Celebrating Benjamin Britten

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The musical world loves a party. Anniversaries of births, anniversaries of deaths, anniversaries of first performances of specific works - all great excuses for a bit of a musical knees-up.

This year marks the centenary of the birth of one of my favourite composers and characters, and across the United Kingdom the musical party poppers and bunting are being bought in bulk to celebrate the centenary of the birth of Benjamin Britten.

Britten was, fittingly, born on St Cecilia's Day (22 November) in 1913. A precocious talent, he studied with Frank Bridge, and later John Ireland. He became a behemoth of the British musical scene during the 20th century, and to this day, his influence and importance has not waned.

He was a vehement pacifist, with strong leftist political sympathies. Far into adulthood, he maintained in many ways a childlike manner, and an obsession with innocence. He could be difficult, cutting people out of his circle who had outgrown their use, or who had upset him - although Alex Ross, in his book The Rest Is Noise, notes that this was not out of malice, but simply another manifestation of his childlike impulses. In 1948, along with Peter Pears, the love of Britten's life, he founded the Aldeburgh Festival, dedicated to enriching British musical life.

However, without a doubt, it is the musical legacy that Britten left that continues to captivate new listeners, and to provide aficionados of his music with continual delight. There is an elusive element to his musical language that makes it difficult to describe; often exceptionally angular, it is at the same time highly melodic, and the harmonies are frequently exceedingly dissonant and yet tonal.

For this reason, people seem to either love Britten's music or loathe it. I love it - I find it incredibly evocative of the Aldeburgh area (in which the majority of it was written), and very affecting, without really being able to put my finger on why I find it so. In my opinion Ross sums up the essence of Britten's music beautifully when he writes ‘the music is perfectly poised between the familiar and the strange, the pictorial and the psychological'.

At BBC NOW HQ, the next few months will include many nods to Britten. We've already performed the wonderful Violin Concerto, and next up will be the Spring Symphony, with conductor, David Atherton.

Britten is, arguably, best known for his operatic works, and so, the concert given by our own, very much in demand, Chorus (on 8 May) of Britten vocal works, is one not to be missed.

Rob Plane, BBC NOW's Principal Clarinet, will be the soloist for Britten's Movement for a Clarinet Concerto (a work that was left unfinished, and eventually completed by Colin Matthews), and in March, we will be joined by Antony Marwood and Lawrence Power for a performance of the Double Concerto.

The orchestra will be performing Britten's Spring Symphony on Friday 25 January at Cardiff's St David's Hall.

To find out more about the BBC National Orchestra of Wales' concerts celebrating Britten's centenary, visit the website.

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