Wake up to Aldeburgh welcome

IAN COLLINS It’s not too late to join the June jamboree that is this year’s Aldeburgh Festival. Ian Collins previews the delights in store.


In the run-up to the 58th Aldeburgh Festival of Music and the Arts, which fizzes over 17 days and nights from today, June 10, organisers wish to set the record straight: forget all those “Sold Out” notices.

For, just lately, the summer gala, founded by Benjamin Britten, Peter Pears and Eric Crozier amid the drab austerity of 1948, has fallen victim to the legend of its own sparkling success.

Head of marketing Margaret Levin says: “Somehow word has got round that it is impossible to get tickets for any of the events in the Aldeburgh programme unless you book way in advance.

“And this is just not true; seats are always available. Even when there has been huge demand, people who turn up early on the day can snap up returned tickets.”

So there you have it: Aldeburgh welcomes you – even if you can't get your act together until hours before the performance.

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Here is a wake-up call; for this year's seaside jamboree embraces all manner of music, exhibitions, films, walks, talks and . . . that's just for starters.

Venues range across Suffolk Coastal, from Blythburgh Church and Snape Maltings Concert Hall, to Aldeburgh's Jubilee Hall where the festivities began all those years ago – and now the shingle beach itself (on which the waves sound a glorious percussion beside picnic clinks and clunks) is also a star attraction.

Tonight's festive opener (reprised next Friday, June 17) is the premiere production of The Cricket Recovers, a new opera from Richard Ayres based on the cult children's books of Dutch author Toon Tellegen.

The composer says: “It's a cross between Roald Dahl, Winnie the Pooh and Samuel Beckett.”

This mixture of childlike fantasy and adult angst is designed by surrealist animators The Brothers Quay – some of whose dazzling and at times disturbing films will also be screened in a programme of silent movies and music at Aldeburgh Cinema.

The Cricket Recovers is the latest commission from Aldeburgh Almeida Opera – a London-Suffolk collaboration hatched by composer-conductor Thomas Adès. He's now seven years into a brilliant stint as the festival's artistic director (though some have still to recover from the operatic outrage of Powder Her Face, his scandalous take on a scandal featuring the late Duchess of Argyll).

This year's June gala includes a major focus on works by the great Russian composers Tchaikovsky and Stravinsky, with the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra appearing under the Adès baton, and the Britten-Pears Orchestra performing under Russia's Alexander Polianichko.

Anthony Marwood joins the Academy of St Martin in the Fields for an airing of Stravinsky's The Soldier's Tale and then teams up with Adès for a recital of Stravinsky works premiered or transcribed by violinist Samuel Dushkin.

The whirlwind that is Aldeburgh's artistic director further features with the first performance of his arrangements from The Tempest, as well as in repeat hearings for earlier chamber, orchestral and solo works.

As this is the second year with John Woolrich as assistant artistic director, the play on music by living composers is not surprising.

Woolrich himself has been commissioned by the Strand gallery to produce an elegy for the late great Cornish artist Terry Frost, and the unveiling of Harrison Birtwistle's Oda al Doblo Otono is also eagerly awaited (by those, at least, among whom it is not to be firmly avoided!).

A new work by Gerald Barry and an afternoon devoted to Jonathan Harvey bring encores for two stars of the 2002 festival, while continental notes sound in chamber music by Poul Ruders and Per Norgard and pieces for trombone by Franco-Slovenian Vinko Globokar.

Michael Tippett was both friend and fiend to the tortured genius of Benjamin Britten, and the centenary of his birth is to be celebrated with performances of his complete song cycles and a cappella choral works.

Tippett championed the music of Purcell, whose legacy is explored in The Faery Queen, performed by the Britten-Pears Baroque Orchestra under Harry Bicket, a mixed programme of songs and consorts with the viol consort Phantasm, as well as late-night Purcell Cabaret.

Britten's debt to Purcell is also traced in a concert with Mark Padmore, Craig Ogden and Andrew West, while the festival founder's music additionally shapes the programmes of British vocal ensemble Polyphony, mezzo-soprano Magdalena Kozena, the Emperor Piano Trio and the Scottish Ensemble.

Featured visual artists are: John Craske – Sheringham fisherman and Dereham fishmonger, whose naïve sea paintings and embroideries made him East Anglia's Alfred Wallis – in the Concert Gallery; cutter of paper silhouettes Simon Periton in the Peter Pears Gallery; and Gary Breeze, poetic carver in stone, in the Concert Hall's Oyster Bar.

Each Sunday at noon Aldeburgh beach or Snape marshes host an array of extraordinary free-for-all events – with the menu for these gratis feasts including chopsticks, elastic bands and saxophones.

Box office: 01728 687110. Free brochures: marketing@ aldeburgh.co.uk (or ask at box office). Also log on to www.aldeburgh.co.uk for full details.

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