A trip to Snape and Aldeburgh

August 2020


Earlier this month, director Bill Barclay, photographer Matthew Johnson and I (executive producer Naomi Taylor) ventured to the Suffolk Coast to explore Snape Maltings and Aldeburgh and to look at how each of the potential venues might feature in the film. 

We visited the iconic concert hall at Snape first – a vast space with enormous potential. The bare brick walls and unvarnished wooden stage have a refreshing and inspiring simplicity about them – a blank canvas for whatever one's imagination may offer.

[Above: Concert hall from back (top left), Bill and Naomi discussing possibilities with Geoff (top right and bottom left), Concert hall from stage (bottom right)]

Geoff Spain, head of production at Snape Maltings, gave us a tour of the many spaces available at Snape, and after the concert hall we saw both Britten-Pears Building housing the Peter Pears Recital Room, and the Hoffman Building, home to the Britten Studio and the Jerwood-Kiln Studio – and also featuring some lovely relics of the Maltings themselves in their previous life. Again, some lovely spaces – my personal favourite being the Britten Studio, with its mix of concrete, stone and wood interior. 

[Above: Geoff and Naomi in the Peter Pears recital room (top left), the Britten Studio (top right), exterior of Britten Pears Building (bottom left), detail from the walls in the Britten Studio (bottom right)]

The final stop on our tour with Geoff was the Dovecote Studio – a tiny gem of a room, decked out entirely in wood with a high pointed ceiling, apparently often used by composers in residence… a comment that immediately made us all pine for a composer residency at Snape, such was the peaceful atmosphere in that small, bright room all on its own by the stunning expanse of marshland that the campus is perched on the edge of.

[Above: Dovecote interior details (top left, bottom left and bottom right), upper half of exterior of Dovecote (top right)]

We paused for a coffee break and to talk through some of the score at this point – enjoying the beautiful views, the sculptures in the grounds and the glorious weather we were fortunate to have during the morning (not so much in the afternoon!). 

[Above: Bill and Naomi walking towards the concert hall entrance (top left); view from Snape Maltings (top right); 'The Family of Man' by Barbara Hepworth (bottom left); Bill and Naomi discussing Saint Nicolas with Snape Maltings in the background (bottom right)]

Next it was on to Aldeburgh Church, to meet the vicar – who gave us a potted history of this beautiful building that featured so prominently in the lives of Britten and Pears and of course the Aldeburgh Festival. Saint Nicolas itself received its (unofficial) premiere here, opening the very first Aldeburgh Festival in 1948. While we were at the church we didn't miss the opportunity to admire John Piper's Britten Memorial Window and also to visit Britten and Pears' graves – side by side, and a row in front of Imogen Holst's grave (joint artistic director of the Aldeburgh Festival for 20 years and daughter of Gustav Holst).

[Above: interior of Aldeburgh Parish Church (top left); the Britten memorial window (top right); Britten and Pears' graves, with Imogen Holst's grave in between in the row behind (bottom left); vicar Mark with Bill and Naomi in the churchyard (bottom right)]

Our final appointment of the day was with Lucy Walker, head of public engagement at The Red House – where Britten and Pears spent much of their lives together. Although the interior spaces here are small and don't offer huge amounts of potential for filming, we didn't pass up the opportunity for a quick tour, stepping back in time and imagining the two great men living their lives in this charming house. We learnt during this tour that the house didn't originally have a porch when Britten and Pears moved in – but the one we see today was built in anticipation of the Queen's visit (for tea!) following the opening of Snape Maltings Concert Hall in 1967. 

[Above: selected shots from the interior of The Red House, featuring some of Pears' extensive art collection]

The potential locations for filming here are the beautiful exterior and the gardens, and the library – which is still home to Britten's piano. 

[Above: the main entrance to The Red House, including the porch built in honour of a royal visit (top left); Bill at Britten's piano in the library (top right); one of the many flowerbeds in the gardens of the Red House (bottom left); Bill, Lucy and Naomi in the back garden of the Red House (bottom right)]

By now it was around 3pm – high time for a bite to eat! – so we headed down to the seafront, where we sheltered from the sudden unexpected squall with a late lunch and then made our way down the beach to Maggi Hamblings' memorial to Britten. This takes the form of an enormous scallop shell, into which a quote from Peter Grimes is cut, reading "I hear those voices which will not be drowned", which we all felt – given our mission with this project to connect voices in song after an achingly long silence – was rather apt. 

[Above: Bill and Naomi on the seafront in Aldeburgh (top left); the monument to Britten (right); Bill and Naomi on the beach at Aldeburgh (bottom left)]

We headed home, full of ideas, excitement and inspiration... ready, with your help, to make this project a reality. 

Photos: Matthew Johnson Photographer

Crowdfunding project

Britten Saint Nicolas: A film celebrating live and virtual music making

A filmed, staged version of Britten's Saint Nicolas, featuring world class musicians and a UK-wide virtual choir and orchestra.

Funding successful

£5,140 raised