Britten shows how everybody can make music
'Everybody can make music. Everybody can compose, somehow. When you want to teach children sports, they play football, or get given a tennis racket, they don't simply watch. But when we want them to be involved in music, we ask them to sit passively. This is surely not the right concept' - Simon Rattle tells it like it is in today's Observer, in an article about the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra's dance project with marginalised children. How true, and I read those words while still on an emotional high from making music for the first, and probably last time in a Britten performance in Snape Maltings under the baton of Stephen Layton.
Tomorrow (December 4th) is the thirtieth anniversary of Benjamin Britten's death. Last night I was at a performance of his cantata St Nicholas as part of Aldeburgh's Britten Weekend, and my music making was a vocal contribution to the two congregational hymns in that wonderful work. They may only be congregational hymns, but the audience were given the sheet music, and in a pre-performance rehearsal Stephen Layton even reprimanded us for not observing the pianissimo marking for the first entry of God Moves In A Mysterious Way.
What an uplifting evening. Not just for the communal music making of almost one thousand voices celebrating Britten's genius, but also for Aldeburgh's continuing commitment to nurturing young musicians. Specific praise goes to the exquisite performance of the Ceremony of Carols by the high voices of the Choir of Trinity College, Cambridge, and the contributions of the young harpist Sally Pryce and the outstanding young tenor Allan Clayton who sung Nicholas, surely a star in the making? The full programme is given below, and the first half was performed as a continuous sequence, without applause. It ended as the bell tolled for the last time in Arvo Pärt's Cantus in memoriam Benjamin Britten with the capacity audience holding their collective breath and the bows of the Britten Sinfonia violins frozen in mid-air. A moment of sheer musical, and emotional magic.
But my special Britten champagne moment came even before the music started. To the side of the Snape auditorium is the box that Britten and Pears created for themselves. To call it a box is too grandiose term, it little more than a slit in the raw brickwork of the Maltings. The boy soloists for St Nicholas watched the first half of the evening from Britten's box. Before the concert started the four very young trebles from Ely Cathedral Choir, immaculately dressed in school uniform, leant over the front of the box laughing and waving to friends in the audience. It was a pure Britten moment. Their faces radiated youth, exuberance, total innocence, and above all a dazzling hope for the future.
Programme for Snape Maltings Concert Hall, December 2nd 2006
Frank Bridge (1879-1941)
Sir Roger de Coverley (A Christmas Dance) (1922)
Benjamin Britten (1913-1976)
A Hymn to the Virgin (1930; Rev 1934)
A Ceremony of Carols, Op. 28 (1942; rev. 1943)
Theme from 'A Boy was Born', Op. 3 (1932-3; rev 157-8)
Arvo Pärt (b. 1935)
Cantus in memoriam Benjamin Britten (1977), for string orchestra and one bell
Saint Nicholas, Op. 42 (1947-8)
Britten-Pears Chamber Choir
Choir of Trinity College, Cambridge
Boy soloists from Ely Cathedral Choir
Allan Clayton tenorSally Pryce harpStephen Layton conductor
Now read how music rose from the wreckage at Snape
Header photo shows choristers of Coventry Cathedral with Britten in rehearsal for his War Requiem in Ottobeuren Basilica, West Germany in 1964.
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