to place the fruits of Aldeburgh’s burgeoning artist development programmes centre stage: it builds on other recent young artist initiatives produced by Aldeburgh earlier in 2005 (such as Purcell’s Faery Queen and Britten’s Albert Herring.)

Two other major staged initiatives showcased during the 2006 Festival are productions of The Original Chinese Conjuror (15th, 17th & 18th June), and Sante (22nd June), neither of which would have seen the light of day without Aldeburgh’s support. The Original Chinese Conjurer (Raymond Yiu) is a piece for vaudeville style music hall which receives its world première at Southwold Pier on Thursday 15th June, where In true vaudeville fashion, the work will be aired in what used to be the old concert hall. Born from a collaboration between Hong Kong-born composer Raymond Yiu, and magician/writer Lee Warren, this opera-cum-musical-cum-vaudeville recounts the bizarre yet true tale of ‘Chinese’ magician Chung Ling Soo whose tragic onstage death in 1918 brought a dramatic end to a brilliant career as a magician… and as con artist, William Robinson. Yiu and Warren describe the piece as a ‘musical diversion suggested by the many lives of Chung Ling Soo’, and have drawn on burlesque, magic shows and musical theatre to illustrate this engaging storyDirected by Martin Duncan (formerly joint artistic director of the Chichester Festival), with set design by Francis O’Connor, The Original Chinese Conjuror receives three performances at the Aldeburgh Festival before transferring to the Almeida Theatre (1, 2 & 7 July).

The chamber opera Sante (Emily Hall) is an experimental story of love and betrayal set in the weeks running up to the Rwandan genocide The libretto was written by journalist, poet and novelist Kit Peel, who initially gained inspiration from the true story of three Rwandan girls whose visions of the Virgin Mary were followed by premonitions of the genocide. Conducted by Philip Walsh and directed by Tim Supple, Sante features a cast that includes Rodney Clarke (Marriage of Figaro, ETO 2004) and Robert Anderson (The Knot Garden, Scottish Opera 2005). The inclusion in this year’s festival of these productions   is a further affirmation - if any were needed - of Aldeburgh’s support for the new and experimental.


In addition to these three staged productions, the 2006 Aldeburgh Festival includes appearances from the Hallé Orchestra conducted by Mark Elder (Saturday 10th June) from Ian Bostridge and Craig Ogden with the Birmingham Contemporary Music Group (Monday 19th June). Duopianists Katia and Marielle Labèque (Tuesday 20th June), Alfred Brendel performing Schubert, Haydn and Mozart (Friday 23rd June) and three concerts with the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, conducted respectively by Sakari Oramo (Saturday 17th June), Michael Seal and Thomas Adès (both Sunday 25th June) are some other highlights.

 

Artists making their Aldeburgh Festival debuts this year include the Royal String Quartet, Trio Ondine and conductor Robin Ticciati who, with his ensemble Aurora, will have taken advantage of a four-day residency in Aldeburgh in April to work with soprano Kate Royal on the Erwin Stein arrangement of Mahler’s fourth symphony (Thursday 22nd June). Also new to Aldeburgh audiences is Faster than Sound - a day of electronic music and installations at Bentwaters Airbase in collaboration with Lumin and the University of East Anglia.

As has become customary in recent years, Aldeburgh Festival 2006 showcases the creative outputs of the Britten-Pears Young Artist Programme. Following a five-day course with Oliver Knussen, the Britten-Pears Orchestra presents a programme of 20th and 21st Century music, including Dutilleux’s Correspondences with Barbara Hannigan (Saturday 24th June). A second course, this time led by period string players Elizabeth Wallfisch and Alison McGillivray, culminates in the Britten-Pears Baroque Orchestra performing works by Handel, Bach, Locatelli and Vivaldi (Wednesday 14th June).

 

Woven into the festival's fabric are works by Britten’s friend and collaborator, W H Auden. As well as The Rake’s Progress for which Auden wrote the libretto, and a recital of existing and newly commissioned works composed to Auden’s poems (Monday 12th June), the festival programme is also peppered with performances of Britten’s settings of Auden’s words: Cabaret Songs, Our Hunting Fathers, On this Island, and Night Mail. Anne Ozorio and Julie Williams will be reporting from the festival for Seen and Heard.


Bill Kenny

 

For more information visit the festival web site at: http://www.aldeburgh.co.uk

 

 



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Contributors: Marc Bridle (North American Editor), Martin Anderson, Patrick Burnson, Frank Cadenhead, Colin Clarke, Paul Conway, Geoff Diggines, Sarah Dunlop, Evan Dickerson Melanie Eskenazi (London Editor) Robert J Farr, Abigail Frymann, Göran Forsling, Simon Hewitt-Jones, Bruce Hodges,Tim Hodgkinson, Martin Hoyle, Bernard Jacobson, Tristan Jakob-Hoff, Ben Killeen, Bill Kenny (Regional Editor), Ian Lace, Jean Martin, John Leeman, Neil McGowan, Bettina Mara, Robin Mitchell-Boyask, Simon Morgan, Aline Nassif, Anne Ozorio, Ian Pace, John Phillips, Jim Pritchard, John Quinn, Peter Quantrill, Alex Russell, Paul Serotsky, Harvey Steiman, Christopher Thomas, John Warnaby, Hans-Theodor Wolhfahrt, Peter Grahame Woolf (Founder & Emeritus Editor)