If you weren't already aware that 2013 would have been Benjamin Britten's 100th birthday, you soon will be.
The Britten-Pears Foundation is investing £6.5m to mark Britten 100, "an unprecedented collaboration of leading organisations from the worlds of performing arts, publishing, broadcasting, film, academia and heritage: the widest ever global celebration of a British composer".
Although the composer doesn't hit his century until 22 November 2013, the celebrations have already begun. Beyond worldwide performances of the music, the exhaustive plans extend to books, films, dance, radio, TV, recordings, exhibitions, conferences, education, heritage trails, and redeveloping The Red House, Britten’s home in Aldeburgh. He even gets his face on a new 50p coin, which goes into circulation at the end of this year.
Straight from the press release, here are the UK performance and exhibition highlights (international details are available on www.britten100.org).
Among the highlights are a new staging of Britten’s opera Gloriana, which returns to the Royal Opera House 60 years almost to the day since it was first given to celebrate the Queen’s Coronation (and which is screened in cinemas worldwide); four Britten operas from Opera North; new choreography of his ballet, The Prince of the Pagodas from Birmingham Royal Ballet (produced with National Ballet of Japan), and a week-long festival in Glasgow which sees Scotland’s four leading orchestras and ensembles come together in April 2013.
At the epicentre of Britten’s performing legacy is Aldeburgh, the Suffolk coastal town where Britten lived and worked for most of his life. Beginning in November 2012, Aldeburgh Music presents a year-long celebration including the annual Aldeburgh Festival, founded by Britten and his partner Peter Pears in 1948, and now recognised as one of the world’s leading festivals. Highlights of the centenary Festival include: a celebration of Britten’s music through dance; a wealth of specially-commissioned premieres; a performance of the complete Church Parables at Orford Church, the very location they were written for; and performances of Peter Grimes on Aldeburgh beach. Following a production of Death in Venice in early November, the pinnacles of Aldeburgh Music’s centenary weekend in November 2013 are: the Centenary Concert conducted by Oliver Knussen, who first met Britten as a child; and a production of Noye’s Fludde in Lowestoft, where Britten was born.
One of Aldeburgh Music’s most ambitious undertakings is ‘Friday Afternoons’, a nationwide singing project which culminates on Britten’s birthday – 22 November 2013, which, happily, falls on a Friday – when tens of thousands of young people will join together to sing the cycle of 12 songs for children composed by Britten for the school in Prestatyn where his brother was headmaster. Run in partnership with the Britten–Pears Foundation and Britten’s main publisher Boosey & Hawkes, Aldeburgh Music is supported in this year-long project by a broad range of arts organisations including the Royal Opera House, English National Opera, Opera North, Sage Gateshead, Symphony Hall, and Brighton Festival.
Among the hundreds of extraordinary Britten-related events planned in the UK are: a collaboration between the Barbican, Richard Alston Dance Company and Britten Sinfonia to present a three-programme series of Britten-related dance; a 100-event ‘Around Britten’ tour by cellist Matthew Barley, taking Britten’s Third Cello Suite to unexpected venues throughout the country; a series of concerts at Wigmore Hall featuring many Britten works premiered there; and major Britten series from the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, London Philharmonic Orchestra and London Symphony Orchestra.The BBC, which played a crucial role in Britten’s career, honours him with a year-long celebration across BBC Radio 3, BBC Television and BBC performing groups. BBC Radio 3 devotes two weekends to the composer (one coinciding with the anniversary in November 2013), a month-long focus in June and broadcasts all of Britten’s operas throughout the year. BBC television curates gems from the archives on BBC Four and a number of new documentaries will be announced.
The British Film Institute presents a season of films and TV programmes exploring Britten’s life and work, including films of his works, documentaries, recordings of him performing and films related to his operas. The season will feature many key titles held by the BFI National Archive including Night Mail and Coal Face, two of the iconic films from Britten’s work with WH Auden for the GPO Film Unit.
Sky Arts leads its Britten celebrations with a new documentary by Tony Palmer, Nocturne, exploring Britten’s uneasy relationship with the wider world.Tony Palmer’s four acclaimed existing films about Britten, made with specific involvement of Britten and Pears themselves, are also released on DVD for the first time in a box-set edition. ICA Classics brings out two never-before-issued DVDs of Britten himself conducting.The British Library acquired the draft score of The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra earlier this year, and puts the manuscript on display for the first time in summer 2013 as the centrepiece of an exhibition of material – much previously unseen by the public – demonstrating Britten’s compositional methods, from first thoughts to final form. The exhibition also gives insight into Britten’s literary interests and demonstrates how important the cultural landscape of Suffolk was to him. It features important recordings from the Library’s rich sound collections.
The Barbican’s programme of Britten performances in November 2013 is complemented by a weekend public symposium about Britten curated by John Bridcut. It brings together performers, scholars and practitioners and explores Britten’s world through a programme of film screenings, talks, panel discussions and performances.
The National Portrait Gallery draws on its holdings of Britten photographs and other materials for a display in its twentieth-century galleries to run from November 2013.Cambridge and Nottingham Universities are also planning significant academic conferences about Britten during 2013.
The Britten Thematic Catalogue, the first such comprehensive online resource for any composer, documents all manuscript sources for Britten’s works (with audio and notation incipits), full bibliographic details, and other related material such as performance history, photographs, and links to correspondence. It provides, for the first time, a complete chronological list of his work, including juvenilia and a list of unpublished material held in the BPF archive and elsewhere. It is an innovative and complex project, funded by BPF and the Arts & Humanities Research Council, which will give everyone access to a rich array of Britten resources. The beta version can be accessed through the BPF website www.brittenpears.org, with the complete catalogue launched in summer 2013.
The Red House in Aldeburgh, where Britten lived and worked for the last decades of his life, is home to the most comprehensive archive of any composer. BPF is spending £4.7m to secure this internationally significant heritage and open it up as never before. A purpose-built new building in the grounds, designed by architects Stanton Williams, will free up existing storage space for public access, including Red Cottage, the studio where Britten wrote masterpieces such as War Requiem. For the first time, visitors will be able to see where Britten worked. There will also be space for a larger exhibition gallery, with the highlights of BPF’s collections used to create an inspiring introduction to the man and his music. This major project is generously supported by a £1.4m grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF).
As part of the project, BPF is working with local organisations to create a walking tour around the town and landscape that so inspired Britten. The Britten Trail is launched at Easter 2013.
Phew! When will there be any time left for those other birthday boys, Wagner and Verdi?