Monday, June 10, 2013

Day #5 - 6 Cambridge & Coventry

The beautiful courtyard at King's College Cambridge

Two hour drive from Aldeburgh to Cambridge, followed by 30 minute city orientation tour. Punting on the Cam, shopping in the city market and a cup of warm coffee (to ward off the June chill!). Highlight of the day was Sunday Evensong Service at King's College Chapel. Our very own Dr. Marilyn Keiser played a beautiful and dramatic Rheinberger Passacaglia Variations as the Prelude.

Ansty Hall, 1687, just outside Coventry

Touring the burned out remains of Coventry's gothic cathedral 

Awoke in the beautiful Ansty Hall; following breakfast drove to the moving St Michael's Cathedral in Coventry, where the skeletal structure of the gothic remains (bombed in WWII) serves as a somber entry path to the contemporary new building. Britten's War Requiem was commissioned for the festival which opened the new cathedral fifty years ago in 1963. Attending the daily noon-time "Service of Reconciliation" was a profound and meaningful end to our time in Coventry.

Chapel behind the main altar in Coventry

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Days #3 & 4 Aldeburgh Music Festival

This trip continues to amaze! Following a relaxing 2.5 hr drive out of London, our team arrived in the charming seaside town of Aldeburgh. On the southern shore of the North Sea, Aldeburgh was home for Britten and Pears during much of their lives, and is where they established the annual Aldeburgh Music Festival.

Our Victorian seaside hotel, the Wentworth, overlooks the pebbly beach, and has inviting living room areas throughout the main floor to encourage reading, chatting with friends, and taking afternoon tea!

Aldeburgh's charming Wentworth Hotel on the sea

Britten's first opera of international renown is Peter Grimes, and is based on a poem called "The Burrough" by 17th century Aldeburgh resident George Crabbe. You can almost hear the strains of the famous "Four Sea Interludes" from Grimes in the coastal breezes as you explore this picturesque town. In fact, the opening prologue of the opera is set in Moot Hall, the real-world version of which sits just down the road from our hotel in all its 16th century splendor.

Tim, Marilyn, Sherrie and Michael as we enjoy another elegant dinner at our hotel

Last night, after a wonderful dinner of guinea fowl, local asparagus and chocolate brownie at the hotel, we traveled the short distance to the town of Snape, to see the opening performance of this year's Aldeburgh Music Festival, Peter Grimes, presented in concert version.

Beautiful headstones for Britten and Pears in the Parish Churchyard
Aldeburgh's Moot Hall is featured prominently in Peter Grimes

Today we had time to explore the home Britten and Pears shared for many years, the "Red House," just re-opened after a year of renovations and restorations. Standing in the Britten's composition studio, knowing it was where he wrote such works as the War Requiem was one of those moment-of-a-lifetime experiences!

Snape Maltings Concert Hall
Living Room at Britten's "Red House"

This evening, after a VIP tour of the Snape Maltings concert hall grounds, we enjoyed a performance of Britten's Les Iluminations and Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta by Bartok.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Day #2 All Around London

What a day! A magnificent tour of the Royal Opera House (including the special box for the Royal Family, and their gathering chamber backstage), a private concert inside the Handel House Museum, an incredible afternoon tea on the top floor of Fortnum & Mason, all capped off with a terrific performance of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, still in previews at the Drury Lane Theater (go see this show when it comes to NYC!!).

Michael Sells gives us an overview of the important history of London's Royal Opera House

Handel House Museum in London

Admiring the terrific view of Covent Garden from the rooftop terrace of the Royal Opera House

Heather and Tim contemplate the tempting array at the Fortnum & Mason afternoon tea

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Day #1 Britten in Britain Tour


June 5

Our group of cultural tourists, 29 strong, have been arriving in Covent Garden district of London over the last few days, with the final travelers checking into our Fielding Hotel this morning. All present and accounted for, we kicked off the official start of the "Britten in Britain" cultural heritage tour with a wonderful dinner this evening of lasagna, sausage skewers, roasted chicken and fish stew.

Executive Director Michael Pettry, Artistic Director Eric Stark and General Manager Andrew Lannerd take in the view of Saint Paul's Cathedral from the foot of the Millennium Bridge

Though the "official" activities have just begun, that doesn't mean we haven't already been busy taking in the many cultural offerings of this fantastic city. "The Audience" with Helen Mirren, "Singing in the Rain" at the Palace Theater, the Tate Modern, Saint Paul's Cathedral, The National Gallery, Saint Martin in the Fields, The London Eye, and ballet at the Royal Opera House...just a few of the samplings our group members have enjoyed. And, several have enjoyed special activities to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II, including a magnificent service at Westminster Abbey.

We are honored to have Dr. Michael Sells as our cultural leader on this trip. Professor Emeritus at Butler University, and formerly of the faculty of the University of Southern California, Michael had a significant career as tenor soloist, performing works of Britten, Bach and others with such conductors as Helmuth Rilling, Roger Wagner, and William Hall. A lifelong devotee of the music of Benjamin Britten, we were thrilled that he agreed to join us and share his unique professional and personal insights with us all.

Michael Sells and I raise a toast to Benjamin Britten

2013 marks the 100th anniversary of the birth of Britten. And, with our own commemorative performance of his magnificent War Requiem ahead of us in May 2014, this trip gives us a chance to celebrate the meaningful choral contributions of this singular composer as we anticipate getting to live with his music in rehearsals and performance in the season to come.

So, stay tuned to this blog for regular updates from our tour. And, join us in Indianapolis on May 3, 2014, for our performance!