Every year Snape Maltings’ Britten Weekend explores an area of Britten’s life and work with a weekend of concerts, talks and related activities. This October the focus is on Britten’s relationship with Russia.
Britten’s first encounter with Shostakovich and Rostropovich in September 1960 was the beginning of two enduring friendships. These led to Britten embracing instrumental chamber music, had a profound influence on the Aldeburgh Festival and created significant cultural links across the Iron Curtain at one of the tensest periods of the Cold War. The Britten Weekend recreates that 1960 concert and celebrates Britten, the cello, Russia and his Russian friends in the company of the BBC National Orchestra of Wales and outstanding chamber musicians and soloists.
Soprano Julia Sitkovetsky, cellist Alban Gerhardt and pianist Roger Vignoles open the weekend (18 Oct, 8pm), with Britten’s poignant Pushkin settings set alongside Shostakovich’s Hebrew Songs. More direct comparison between Britten and Shostakovich is possible as Gerhardt and Vignoles play each composer’s cello sonatas. Britten’s solo cello works are dedicated to Rostropovich and encapsulate a world of fluctuating emotional states. Gerhardt and Vignoles perform Nos 1 & 3 alongside Prokofiev’s Five Poems of Anna Akhmatova and Rachmaninov’s Six Songs, sung by Sikovetsky (19 Oct, 11am).
Gerhardt performs Britten’s quasi-concerto with BBC National Orchestra of Wales, which Rostropovich encouraged him to write: a big-hearted and intense work which places immense demands on the soloist. Conductor Jac van Steen leads the orchestra through Shostakovich’s Symphony No 10, a similarly epic composition which starts in dark desolation and ends in dazzling brightness (19 Oct, 7:30pm).
The weekend concludes with the recreation of the 1960 London concert at which Britten was first introduced to future friends Rostropovich and Shostakovich: a concert that was to have far-reaching consequences. BBC National Orchestra of Wales, conducted by van Steen are joined by cellist Laura van der Heijden for Shostakovich’s Cello Concerto which is bookended by Britten’s Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra and Rachmaninov’s Symphony No. 3 (20 Oct, 3pm).
Dr Lucy Walker (Britten-Pears Foundation) hosts a study afternoon (Sat 19 Oct, 2.30pm) which looks at the Russia Britten would have experienced in the early 60s at the height of the Cold War. Speakers include the writer and broadcaster Stephen Johnson, author of the recent book How Shostakovich Changed My Mind, who will investigate the cultural context and remarkable psychological effects of Shostakovich’s music.
Snape Maltings is one of the world’s leading centres of music hosting outstanding concerts and events throughout the year, from the flagship Aldeburgh Festival – one of the world’s most significant classical festivals – to the broad range of music (including folk, world music and jazz) at the Snape Proms. Its reputation as a leading international creative campus including research, experimentation and development continues to grow.