Three works for string quartet by Benjamin Britten provide the soundtrack to William Yong’s UtopiVerse at the National Ballet of Canada, which receives its world premiere at Toronto’s Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts on 20 March 2024. See behind the scenes of the creation of UtopiVerse here.

UtopiVerse leads the 2024 Winter Triple Bill at NBC. Yong’s piece is a multidisciplinary work that also draws on film from Thomas Payette, and presents an alternative way of seeing traditional notions of utopia, paradise lost, the Garden of Eden, human evolution and the meaning of God. It is inspired by the thinking of physicist Thomas Hertog, whose work imagined multiple universes, as well as Yong’s own experiences growing up in Hong Kong, on a boundary where “British colonialism met Chinese imperialism and capitalism coexisted uncomfortably with communism”. Read an interview with Yong about the project here.

Yong and Music Director David Briskin selected three works by Benjamin Britten to illuminate this exploration: String Quartet No.3 (1975), the String Quartet in F (1928), and the brisk, single-movement Alla Marcia (1933). Both Briskin and Yong saw in the music’s rich emotional spectrum to an apt mirror for the complex states of mind the ballet examines.

String Quartet No.3 (1976), one of Britten’s remarkable late works, has close links with Britten’s final opera Death in Venice. Its five-movement, arch-like structure is built around a serene central interlude for solo violin, framed by a fantastical ostinato movement and a bizarre, garish waltz; it closes with a serious, rueful passacaglia, ‘La Serenissima’. The 1928 Quartet in F, by contrast, is imbued with youthful energies across much of its 22-minute span, though tempered by a dark ending in F minor and an emotionally ambiguous slow movement.

In early 2024 Olaf Schmidt also choreographed Britten’s chamber music. An excerpt from Colin Matthews’ orchestration of the Temporal Variations, originally for oboe and piano, features as part of Das Innerste des Schweigens at Theater Lüneburg, a dance piece inspired by Virginia Woolf’s use of stream-of-consciousness in her novels. Matthews’ orchestration of the 15-minute work was created for Nicholas Daniel, realising Britten’s hint in 1935 that he was gestating a “large and elaborate suite for oboe and strings”. Das Innerste des Schweigens is in rep until 21 April – see the trailer here.

Welsh National Opera’s new production of Death in Venice opened on 7 March to widespread critical acclaim, and the subject of a photo essay in the Guardian; the work was conceived by Britten with a major choreographic element at its centre in the form of the dancer who plays Tadzio, the object of Aschenbach’s fascination and longing.

Olivia Fuchs’ staging for WNO partnered with NoFit State community circus for a dazzling new realisation of this aspect of the piece, using aerialists and acrobats to depict Tadzio and his Polish family. Tadzio was played by Antony César, with the Governess/Jaschiu played by Riccardo Saggese; the movement was devised by circus designer Firenza Guidi.

Death in Venice tours England and Wales until 11 May.