5 August 2021

Merger to help music transform people's lives

By Lark Music

Snape Maltings and The Red House have merged as Britten Pears Arts, and it could not have come at a better time for music to help transform people’s lives.

On the lawn of The Red House small children are dancing and singing to music from The Lion King. The sun is shining and it is a sight to behold, after so many months of restrictions, to see these carefree youngsters taking part in Live Mini Music Makers sessions.

The joyful under-fives have no idea how much importance the former owners of The Red House, Benjamin Britten and Peter Pears, placed on supporting young musicians – but their legacy has never been more significant, says Roger Wright CEO of newly formed Britten Pears Arts.

The merger of Snape Maltings and The Red House was “one of the few events that did go ahead last year”, says Wright, who joined the organisation in 2014.

He said: “Snape Maltings grew out of the Aldeburgh Festival which was founded by Benjamin Britten in 1948 and it is now one of the world’s leading classical music centres, while The Red House was both Britten and Pears’ home and the place where they worked creating some of the finest music for the voice ever written.

“They revived English opera and created an artists’ development programme that has nurtured many leading performers. It made sense to bring the two sites together, especially now, while we work towards returning to a full programme of events.

“We were first out of traps to put on live performances in August 2020 and that’s because we have many advantages here in Aldeburgh with light, airy, ventilated sites in an area that is not particularly densely populated.

“Although not having a deeply embedded transport infrastructure would never have been put down as an advantage, it meant people would arrive at Snape Maltings by car in their own bubbles.

“However, during the lockdowns we did have to cancel many concerts but asked people to donate the price of their ticket. We were saying ‘please help this organisation for tomorrow so we can get back to employing musicians as quickly as possible’.

“By far and away the majority said they did not want their money back. It was a huge sign of warmth and support. We have incredible supporters but in such a difficult time, we couldn’t take any of that for granted.

“We have learned a lot, including that it is not practical to announce concerts too far ahead.

“Opera, castings and production times need a rolling three-year plan, but we can now put shorter term plans in place and without the present international dimension, we are celebrating the best of UK music making with artists who are based in the UK.

“When we did get back to having a few afternoon concerts, we asked customers to pay what they could – some paid 50p but the default was generally £15.

“It was touching to receive emails of thanks from people such as one who said they had been made redundant and ‘to pay £2 to come and see Nicky Benedetti was a lifesaver’. That was fulfilling, what Britten and Pears wanted ­­– for music to transform people’s lives.

“At the same time we saw more than 20 per cent new bookers and that is something that probably would not have happened had it not been for the pandemic.

“We now want to return to getting out in the community to reach young people in areas such as Lowestoft and Ipswich.

“Hearing music in our spaces again has been very precious, seeing people in 3D, it was sometimes really hard to hold it together.

“Saxophonist Jess Gilham and violinist Nicky Benedetti both wanted to speak to the audience after such a long break, but I warned them they may find it overwhelming.

“Audiences were in tears, I have never known anything like it in all my years.

“People had felt very isolated and now we are working to create new bespoke experiences – from those mini music-makers to outside festivals and tea dances because many of our older supporters have said they feel they belong along again as ‘Snape Maltings is their home’.

“Britten and Pears would have been very happy to hear that.”

  • Next year marks the 50th anniversary of the Britten Pears Young Artists annual programme. Around 20 young musicians will be chosen to benefit from a year’s world-class mentoring by internationally renowned artists.
  • Roger Wright CBE studied at Chetham’s School of Music, Manchester and Royal Holloway College, University of London. He is a former BBC Radio 3 Controller and BBC Proms Director. He first visited The Red House in the early 1980s and met Peter Pears on several occasions.

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