Benjamin Britten Centenary - Before Life and After
Opening on St. Cecilia’s Day, which was also Britten’s birthday, this series includes many works that were introduced to the world at Wigmore Hall, from the Seven Sonnets of Michelangelo to Canticle III: Still Falls the Rain. Opening on 22 November, we welcome Britten Sinfonia to perform a concert including music by Britten’s inspirational lynchpin Purcell, in arrangements old and new, works by Britten’s friend and contemporary Michael Tippett and the composer’s own dramatic cantata Phaedra. Written for Janet Baker right at the end of Britten’s life, this proto-theatrical work finds a new advocate in Alice Coote.
No less vivid is the collection of five Canticles that Britten penned between 1947 and 1974. These intense works, the third of which was premièred at Wigmore in 1955, provide a showcase for exciting new interpreters. Iestyn Davies, Mark Padmore, Marcus Farnsworth, Richard Watkins, Lucy Wakeford and Julius Drake perform the Canticles on 30 November 2012.
Given Britten’s lifelong role as accompanist and performer, not least with his partner Peter Pears, song forms a backbone to Wigmore’s celebrations. Three recitals focus on works for voice and piano. On 1 December, Ann Murray DBE, John Mark Ainsley, Robin Tritschler and Marcus Farnsworth survey The Holy Sonnets of John Donne (premièred at Wigmore on 22 November 1945), Tit for Tat, A Charm of Lullabies, Winter Words and Lyrics and Ballads of Thomas Hardy.
The following evening, Joan Rodgers, Elizabeth Watts,
Allan Clayton and Gerald Finley will perform some of Britten’s folksong arrangements, Songs and Proverbs of William Blake, On this Island, The Poet’s Echo and Seven Sonnets of Michelangelo (premièred at Wigmore on 23 September 1942 by the composer and Pears). At the BBC Lunchtime Concert on 3 December, Christine Rice and Mark Padmore sing Who are these Children?, the Cabaret Songs and Sechs Hölderlin-Fragmente. Malcolm Martineau and Julius Drake will accompany these concerts.
Finally, on 4 December, the Nash Ensemble, Sandrine Piau, John Mark Ainsley, Richard Watkins, Lawrence Power and Martyn Brabbins provide an orchestral epilogue to the song recitals, with Les Illuminations, Lachrymae and the Serenade for tenor, horn and strings, which Pears and Dennis Brain premièred at the Hall on 15 October 1943. Continuing the vocal theme, The Cardinall’s Musick, who impressed audiences last year with a William Byrd series, delves into Britten’s vast choral repertoire on 14 December.
Wigmore Hall Associate Artists, the Takács Quartet returns on 3 December to play Britten’s three numbered string quartets, the second of which was first heard at the Hall on 21 November 1945. The third quartet, on Britten’s desk in his final years, provides an instrumental complement to his last opera Death in Venice. Samuel West will read passages from Thomas Mann’s novella during the performance (100 years after its publication), while the coffee concert on 2 December, with Steven Isserlis and Connie Shih, looks at Britten and Mstislav Rostropovich’s equally stimulating collaboration.
Reflecting Britten’s work within the community, Wigmore Hall Learning will involve audiences young and old in events exploring the composer’s music and legacy. GCSE and A-Level students will investigate Britten’s specific connection with Wigmore Hall and compose new pieces based on the Serenade for tenor, horn and strings, collaborating with composer David Horne and players from Chamber Domaine.
A Study Day on 1 December 2012 will involve a yet wider audience, while pre-concert talks seek to contextualise the series. Finally, ‘Come and Sing: Britten’ (16 February 2013) offers a chance for audiences to perform Britten’s choral works, while ‘Unwritten Britten’ (2 March 2013) is designed for family involvement.