In the Wings

Backstage glimpses with Boston Lyric Opera

Happy Birthday, Benjamin Britten!

Nov 22, 2013 2:15:00 PM
By BLO Staff

Edward Benjamin Britten

An Homage to the Composer
by BLO Music Director, David Angus

Some of my most treasured memories are, as a boy chorister, singing with Benjamin Britten conducting. I sang regularly in Chapel 6 times a week, with Sir David Willcocks, but, every now and then, we would supply a boy’s choir for major orchestral concerts. These included trips to work with Britten at his Aldeburgh Festival, often with dress rehearsal concerts in beautiful venues such as King’s College, Cambridge, or Ely Cathedral. I remember, even at that early age, being completely mesmerized by works such as his Sinfonia da Requiem and his Spring Symphony, pieces I would have the opportunity to perform many times since. The Sinfonia da Requiem is one of the deepest and most moving works I have ever heard – written in memory of his parents – and it was a performance of this work by Koussevitsky and the Boston Symphony Orchestra which led to the commission for Britten’s groundbreaking Peter Grimes.

Britten was a typically reserved Englishman, but when he made music, one sensed that he burned passionately inside. He was kind and gentle, his rehearsal manner very respectful toward everyone, and he insisted on getting precisely what he wanted musically—something I have always tried to emulate. I also remember that he was an expert pianist and even a virtuoso whistler, which greatly impressed us as young choristers. (My only regret was that my voice broke during rehearsals for the War Requiem, so I wasn’t able to participate in the performances; instead, I was bundled straight off to secondary school!)

At that young age, I didn’t fully realize how fortunate I was to be a part of such exciting projects, with top orchestras and soloists, and with Britten himself conducting. Through those experiences, and through years of exploring his remarkable music, I became a lifelong Britten devotee.

It is a great coincidence that Britten’s Centenary coincides exactly with the Bicentenaries of both Wagner and Verdi, because Britten’s music has the same powers of dramatic and passionate expression that move audiences so deeply. Performing his music as a young boy was such an inspiring privilege, and now, many years later, it remains that way still.


Topics: Britten, david angus, opera

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