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A PLACE FOR US
Classical Music

A PLACE FOR US

Posted April 5, 2018   |   393 views   |   Music   |   Comments (0) Snape Maltings is about to embark on the next phase of its development and expansion as an inspirational artistic hub, continuing to evolve organically out of the unique landscape of the Suffolk coast, harnessing its rich cultural heritage and strong sense of community. Our guest editor Roger Wright celebrates the power of ‘placemaking’ in providing the ideal conditions for creativity to thrive and transform lives for the better

Imagine if a version of Dragons’ Den had existed in the mid-1960s and that two creative men in their fifties were making their pitch.

 

Their business plan included an 800-seat concert hall and opera house which would be one of the leading international venues, with an acoustic which would become the envy of the world. In addition, they envisaged two other spaces to accommodate audiences of more than 300 and 100, an international festival with a new music focus and a year round programme for the training of young professional musicians. The challenges? The nearest town had a population of no more than 3,000 people, half of its catchment area was the sea and the site was built on a flood plain.

 

The easiest answer for the panel of investors would have been ‘I’m out’. However, this region’s extraordinary community and those who shared the vision of Benjamin Britten and Peter Pears backed them. We have them to thank for the existence today of this most unlikely of creations – a worldclass music centre which has international impact but which is set in this tiny place. So Snape Maltings is now a forward-thinking, nurturing, music organisation set in an inspirational landscape; international in its scope whilst at the same time rooted in, and serving, its community.

 

In her article in this issue, Katherine Zeserson talks of the power of place (p57). ‘Place-making’ is playing an increasingly important part in Arts Council England’s agenda and Jorja Fleezanis reflects on the focus and inspiration which this landscape provides. It is important to remember, though, that place-making has to be deep rooted and true to its heritage and the distinctive qualities of the places in question. This place works because its history and its development are authentic. They are deeply embedded in Suffolk because its founder was born and lived here. His vision has not only been respected and maintained, but successfully and continuously built upon, making it fit for purpose for today and the next 50 years. Grafting on cultural agendas to areas without understanding their history will always be more difficult, as many ‘fly-in’ festivals have found to their cost.

 

Alfred Brendel perhaps best captured this sense of place when he wrote: ‘Snape Maltings is one of those rare artistic centres where the buildings, the people who visit and work there, the magical setting, come together and enable you to do something out of the ordinary. It is the perfect place to create a new international centre for music which will allow our most talented professionals to achieve their true potential.’

 

Elsewhere in this guest editor focus, Alan Howarth discusses the power of artistic creativity in the health sector (p69). Britten would never have known the terrible impact on the lives of those affected by dementia and Parkinson’s. However, he would certainly have recognised our work using the unique power of music to heal and bring communities together. He would also have understood the value of music making, particularly singing, in areas of socio-economic deprivation as a means of engaging individuals and encouraging participation and social contact. Snape Maltings is now at the forefront of an international movement championing the arts as powerful tools for social transformation with music, health and wellbeing at the heart of the re-visioned international creative campus.

 

Music has indeed a unique power to inspire. As Britten’s friend and collaborating poet, W H Auden, wryly noted: ‘Music is the best means we have of digesting time’.

 

In his acceptance speech when he was presented with the first Aspen Award in Colorado in July 1964, Britten talked about his beliefs as an artist and this societal role: ‘The ideal conditions for an artist or musician will never be found outside the ideal society, and when shall we see that? But I think I can tell you some of the things which any artist demands from any society. He demands that his art shall be accepted as an essential part of human activity, and human expression; and that he shall be accepted as a genuine practitioner of that art and consequently of value to the community.’

 

Many other elements of that speech still resonate today. Music making is all about partnership – the relationship between the composer and the performer, the performer and the listener, the collective experience of the audience and the desire for all of us who love music to share our passions. As Britten said, ‘… a musical experience needs three human beings at least. It requires a composer, a performer, and a listener; and unless these three take part together there is no musical experience.’ It is this collective endeavour which has also characterised the unique nature of programming here. The Ojai Festival on the west cost of the USA began a year before the Aldeburgh Festival. In his words about Ojai, Tom Morris explains his programming philosophy and the way in which it is our job as artistic leaders to take audiences on a journey of discovery, not simply to offer them music and ideas which are already familiar to them (p75). I never cease to be amazed at the hunger that our audiences at Snape show for the new – whether it is music or performers. It is a trust and respect which has been built over the years since the start of the Aldeburgh Festival 70 years ago.

 

Today, the vision of our founders is not only alive but flourishing, and at the most potentially transformative moment in its history. In 1970, after the second opening of the Snape Maltings concert hall following the disastrous fire which destroyed it only two years after its launch, Britten and Imogen Holst put their names to a masterplan for the whole site. It is uncannily similar to the new masterplan which has recently been prepared, following the unexpected opportunity we had, as a music charity, to acquire the whole of the Maltings site and its related businesses in 2015.

 

This bold step represents a fascinating new model for the sustainability of our artistic activity. ACE helped to fund the acquisition because it supported the exciting breadth of our new activity and saw a potential threat to the future of this organisation if some other business had acquired the site. It also recognised the potential for showcasing a new diversified approach to sustaining arts activity at a time of increasing pressure on the public purse.

 

There was another ground-breaking aspect to our founders’ vision for Snape Maltings which is often overlooked. We now regard as commonplace the use of industrial buildings for accommodation and as appropriate spaces for creative use but these buildings in Suffolk were the first such to be put to cultural purpose.

 

As one writer in Loud and Quiet noted: ‘In the context of Austerity Britain and, more generally, the culture industries financial contraction over the past two decades, it feels like a minor miracle that a place like this exists at all. Bucolically flanked by the river Alde to one side and rolling barley fields to the other, with giant sculptures by Henry Moore and Barbara Hepworth dotting the grounds, the entire site is inspiringly tranquil.

 

‘Curious noises emanate from the practice rooms within the complex’s various buildings, amplifying the stirring, other-worldly feel, and the overall effect is one of seductive dissociation: there’s a sense that the creativitysapping drudgery of real life just doesn’t happen here, that this place is a greenhouse for those exotic musical plants that would struggle to survive anywhere else.’

 

In The Summing Up, Somerset Maugham’s literary memoir, he wrote that ‘tradition is a guide not a jailer’ and this is a compelling observation for all organisations with powerful heritage.

 

So, at a time when it would be all too easy to justify defending individual organisations’ territories, let’s heed the collaborative message at the heart of Helen Wilson’s article in this issue: culture does indeed drive growth, personal as well as economic. Success is also built upon delivering distinctive high-quality work with confidence and passion. As one of Maugham’s characters commented in his novel The Razor’s Edge, Things don’t get any easier by putting them off.’

 

We are therefore making the most of opportunities and confidently working together, with pride but without arrogance, to sustain and build the world of classical music in order to pass it on in good health to the generations of listeners that will follow us. Britten’s vision deserves nothing less.


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