Hello fellow Drake students! My name is Molly Brandt, I am a Music Business student entering my senior year at Drake. I’m excited to share with you my experiences these past few weeks. During the month of June I’ve been able to have the opportunity to travel to England for the two-week Aldeburgh Festival of Music and the Arts in the quant villages of Suffolk, UK. I was able to work behind the scenes at the festival, while attending some of the most amazing concerts and performances of my lifetime.
What is the Aldeburgh Festival?
Beginning in 1948, contemporary British composer Benjamin Britten and singer Peter Pears founded the festival in Britten’s home by the North Sea and the Alde River. At the center of a year-long calendar of events, Aldeburgh Music’s centerpiece is during the June festival. The festival encompasses music ranging from classical contemporary to folk rock to jazz to world genres. At the same time, the festival hold lectures, masterclasses, art exhibits, and other demonstrations. Internationally acclaimed artists, composers, conductors, and performers arrive to put on world-class concerts at the several unique venues. The main focus of the festival are classical and contemporary works, many composed by Benjamin Britten in celebration of his legacy. Along the Suffolk Coast, the main concert halls in villages of Aldeburgh and Snape are home to the fantastic operas, orchestral concerts, recitals, chamber performances, and massive choral works. The festival embraces a program of unique and outside-of-the-box performances.
The Student Scheme
During my time at the Aldeburgh Festival, I participated in a student program called the Hesse Student Scheme. Along with 10 students from around the UK, we have been participating in the daily running of the festival. The tasks include selling programmes, turning pages, serving drinks, helping patrons find their way, and miscellaneous tasks. Hesses also have the privilege to meet with heads of departments of the Aldeburgh Music organization (e.g. Programming, Education, Artist Development, Aldeburgh Young Musicians, Administration, Marketing). In exchange for our work, we attended many of the world-class concerts at the festival.
- Les illuminations: The first night of the festival, I was able to watch the crowning work of this year’s slate of performances. An original production and world premiere, Britten’s music, along with works of John Adams and Claude Debussy, was set to staged circus performance (in style of Cirque du Soleil), orchestral accompaniment, and soprano voice. I’d never seen anything quite like it, utilizing so many types of artistic medium.
- Festival Walk: Each year, the festival holds a few “festival walks” around the beautiful countryside of Suffolk on its walking paths. We were able to view 13th century churches, English birds, and the seaside beach at the end of the walk. We enjoyed a “hog roast” with the locals on the walk.
- The Pumphouse: This venue is a small building on the edge of Aldeburgh, set in a disused Victorian pumping station built on the Aldeburgh marshes. During weekends of the festival, the outside is transformed into an eclectic tent hang-out and the inside is a cabaret-esque venue, complete with a wonderful bar and food truck. My Hesse friends and I ventured forth on our first weekend to see a really neat brass band called Perhaps Contraption, playing funky, minimalist, pop brass music, even including some choral performance in the mix. The Pumphouse is host to jazz trios, Norwegian Hardanger fiddle, character comedy, and even cabaret. Each week on the Friday, Hesse student produce and perform a one-hour set at the Pumphouse. Our first week was filled with vocal jazz, piano solo, clarinet duos, and beat poetry.
- Olivier Messiaen’s Catalogue d’Oiseaux: Pianist and artistic director of Aldeburgh Music Festival, Pierre-Laurant Aimard played four separate shows throughout the day, starting at 4:30 a.m. as the sun rose upon the reeds at Snape Maltings Concert Hall. The piece is based on the birdsong of the English countryside and evokes the sounds these birds make. One can hear the actual birds in the distance as Pierre-Laurant Aimard beautifully played the pieces bringing their story to life on the piano.
- Snape Maltings Hall: Originally a malthouse, this has now been converted to an 800 seat concert hall. It was actually opened by the Queen of England. The hall overlooks the Alde River and its reeds. I attended around 20 classical concerts at Snape Maltings. Some highlights: song cycles of Benjamin Britten, Bach’s St. Matthew’s Passion, the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, string quartets, and the Britten Sinfonia. It is possibly one of the most unique and beautiful concert halls I’ve been in. The brick and wood aesthetic is paired with amazing classical and contemporary music.
- Bandstand on the Beach: Everyday of the Aldeburgh Festival, music is performed on a stage overlooking the North Sea Beach. It’s free and open to the public from about 1 p.m.-4 p.m. every single day. Complete with famous Suffolk fish & chips, the most annoying seagulls, and really varied musical flavor. I was able to see a British folk group, a New Orleans style jazz band, signing choir, 150 school children singing world music, and euphonium solo, to name a few.
- Organ Crawl: During one day of the festival, I embarked on an “organ crawl” throughout 13th century churches in the Suffolk countryside. Experimental saxophone and organ sounds filled each church and was a truly unique sonic experience.
Overall, the experience I had at the Aldeburgh Music Festival was unlike anything I’ve ever experienced in my life. My first time in the UK, I was put right into the thick of working in an unfamiliar environment, not knowing a single person. I met friends who will last a lifetime, connected with some of the most influential music administrators in the UK, and listened to some of the most beautiful music I’ve ever heard. In the music business, the Aldeburgh Music organization is top-notch and they have done so much for the Suffolk community; through education, artist development, and cultural enrichment. To be completely honest, I was terrified to embark on this journey, but learned that sometimes the most terrifying adventures can be the most amazing adventures. If you’re afraid to go abroad on your own, know that you will meet amazing people, have unique experiences, and you will know yourself better than you did before.