In January 2023 Bertrand Chamayou will perform Benjamin Britten’s Young Apollo for piano, string quartet, and string orchestra with the Basel Kammerorchester and Baptiste Lopez, directing from the violin, in London and Switzerland. On 12 and 14 January they appear at Stadttheater Olten and the Salle de Musique at La Chaux-de-Fonds, followed by a concert at Wigmore Hall on 15 January. In June 2024 the 10-minute work will also receive three performances from Francesco Piemontesi and the Minnesota Orchestra, conducted by Thomas Søndergård.

Young Apollo is inspired by the final lines of Keats’ unfinished poem Hyperion – named for the Titan sun god whose place Olympian Apollo took: ‘‘-and lo! From all / his limbs Celestial…’ It is inspired, Britten said, “by such sunshine as I’ve never seen before”, when staying in Toronto. Its music quivers with vitality, reinforced by gleaming open strings and shimmering harmonics, and rarely straying from a bright A major. Britten’s textural inventiveness is evident in the vivacious interplay between piano, concertante group of quartet soloists, and the larger string ensemble.

Young Apollo was commissioned by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and received its first performance in Canada in 1939, with Britten performing the solo part. It was then withdrawn until its first UK performance in 1979 at the Aldeburgh Festival with Michael Roll as soloist joining Steuart Bedford and the English Chamber Orchestra, since receiving many hundreds of international performances and widely recorded. Young Apollo is among only a handful of works by Britten for piano and orchestra, all written between 1930 and 1940, joining Diversions for piano left hand, the Piano Concerto in D Major, and the Rondo Concertante for piano and strings (completed, like Movements for a Clarinet Concerto, by Colin Matthews).  

The figure of Apollo is a radiant presence in a work from the end of Britten’s life – his final opera Death in Venice (1973), after Thomas Mann’s novella, which receives two new productions in the New Year. On 26 January Theater Heidelberg mounts a staging directed by Magdalena Fuchsberger and conducted by Dietger Holm. Winfrid Mikus sings the role of Aschenbach, and baritone James Homann as the Traveller who haunts the writer in various guises around the city; countertenor Franko Klisović is the Voice of Apollo. On 7 March Welsh National Opera present their new production from director Olivia Fuchs, conducted by Leo Hussain, which then tours England and Wales. Mark le Brocq sings the lead role, joined by baritone Roderick Williams and countertenor Alexander Chance.