Britten Centenary Familiar Fields

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We are now in the last few days running up the centenary anniversary of the birth of Benjamin Britten, and the events are coming thick and fast as the celebrations rise to a crescendo

Last night I went to celebratory event and the launch of ‘Britten at the Forum’, to look back over the past 15 months or so of events and to celebrate the centenary which is on Friday 22 November to be precise – we have been building up for nearly two years with events collected under the Familiar Fields umbrella.

There have been events across the world, and Radio 4 have been broadcasting lots of Britten themed articles and programmes – this celebration of Britten’s life and work certainly seems to have gripped the nation.

On Friday 22, schools across the country will sing Britten’s Friday Afternoon songs and a free online resource has been developed for anyone wanting to join this project, with the opportunity to load up recorded performances. Schools, venues, arts organisations, choirs and music services throughout the UK are joining in so if you want to join to go to

As well as this, check out for events near you, or pick up one of the events guides produced by Familiar Fields which lists all centenary performances.

Some of the events coming up in Norwich:

Mon 18 Nov-Fri 14 Dec – ‘Britten at the Forum’ – a major new audio visual presentation of people’s memories and experiences of Britten with a programme of supporting events

Wed 20 Nov – BBC Radio 3 Choral Evensong from Norwich Cathedral featuring Britten’s choral music

Friday 22 Nov – Friday Afternoons – Britten’s songs for children sung by local schools in a special concert by Norfolk Music Service

Saturday 23 Nov – Chamber music and songs at the John Innes Centre with cellist Natalie Clein, counter-tenor (and patron of Familiar Fields) Michael Chance and the Carducci Quartet.

Elsewhere in Norfolk there is a chamber music concert by Ellipsis at Wells (27 Oct), and at Gresham’s Holt there are  several events: a lecture by the composer’s nephew John Britten and a concert of Britten’s school compositions ‘A Joy to Us All’ on 15 November

A presentation of Britten’s diaries and letters ‘Into your satisfaction’ on 19 November, a performance of the ‘Hymn to St Cecilia’ on 22 Nov (St Cecilia’s Day) and a concert by North Norfolk Chorale which includes Hymn to St Peter (written for St Peter Mancroft Church in Norwich) on 23 November. 

There are three performances of Noye’s Fludde featuring local schoolchildren in Lowestoft (21, 23 & 24 November) and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra give a special tribute at the Marina Theatre, Lowestoft on 29 November.

In Aldeburgh, where Britten lived and worked for so many years there is a Friday Afternoons concert at 4.30 in Jubilee Hall and in the evening at Snape Maltings, the BBC Symphony Orchestra and chorus will be playing. See

On Saturday 23/Sunday 24, there are concerts in Aldeburgh, Orford and Southwold plus a pop-up exhibition of Britten artefacts in the house he grew up in in Lowestoft.

So there really are a lot of opportunities to get to know Britten’s work in the next few days – an unprecedented concentration so I hope that you get to catch up with some of them, and get to know a bit more about one of Britain’s most celebrated composers.

Remember that is the main go to place for information

Feast of Chamber Music weekend in Norwich

There is a Feast of Chamber Music in Norwich this weekend when the Britten Centenary celebrations reach their climax. Cellist Natalie Clein will be leading a starry cast of musicians including Michael Chance and the Carducci Quartet in a special three part concert. The preceding evening at the Chapel, Park Lane Michael Chance & Paul Beier (lute) will be giving a recital of music which Britten himself loved including songs by John Dowland and Henry Purcell.

On Sunday 22nd the highly respected Elias Quartet given the fifth in their series of the complete Beethoven Quartet cycle – this concert incudes the famous A minor Quartet Op 132 – a weekend with plenty for everyuone! Hope to see you with us, Roger

Details below but other enquiries at 01603 621169 or email

Friday 22 November  7:30pm
The Chapel, 64 Park Lane, NR2 3EF

Michael Chance – counter-tenor
Paul Beier – lute

Tickets £10.00 (members) £12.00 (non-members) on the door


Henry Purcell:
Oh Fair Cedaria
The Queen’s Epicedium (Incassum Lesbia rogas)

John Dowland:

“Come sweet love”
Flow my teares
Come way, come sweet love
I saw my lady weepe

Lute Fancy Nr.6

“In Darkness”
 Eyes look no more
 Lady if you so spite me
 In darkness let me dwell

Lute Fancy Nr.2: Forlorn hope
“A pilgrim’s solace”
 Thou mighty God
When David’s life
When the poor cripple

Lute Fancy Nr.1

Henry Purcell:
Music for a while
O solitude

Saturday 23 November 6:30pm
(please note start time)
John Innes Centre, Norwich NR4 7UH 
Box office Prelude 01603 628319 or on the door

Natalie Clein – cello 
Julius Drake 
– piano 
Michael Chance
 – counter-tenor  

Carducci Quartet
This concert will be in three parts, each of which will start with a movement from Blyth Postcards, a newly commissioned quartet by Gordon Crosse which is intended to be a complementary work to Britten’s ‘Divertimenti’.

•   Part 1:
•   Gordon Crosse: Blyth Postcards 1 – Blythburgh Church
•   Purcell: (realised Britten): Chacony in G minor
•   John Dowland: “Weep you no more, sad fountains”
•   John Dowland: “Can she excuse my wrongs with virtue’s cloak”
•   Bridge: Cello Sonata

•   Part 2:
•   Gordon Crosse: Blyth Postcards 2 – Blythburgh Estuary
•   Schubert: Quartettsatz in C minor, D703
•   John Dowland: “Come heavy sleep”
•   John Dowland: “In darkness let me dwell”
•   Britten: Cello Sonata in C major, Op.65

•   Part 3:
•   Gordon Crosse: Blyth Postcards 3 – Knucklebones Walberswick
•   Britten: Three Divertimenti for String Quartet (1936)
•   Henry Purcell: “Incassum Lesbia rogas” (The Queen’s Epicedium)
•   Henry Purcell: “Music for a while”
•   Britten: Third Cello Suite, Op.87

This concert is expected to finish at around 9.30pm

Sunday 24 November 2013, 5:30pm
 (please note start time)
John Innes Centre, Norwich NR4 7UH
Box office Prelude 01603 628319 or on the door

Elias Quartet and Malin Broman (viola) – Beethoven IV


  • Quartet in F major, Op.18, No.1
  • Quintet in C, Op.29
  • Quartet in A minor, Op.132

Free pre-concert talk by Misha Donat at 4.15pm

Happy Birthday Benjamin Britten

Happy 100th Birthday to Britten, written by Michael Nutt for the EDP

Next month sees the 100th anniversary of the birth of Lowestoft-born composer, Benjamin Britten, and the climax to over a year of musical celebrations around the world. I have been privileged to coordinate the local celebrations, Familiar Fields (the name is taken from a line in Peter Grimes), which has seen almost 300 performances of Britten’s music across Suffolk and Norfolk since September 2012.

Britten was born on 22nd November 2013 – the patron saint of music, St Cecilia’s Day. He was still alive when I was a young horn-player in the Norfolk Youth Orchestra and I was still a music student when he died aged only 63 in 1976. But he loomed large in the musical world I was eagerly discovering as a young musician, all the more so because of his deep-seated roots in nearbyAldeburgh.

And he seems such a strangely familiar figure to me still, the abundant photos from his extensive archive somehow chiming with my own black and white memories of the 60s and early 70s. A major figure of British music celebrated around the world, both as composer and performer, a beacon of the East Anglian cultural community, creator of Snape Maltings Concert Hall and the Aldeburgh Festival.

Yet he has always been regarded as a rather controversial character. He lived with his life-long partner, the tenor Peter Pears (for whom he wrote so much of his music) at a time when homosexuality was positively suppressed, and, a firm pacifist, he was famously a conscientious objector during the Second Word War. His precocious talent and artistic success also provoked jealousy and resentment among contemporaries and many erstwhile acquaintances found themselves excluded from his select circle of intimate friends.

Remnants of this resentment and animosity perversely somehow persist in some quarters today and yet his legacy – so wonderfully showcased by the centenary celebrations over the past year or so – stands any scrutiny. If anyone chooses to question his convictions for example, then look no further than the War Requiem, his remarkable protest against the futility and tragedy of human conflict.

Written for the consecration of the new Coventry Cathedral (built in 1963 alongside the shell of the original cathedral destroyed in the Blitz), its setting of the war poetry of Wilfred Owen struck such a chord at its premiere that a staggering 200,000 copies of the first recording were sold in a year. Its emotional impact remains as powerful today.

The role of great art, it seems to me, is to awe and to move us, but it must also challenge and discomfit us, make us think and ask questions. Britten’s music does all this. Yes, some of his music may seem challenging to the casual listener, perhaps a little strident or difficult on the ear even. But if there is a reason for that at times, there is also so much more that is really approachable. Britten’s music can be lyrical and sensuous, uplifting and life-affirming – try my Top 10 below and see for yourself.

Britten didn’t enjoy the esoteric circles of cultural life in London; he preferred the tranquillity and home-comforts of his beloved Aldeburgh. And as a composer he didn’t live in an ivory tower. He wanted his music to be ‘useful’ – “I would rather my music used than write masterpieces that are not used”, he said. His vast output for young people and for amateur musicians – people of East Anglia whose community he shared – reflects that wish. (Reminiscences of people who took part in some of those early performances and thoughts of others recently coming to his music for the first time are captured in a new audio-visual exhibition showing at the Forum in Norwich from 18th November to 7th

As much as in his great works for the opera stage or the concert hall, his true legacy lies in the children’s songs ‘Friday Afternoons’ or his children’s opera Noye’s Fludde, both of which are delighting schoolchildren and their audiences in performances next month. Britten was a great man as well as a great composer. I urge you to seize the opportunity to enjoy the final few weeks of his remarkable centenary year and listen to his music with open ears.

A Top 10 of Britten’s Music

1. Young Persons Guide to the Orchestra – Perhaps the most popular of Britten’s works, his introduction to the instruments of the orchestra is a set of variations on a theme by Henry Purcell, a composer he much admired. It features in a special Family Concert by the BBC Symphony Orchestra at Snape Maltings on 23 November.

2. Serenade for Tenor, Horn and Strings – try the Nocturne, a setting of words by Tennyson, including the line ‘Blow bugle blow, Set the wild echoes flying’ which features on the Royal Mint’s new commemorative 50p coin marking the centenary. Hear it played by Britten Sinfonia with tenor Mark Padmore and horn player Stephen Bell at the Theatre Royal Norwich on 17 November.

3. Four Sea Interludes from Peter Grimes – Depicting the changing moods of the sea around Aldeburgh, these orchestral interludes reflect the ever-present force in the story of Peter Grimes and his fishing community. ‘Sunday Morning’ is a good place to start. Hear all four played live by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra in a special centenary tribute concert at the Marina Theatre, Lowestoft on 29 November

4. War Requiem – Britten’s intensely moving anti-war masterpiece. The Dies Irae or ‘Day of Wrath’ will knock your head off! You can hear it live at St Andrews Hall Norwich on 9 November when Norwich Philharmonic Orchestra & Chorus are joined by three soloists, two conductors plus the Academy of St Thomas, UEA Choir and Norwich Cathedral choristers.

5. A Hymn to the Virgin – One of his best-loved pieces for unaccompanied choir, written when Britten was still at Gresham’s and supposed to be resting while ill. It is performed in a St Cecilia’s Day Concert at Gresham’s School Chapel, Holt on Britten’s 100th

6. Friday Afternoons – Written for his schoolmaster brother’s school, this delightful set of 12 songs have been the focus of a major national educational project this year and they will be performed by school children on the anniversary date, Friday 22nd and locally at St Andrews Hall, Norwich and Jubilee Hall, Aldeburgh.

7. Three Divertimenti – Britten wrote a huge amount of chamber music for all kinds of different combinations of instruments. This piece for string quartet is a light-hearted early work which the Carducci Quartet play live at the John Innes Centre on 23 November.

8. Noye’s Fludde – Although there are parts for professional musicians and adult voices, this Chester Miracle Play is performed almost entirely by children to enchanting effect. Judge for yourself with performances by local school children conducted by Britten scholar Paul Kildea in St Margaret’s Church, Lowestoft, on 21, 22 and 23 November.

9. Violin Concerto – Given a superb performance by Lorraine McAslan with Academy of St Thomas in Norwich earlier this year, this work combines sparkling virtuosity with an elegiac sorrow that reflects Britten’s despair at the onset of war in Europe.

10. Funeral Blues – This is one of four Cabaret Songs which Britten wrote for the soprano Hedli Anderson, a setting of W. H Auden’s poem ‘Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone’, famously used in the film ‘Four Weddings and A Funeral’.

For extensive clips of Britten’s music go to

Other performance highlights in Norfolk*

Friday 15 November – a lecture by the composer’s nephew John Britten and a concert of Britten’s school compositions, ‘A Joy to Us All’, at Big School, Gresham’s School, Holt

Mon 18 Nov-Fri 14 Dec – ‘Britten at the Forum’ – a major new audio visual presentation of people’s memories and experiences of Britten with a programme of supporting events, The Forum, Norwich.

Tues 19 November – ‘Into your satisfaction’ A presentation of Britten’s diaries and letters at the Auden Theatre, Gresham’s School, Holt

Wed 20 November – BBC Radio 3 Choral Evensong from Norwich Cathedral featuring Britten’s choral music

Saturday 23 November – Hymn to St Peter (written for St Peter Mancroft Church in Norwich) in a concert by North Norfolk Chorale at the Auden Theatre, Gresham’s School, Holt

Saturday 23 November – Mont Juic Suite – Wymondham Symphony Orchestra at Wymondham Abbey

(* There is also a major centenary weekend of events in and around Aldeburgh as well as performances at St Edmundsbury Cathedral and elsewhere in Suffolk – go to for details)