The 2023 Aldeburgh Festival features a packed programme of music, film, talks, guided walks, exhibitions and more running from 9 to 25 June. Performances take place in Snape, Aldeburgh and other Suffolk settings, as well the Royal Opera House in London.
Now in its 74th year, the festival was first set up in 1948 by Benjamin Britten, Peter Pears and their friends; composers and performers remain the driving forces behind the planning. This year four featured musicians – composers Anna Thorvaldsdottir and Cassandra Miller, pianist Pavel Kolesnikov, and baritone and composer Roderick Williams – have helped shape the festival programme.
The festival opens on 9 June with the world premiere of Sarah Angliss’s new opera Giant, a Britten Pears Arts commission. This remarkable opera tells the true story of surgeon John Hunter and his obsession with Charles Byrne – known as the Irish giant. Hunter ultimately betrays Byrne in one of the most disturbing acts in the era of the grave robbers.
Written for five voices, Giant uses 18th-century instruments, live electronics and bespoke music machines as it recalls the events surrounding Byrne’s death. The performance is preceded by a free talk by composer Sarah Angliss. Both events take place at Snape Maltings.
Aldeburgh Festival is bookended with opera. The second is Woman at Point Zero, a multimedia opera by Bushra El-Turk, inspired by the seminal 1975 novel by Nawal El Saadawi. It tells the story of Fatma, an activist imprisoned for manslaughter, and Sama, an ambitious documentary filmmaker.
The two women share their memories, experiences and secrets over the course of a single day. They move from distrust to curiosity, solidarity and finally friendship. A UK premiere, the production brings together a host of female talent: the composer, director Laila Soliman, librettist Stacy Hardy, scenographer and film designer Bissane Al Charif and conductor Kanako Abe.
The production runs at Covent Garden’s Royal Opera House from 28-30 June. It is sung in English and Arabic with English surtitles.
The 2023 festival celebrates the music of Hungarian-Austrian composer György Ligeti, who was born 100 years ago this year. The programme features music by and inspired by the avant garde composer from Ligeti specialists the Ligeti Quartet and Pierre-Laurent Aimard.
Ligeti’s music features in concerts throughout the festival. Highlights to look out for include Ligeti’s Etudes, in which leading Ligeti interpreter and pianist Pierre-Laurent Aimard performs a selection of the composer’s virtuosic solo piano music. The concert takes place in the Snape Maltings Concert Hall at 7.30pm on 19 June. It is preceded by an introduction to the Etudes by Aimard in Snape Maltings’ Britten Studio.
Friday 23 June is Aldeburgh Festival’s Ligeti Day, with three programmes curated by the Ligeti Quartet. The day begins at 3pm with Sonata, featuring music for a solo performer then duo, trio and then the full quartet.
This is followed by Quartets at 5pm, in which the ensemble is joined by guest musicians for a selection of Ligeti’s quartets. Nouvelle Etudes is a world premiere of 14 new pieces inspired by Ligeti from composers including Xiaoyong Chen, Rolf Hind and Emily Hazrati. The day ends with a late-night screening of Stanley Kubrick’s cult sci-fi film 2001: A Space Odyssey, the soundtrack for which included Ligeti’s Lux Aeterna, Requiem and Atmospheres.
The three concerts are in the Snape Maltings concert hall. The film screening is in the Britten Studio.
New for this year’s festival is the Britten Song Trail, putting the composer’s music in the centre of the town in which he and Peter Pears lived and worked for so many years. Taking place on 14 June in a variety of unusual venues throughout Aldeburgh, the event is described as a ‘choose your own adventure’ through Britten’s music.
It includes a series of recitals throughout the day, lasting just 20 minutes. Audiences can choose which to attend. The programme also comprises Cabaret, a showcase performance of Britten’s settings of WH Auden texts; Duo Discoveries, songs written early in Britten’s career; Divine Poetry, Britten’s settings of holy texts; Ancient Melodies, songs for voice and guitar written in the 1950s; and Miniatures, a selection of small-scale songs.
The finale of the Song Trail has Britten Pears Young Artists performing alongside featured artist Roderick Williams. Taking place in Aldeburgh Church, the concert will include excerpts from Britten’s song cycles and folk songs, as well as arias from some of his best-known operas.
This is just a small selection of the festival programme, which also includes performances by the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra, music from contemporary composer and featured artist Anna Thorvaldsdottir, masterclasses from acclaimed singers, film screenings, exhibitions and much more.
Further information and the full programme is available from Aldeburgh Festival. Tickets for all events are on sale now.
The world premiere of Sarah Angliss’s new opera Giant opens this year’s Aldeburgh Festival.