A Benjamin Britten Festival, Lichfield, 22-24 November 2013

Benjamin Britten (1913-76)

Benjamin Britten (1913-76)

It can have escaped the attention of few – if any – that 2013 has marked the centenary of the birth of a figure regarded as the foremost British composer of the twentieth century, Benjamin Britten (1913-76).  The centenary year has been a triumph most notably for the Britten Estate.  The marketing and outreach that has either been instigated or passed through the office of the Britten Estate is second to none.  I doubt even the centenaries of Mozart and Beethoven were as well represented.  But the joy of Britten – who is noted particularly for his vocal works, and the vitalisation of British opera – is that he wrote numerous works specifically for young people, so schools the length and breadth of the Britain, and beyond our shores, have been able to become involved in performance of such works as Friday Afternoons and Noyes Fludde.  Indeed, on Britten’s birthday itself – this coming Friday, 22 November – hundreds of simultaneous performances of Friday Afternoons will commemorate that date, with the involvement of over 100,000 children around the world, in places as far flung as America, China and Australia, not to mention 118 in Britten – sorry Britain! – alone (see here).    That date also marks the beginning of Lichfield’s Britten Festival, organised by Cathedral Director of Music, Cathy Lamb: a weekend of events which begins with the coming together of pupils from several schools in Lichfield in two performances of Noyes Fludde.

The full calendar of events is follows:

Friday 22 November

  • 3.0pm: Noyes Fludde.  Cathy Lamb conducts the performance, which is being directed by the Canon Precentor, Wealands Bell, with Fran Ambrose as Noye and Ailsa Cochrane as Mrs Noye.
  • 5.30pm: Choral Evensong, featuring Britten’s A Hymn to the Virgin.
  • 7.30pm: Noyes Fludde (second performance).

Saturday 23 November‘s events are as follows:

  • 5.30pm: Choral Evensong, including the Hymn to St. Columba and canticles by Henry Purcell, who was a great influence on Britten.
  • 7.30pm: Evening Concert: Lichfield Cathedral Chamber Choir will be joined by DECO (the Darwin Ensemble Chamber Orchestra) in performances of both St. Nicholas and The Company of Heaven, conducted by Martyn Rawles.

and there follows a busy Sunday:

  • 9.30am: Choral Matins, including Britten’s Te Deum and Jubilate as well as Purcell’s Hear my prayer;
  • 11.0am: Choral Eucharist, including Britten’s Missa Brevis and ‘This Little Babe’ from A Ceremony of Carols;
  • 1.0pm: Lecture by Paul Spicer: ‘Benjamin Britten: Too Original for his own good?’
  • 3.30pm: Choral Evensong, with Britten A Hymn to St. Cecilia and another set of canticles by Purcell.
  • 5.0pm: Recital by Yours Truly, with Ben Lamb at the piano, including Britten’s marvellous Songs and Proverbs of William Blake.

Philip Lancaster song recital flyer.docSpeaking personally, it is a manically busy weekend, but is one to which I am looking forward with great excitement.  I am involved in every event except for the Eucharist and Lecture on the Sunday (the Eucharist being sung by the boys’ and girls’ choirs, so the gents of the choir are not required).  I am The Voice of God in Noye and one of the three readers in The Company of Heaven.  However, it is the recital which is the most exciting fare of the weekend (and the one for which I am most likely to be rather weary, after all preceding services and events of the weekend!)  It is not perhaps the joyful finale, but a dark, introspective look at the human condition.  The recital begins with the three songs written for Ronald Duncan’s play This Way to the Tomb, which ends with the Purcellian Ground Bass of ‘Night’.  There follows Britten’s realisation of Purcell’s powerful song, ‘Job’s Curse’, which sets the scene for The Songs and Proverbs of William Blake, written for Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau in 1965.  This is one of the most extraordinary works I have ever performed – one of the most difficult to learn, but by far one of the most satisfying.  The programme concludes with four folksong arrangements by Britten.  These are not the light froth that one might associate with the idea of folksong, but darker tales of loves lost.

I hope to see you sometime over the weekend!  For more details you can download the flyer here.


The Acts of the Artists: What Do Artists Do All Day?

The act of creativity and the place of the Artist in society is something that has become an increasing fascination. It is perhaps a result of my increasing desire, as told elsewhere on this blog, to express myself through my own work rather than through my research, editing and writing of/on composers and poets of the early twentieth century, which is the mainstay of my work.  Indeed, it the creative act and the place of the Artist is the central theme in a short collection of my own poetry that I am preparing for publication, for issue on 1 June 2014: Fulcrum (more details about this here). I sincerely believe that it is the Arts that are the defining vestige of humanity, and that they are the most important facet of our being.  It is what separates us from the mere bestial.  There are some who would beg to differ; those who see the Arts as an economically fruitless frivolity (because a growing economy is the be-all of everything, obviously, and if you aren’t an accountable cog within this machine then you are worthless); and there are those who believe that science, pushing the bounds of knowledge, is everything.  Some aspects of science can tend towards art in its outlook and ideology, one might argue; however, that aspect of scientific pursuit which is cited as the apogee of usefulness is medicine, which to my mind is merely a refined form of the bestial instinct to survive (I am in no way ungrateful of the medical profession: they do remarkable things, maintaining our well-being and quality of life, but it is, as I say, a refined form of the bestial instincts and is not something that defines us as human. That is for the arts alone.).

There has been, to my mind, only one television programme broadcast this year (in the first ten months thereof) has been worth watching (yes, only one – although by no means have I seen all that has been broadcast – far from it; indeed I haven’t yet watched any others in the series to which this programme belongs).  This programme showed something of the work of the artist, and is something that I recommend heartily: BBC4’s portrait of the great Norman Ackroyd, ‘What Do Artists Do All Day?’.  Having just joyfully stumbled across the programme on YouTube, I thought I would share it here.

Part one:

Part two: