Highlights include:

  • ‘Opening Night’ broadcast of Britten on Camera on BBC Four followed by Struan Leslie’s Illuminations – a staging including circus performers of Britten’s Les Illuminations – seen for the first time on Britten Pears Arts’ YouTube Channel
  • Peter Grimes on Aldeburgh Beach will be available on BBC iPlayer later this month
  • Create your own Aldeburgh Musicircus experience online
  • BBC Radio 3 to broadcast six archive performances from Aldeburgh Festival between 19 – 26 June
  • Aldeburgh Festival invites audiences to share their memories from its 72 festivals

12 – 28 June 2020 would have been the 73rd Aldeburgh Festival and this is the first time in its history that it will not go ahead. During the period that the Festival would have taken place, Britten Pears Arts presents a celebration of the Festival’s unique programming over more than 70 years, in collaboration with BBC Radio 3 and BBC Four, part of BBC Arts’ Culture in Quarantine, keeping the arts and culture in the homes of the public despite the impact of lockdown which has seen festivals and performance venues unable to open.

BBC Four: Britten on Camera

Commissioned for Britten’s centenary in 2013, Britten on Camera, narrated by James Naughtie, presents some of the highlights of Britten’s broadcast legacy. He was one of the great classical composers of the broadcasting age and his music was regularly performed on radio and television throughout his working life. This documentary explores the dynamic relationship he developed with the BBC to bring classical music to wider audiences. Contributors include David AttenboroughMichael CrawfordHumphrey Burton and Nicholas Kenyon (Fri 12 June, 7.30pm, BBC Four).

Film premiere: Illuminations

The 2016 Aldeburgh Festival opened to great critical acclaim with Illuminations, a new work for soprano, string orchestra and an ensemble of circus performers. Inspired by the sensuality and symbolism of the poems by Rimbaud set in Britten’s song cycle Les Illuminations, director Struan Lesliecreated a newly-commissioned staging fusing music and contemporary circus performance. Soprano Sarah Tynan joined an ensemble of nine international circus performers, Aurora Orchestra and conductor Nicholas Collon in a devised performance. On Friday 12 June, Aldeburgh Festival will broadcast the premiere performance of Les Illuminations on Britten Pears Arts’ YouTube channel at 9pm and it will be available on demand for the following 30 days. 

BBC iPlayer: Peter Grimes on Aldeburgh Beach

In 2013 as part of Britten’s centenary celebrations, Aldeburgh Festival presented an unforgettable open-air staging of Britten’s Peter Grimes on the very beach that inspired the opera, set against the dramatic backdrop of the North Sea. The cast was led by Alan Oke in the title role and Giselle Allen as Ellen Orford. Steuart Bedford conducted the Britten-Pears Orchestra and the Choruses of Opera North and Guildhall School of Music & Drama. It became one of the most talked about events of the year. Peter Grimes on Aldeburgh Beach will be available later this month.

An Aldeburgh Musicircus

A memorable event took place in 2014 when Aldeburgh Festival presented a version of John Cage’s Musicircus which took over the town of Aldeburgh for two hours. Cage’s concept was to invite anyone to perform anything they want to at the same time. Cage famously said, ‘You won’t hear anything: you’ll hear everything’. The Aldeburgh Festival performance featured around 1,000 performers, from artists and ensembles featured in the Festival to local bands and community music groups – the largest ever gathering of musicians in Aldeburgh with performances all over the town. Audiences can now create and mix their own Musicircus with an interactive digital experience based on the 40 performances that were filmed. This web app will be available at https://musicircus.brittenpearsarts.org from 12 June.

BBC Radio 3

BBC Radio 3 has been broadcasting from the Aldeburgh Festival for more than 50 years, and delves into the archive to broadcast six memorable concerts from the last decade.

John Wilson conducts the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra in a concert from 2018 which explored Britten’s wartime experience of America, the relationships that took him there and echoes of home. The programme features the first performance of Colin Matthews’ orchestration of Britten’sSeven Sonnets of Michelangelo with tenor Robert Murray, Britten’s Sinfonia da Requiem, Copland’s Quiet City and Bernstein’s Symphony No. 2 The Age of Anxiety with pianist Cédric Tiberghien (19 June, 7.30pm, BBC Radio 3 in Concert).

Netia Jones’ new production of Britten’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream opened the 2017 Festival bringing to life the captivating tale of lovers, rustics and fairies. Conducted by Ryan Wigglesworth, it features a cast of internationally renowned singers including Iestyn Davies (Oberon), Sophie Bevan (Tytania), Matthew Rose (Bottom), Clive Bayley (Theseus) and Andrew Shore (Quince) (20 June, 6.30pm, Opera on 3).

Sir Simon Rattle conducts the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra (CBSO) in a performance of Messiaen’s Et exspecto resurrectionem mortuorum and Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde from the 2011 Festival. He is joined by soloists Magdalena Kozena and Michael Schade (23 June, BBC Radio 3 in Concert).

In 2018 Cédric Tiberghien and the period strings of the Chiaroscuro Quartet explored chamber music by German romantic greats with a programme including Schumann’s Fantasy Op. 17 and his Piano Quintet alongside Mendelssohn’s String Quartet Op. 12. (24 June, 7.30pm, Radio 3 in Concert).

In 2017 Lionel Meunier and his award-winning Belgian early music vocal group Vox Luminis made their Aldeburgh Festival debut. This programme from Blythburgh Church marked the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther’s Reformation and includes two Bach Cantatas set alongside Schütz’sMusikalische Exequien, (25 June, 7.30pm, BBC Radio 3 in Concert).

Oliver Knussen had a long-standing relationship with both the Aldeburgh Festival and the BBC Symphony Orchestra. This performance was Knussen’s final concert. One of Knussen’s typical programmes, it features the world premiere of Philip Cashian’s The Book of Ingenious Devices, apiano concerto in a single movement performed by Huw WatkinsMorton Feldman’s Structures and music by Aaron Copland – Music for a Great City, and the Appalachian Spring Suite (26 June, 7.30pm, BBC Radio 3 in Concert).

Aldeburgh Festival Memories

Britten Pears Arts is using the space created by the current lockdown to celebrate the remarkable history of a Festival which is renowned for its intimate feel and the special place it has in audience’s hearts. The organisation is now collecting people’s memories of as many of the 72 Festivals as possible, inviting anyone who has a story to tell about a Festival visit to post their memories, using this online form. A timeline documenting the memories will be displayed at brittenpearsarts.org throughout the Festival.

There will also be podcasts, articles and social media projects (including an “On This Day” feature) giving insights into the extraordinary breadth and quality of the Festival over the years.

Aldeburgh Festival is one of the world’s most significant classical music events, set in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty on the Suffolk coast. The Festival was founded in 1948 by composer Benjamin Britten, tenor Peter Pears and the librettist/producer Eric Crozier.