Benjamin Britten's centenary celebrations launched at the Britten Theatre

James Jolly11th Sep 2012
Britten's anniversary year promises a feast on music, dance, books and exhibitioBritten's anniversary year promises a feast on music, dance, books and exhibitions

Britten 100 – a staggering, year-long celebration of the art of Benjamin Britten (1913-76) was launched this morning at the Royal College of Music (where Britten studied) in, appropriately, the Britten Theatre. As well as numerous performances throughout the world of Britten's music (including, so far announced, some 46 performances of the War Requiem and over 90 of The Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra), a huge singing project will be launched and, today, the Royal Mint has announced the release this year of a new 50p coin featuring Benjamin Britten. Other initiatives include redeveloping Britten's home, The Red House, and opening it to the public.

The Britten-Pears Foundation has invested £6.5 million to mark Britten's centenary and, as Richard Jarman, the BPF's director said, 'The extraordinary scope of the plans announced today underlines Britten's truly global appeal and status as one of the most important cultural figures of the 20th century. We are delighted that so many organisations around the world are celebrating.'

All of Britten's 14 operas will be performed during the anniversary year (eight by the UK's professional companies). Gloriana returns to the stage of the Royal Opera House almost exactly 60 years to the day since its rather cool reception at the Coronation celebrations of 1953. Opera North will present four of the operas and Birmingham Royal Ballet (produced with National Ballet of Japan) will stage a new production of The Prince of the Pagodas

International premieres include the first Russian performance of Death in Venice at the Moscow Conservatoire, and the first of the Church Parables in Russia with Mahogany Opera, as well as the first performance in Japan of any Britten opera – Peter Grimes - at Tokyo's New National Theatre next month. In Germany Sir Simon Rattle will conduct the Berlin Philharmonic in the War Requiem and four of the operas will be heard at the Deutsche Oper am Rhein. The Opéra de Lyon also stages four of the operas and New York will enjoy a Britten festival in early 1913. 

Much of the celebrations will focus on Britten and Pears's hometown of Aldeburgh and the county of Suffolk, including the Church Parables at Orford Church, Peter Grimes on the beach (as reported yesterday), Death in Venice in early November 2013, a centenary concert conducted by Oliver Knussen and a production of Noye's Fludde in Lowestoft where Britten was born. 

One of the most ambitious projects – and very much in tune with Britten's interest in enthusing young people with a passion for music – is 'Friday Afternoons', a nationwide singing project which culminates on Britten's birthday, November 22, 2013. Tens of thousands of young people will join to sing the cycle of 12 songs for children that Britten composed for the prep school in Prestatyn where his brother was headmaster. 

The many publications for 2013 include new biographies of Britten written by Paul Kildea (Allen Lane) and Neil Powell (Hutchinson), Britten in Pictures edited by Lucy Walker (Boydell & Brewer), the sixth volume of Letters from a Life (also Boydell & Brewer), a memoir by author and Britten friend Ronald Blythe, The Time by the Sea: Aldeburgh 1956-58 (Faber & Faber). Also republished by Faber are My Brother Benjamin by his sister Beth and John Bridcut's The Essential Britten.

The BBC will present a year-long celebration across radio and television, the British Film Institute presents a session of films exploring Britten's life and work, Sky Arts offer a new documentary by Tony Palmer, Nocturne, and Tony Britten is making a drama-documentary focusing on Britten's school days at Greshams.  

On disc, Britten will be issuing a complete Britten Edition and a 12-CD collection 'Britten the Performer'. EMI's contribution includes a new version from Virgin Classics of The Rape of Lucretia conducted by Knussen, Britten songs from Ian Bostridge with Antonio Pappano at the piano, and a new War Requiem with Pappano conducting and with Anna Netrebko and Ian Bostridge among the soloists.

The visual arts will not be neglecting the Britten anniversary with exhibitions at The British Library, the National Portrait Gallery and the Pushkin Gallery in Moscow. Symposia and conferences will be held at The Barbican, and the universities of Cambridge  and Nottingham. 

For more information about the Britten celebrations visit the anniversary website.

 

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