Snape expectations

Harrison Birtwistle dominates the 2009 Aldeburgh Festival. The two week festival in June includes no less than four performances of a double bill of newly commissioned music theatre pieces from Birtwistle. These fully-staged world premieres will be the first festival performances in the new 340 seater Britten studio, which is at the centre of Snape's new creative campus.

Aldeburgh has long and close connections with Harrison Birtwistle's unique style of music theatre, and his controversial Punch and Judy was premiered at the festival back in 1968. Four decades later Aldeburgh is presenting the world premieres of Birtwistle's Semper Dowland, semper dolens theatre of melancholy, and The Corridor a scena for soprano, tenor and six instruments. Ryan Wigglesworth conducts the London Sinfonietta with Elizabeth Atherton soprano and Mark Padmore tenor. Poet David Harsent provides the libretto for The Corridor and the two works are directed by Peter Gill.

As well as four performances of the new double bill Harrison Birtwistle's music runs through other festival programmes. His Aubade and Nocturnes from the 2004 Aldeburgh commission The Io Passion are given by Claire Booth and the London Sinfonietta, Harrison's Clocks and a tape piece Chronometer are given in the new Snape performance spaces, vocal ensemble Exaudi give a programme which includes the electronic interludes from The Mask of Orpheus, and the Mahler Chamber Orchestra give the Slow Frieze for piano and ensemble.

One of the most eclectic music festival programmes ever also presents a number of works by Elliott Carter, including the world premiere of his Aldeburgh commissioned On Conversing with Paradise, a setting of Ezra Pound's poetry for baritone and large ensemble. The composer is scheduled to be at the festival to participate in a discussion and performance of his piano work Matribute. Stockhausen is represented by Kontra-Punkte performed by festival artistic director Pierre-Laurent Aimard and the Mahler Chamber Orchestra, Gesang der Jünglinge with soprano Sarah Leonard and pianist Rolf Hind, and a rare performance of Tierkreis (Zodiac) for orchestra by the Birmingham Contemporary Music Group.

That is just part of the story. There is another world premiere of an Aldeburgh commission: Lieux Retrouvés is a new work for piano, cello and violin by former Aldeburgh artistic director Thomas Adès. And the programmes include a sprinkling of Ligeti, Berio, Kurtág and Helmut Lachenmann. But, there is only one work by a woman composer in the whole festival, that is a premiere of an Aldeburgh commission from Helen Grime. As ever at the festival Bach remains a constant, and the closing St Matthew Passion is given by Bach specialist Masaaki Suzuki and the Britten-Pears Baroque Orchestra.

No signs of serious music being in recession at Snape. This feast of contemporary, challenging and chewy fare runs from 12th to 28th June 2009. As Aldeburgh's chief executive Jonathan Reekie said in an exclusive Overgrown Path interview 'Aldeburgh has always been about the new'.
Ours was the marsh country, down by the river, within, as the river wound, twenty miles of the sea. My first most vivid and broad impression of the identity of things, seems to me to have been gained on a memorable raw afternoon towards evening. At such a time I found out for certain, that this bleak place overgrown with nettles was the churchyard; and that Philip Pirrip, late of this parish, and also Georgiana wife of the above, were dead and buried; and that Alexander, Bartholomew, Abraham, Tobias, and Roger, infant children of the aforesaid, were also dead and buried; and that the dark flat wilderness beyond the churchyard, intersected with dykes and mounds and gates, with scattered cattle feeding on it, was the marshes; and that the low leaden line beyond, was the river; and that the distant savage lair from which the wind was rushing was the sea; and that the small bundle of shivers growing afraid of it all and beginning to cry, was Pip.

`Hold your noise' cried a terrible voice, as a man started up from among the graves at the side of the church porch. `Keep still, you little devil, or I'll cut your throat!'

A fearful man, all in coarse grey, with a great iron on his leg. A man with no hat, and with broken shoes, and with an old rag tied round his head. A man who had been soaked in water, and smothered in mud, and lamed by stones, and cut by flints, and stung by nettles, and torn by briars; who limped, and shivered, and glared and growled; and whose teeth chattered in his head as he seized me by the chin.

`O! Don't cut my throat, sir,' I pleaded in terror. `Pray don't do it, sir.'

`Tell us your name' said the man. `Quickly'

`Pip, sir.'
Photo of Scroby Sands offshore windfarm and my shadow is (c) On An Overgrown Path 2009. Text of Charles Dickens' Great Expectations here. Report broken links, missing images and errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk


Pliable said…
Interesting that Elliott Carter is setting Ezra Pound's verse.

I quoted the poet back in 2007, and a reader added a comment saying:

My recollection is that (Ezra Pound) was a strong anti-semite and an enthusiastic supporter of Fascism.
Pliable said…
My comment that the Helen Grimes commission is the only work by a woman composer needs setting into context. And nobody from Aldeburgh has asked me to add this codicil.

Aldeburgh has a remarkably good record of working with women composers. Tansy Davies and Mira Calix are regular contributors. In a couple of weeks Anna Meridith's Tarantula in Petrol Blue is being premiered at Snape, and we have our tickets.

Which makes the dominance of the 2009 festival by established male composers slightly surprising.

The following link has an audio file of Anna Meredith's music for Tarantula in Petrol Blue:

Tansy Davies and Mira Calix here -
Garth Trinkl said…
“ … includes the electronic interludes from 'The Mask of Orpheus' … “

Pliable, since you mention Stockhausen’s 'Gesang der Jünglinge' and Birtwistle’s 'Chronometer' in this fascinating post, I think it would be appropriate to credit (and tag) the late composer Barry Anderson as the ‘co-creator’ of the electronic (actually computer music) interludes to Birtwistle and Zinovieff’s 'Mask of Orpheus'.

Also, very interesting about the underrepresentation of women composers at the British prestigious festival. (I see that Tarik O’Regan has been commissioned, along with Tom Phillips, by the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden. Do you know if any female composers have recently received such a commission? Thanks.)
Pliable said…
This is a neater link to the Anna Meredith piece Tarantula in Petrol Blue -
ghooper said…
"Gesang der Jünglinge with soprano Sarah Leonard and pianist Rolf Hind" What exactly will they be bringing to Stockhausen's tape classic?
Pliable said…
ghooper - the error may be my interpretation of the Aldeburgh Festival brochure, which says, with my parentheses:

These new settings [by Helmut Lachenmann] are coupled with an electro-acoustic classic from one of his former teachers [Stockhausen presumably] and a 19th century original - Schumann's unsettling experimental fantasy.

So, an 'electro-acoustic' classic. I assumed, probably wrongly, that the 'acoustic' element was coming from one or more of the performers. But, you are quite correct, Gesang der Jünglinge is scored for three electronic tracks.

So I'm asking Aldeburgh to explain. I will report back.
Pliable said…
Here is the reply from Aldeburgh Music:

I asked Dan Whitfield, our Head of Artistic Planning, and he said:

The Stockhausen is a classic tape work from the 50’s, but for tape alone (it’s a sample of a boy treble’s voice, looped, transformed and treated and combined with other abstract electronic sounds). Leonard and Hind only doing the Lachenmann piece. (PLA plays Schumann)

Apologies for any confusion!


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