The 2023 Aldeburgh Festival sees a focus on Cassandra Miller, as well as world premieres from David Matthews and Francisco Coll, alongside performances of works by Jonathan Harvey and Thomas Adès.
On 11 June at Snape Maltings John Storgårds conducts Miller’s La Donna (2021) with the with the BBC Philharmonic. The 15-minute piece is inspired by Genoese Trallalero street-singing, and as in several of Miller’s pieces, magnifies and transfigures the expressive qualities of pre-existing recordings. Typically the style involves nine male voices: five basses, two mimic guitars, one sings the melody while leading the group, and the highest voice (sometimes referred to as la donna) sings in a florid falsetto. The vibrato is extravagant, and the resonance is bright and vibrant. La Donna draws on a 1954 recording of the song La Partenza da Parigi as by Alan Lomax, which Miller transcribed.
The concert opens with a new Manuel de Falla orchestra by Francisco Coll: the earthy, flamenco-infused Fantasía Baetica (1919). Originally composed for piano, this 12-minute version for orchestra (triple woodwinds and two percussion) provides conductors and programmers with a brilliant addition to the very small numbers of orchestral works by de Falla.
Another world premiere for the festival comes from David Matthews, who celebrates his 80th birthday this year. On 10 June the Kreutzer Quartet perform Matthews’ String Quartet No.17 at Orford Church. His latest contribution to the form continues a long-running collaboration with the group, who premiered his 10th, 12th, 13th, and 14th quartets; since 2012 they have been engaged in a multi-volume project to record Matthews’ complete string quartets.
As an artist-in-focus at the Festival Miller’s music will also receive performances from EXAUDI, George Xiaoyuan Fu, as well as regular Miller collaborators Quatuor Bozzini and Juliet Fraser. On 11 June EXAUDI perform Miller’s Guide in the Britten Studio at Snape Maltings, a piece commissioned by the vocal ensemble in 2013. “I knew right away”, said Miller of the 15-minute piece, “that I would attempt to write a piece about ‘the feeling of freedom one gets from singing’.” The musical stimulus for the 15-minute piece comes from one of her mother’s folk records: ‘Guide me, O Thou great Jehovah’, recorded by Maria Muldaur in 1968.
Quatuor Bozzini appear on 16 June and 17 June, performing Miller’s Warblework and Just So at Snape Maltings, and About Bach in Orford Church. There they are joined by soprano Juliet Fraser for the Beethoven-inspired Thanksong, who also performs Tracery: Hardanger on 21 June, a collaboration between composer and vocalist that demonstrates the centrality of meditation and embodiment to Miller’s practice. On 20 June pianist George Xiaoyuan Fu performs another Miller partnership, this time with composer Michael Finnissy, in Sinner, please don't let this Harvest pass, based on the titular spiritual. The 2014 piece sees Miller contribute two of the work’s four movements; the order in which they are performed is determined by the player.
Jonathan Harvey’s choral music appears in the Marian Consort’s Inviolata programme on 24 June at Orford Church. The Annunciation (2011), one of the final works composed by Harvey, is a 3½-minute setting of a poem by Edwin Muir for unaccompanied choir; Muir’s poem describes the moment at which the angel Gabriel announces to Mary that she is to bear the son of God, as they stare into each other’s faces. The piece also draws inspiration from Domenico Veneziano’s The Annunciation in Cambridge’s Fitzwilliam Museum.
Pavel Kolesnikov, another Festival artist-in-focus, performs Thomas Adès’ Darknesse Visible in Snape Maltings on 10 June. The Dowland-inspired work for solo piano appears as part of a multimedia programme based on the work of American artist Joseph Cornell (1903-1972); in December 2022 Kolesnikov performed the piece at Wigmore Hall.
On 14 June festival audiences can experience the Britten Song Trail. A first in the history of the Aldeburgh Festival, the trail is a bespoke journey through Britten’s finest songs taking place from the morning through the afternoon across a host of unusual venues in Aldeburgh including an art gallery, a distillery and a Victorian pumping station. Music include performances of the Cabaret Songs, Tit for Tat, Canticle V, and the Suite for Harp.
The 74th Aldeburgh Festival runs from 9 – 25 June.