The Aldeburgh Music Festival is a classy but definitely unstuffy affair. It's Bartok, Bach and Beethoven by the beach - with beer.
In fact, the stunning festival concert hall was once a maltings - a building where barley was germinated (malted) for the brewing and distilling industries. If you are looking for vacation on the coast, where you can combine a visit to a salty North Sea resort with 17 days of listening to the finest musicians in the world, a bit of quirky shopping and nice seafood, the Aldeburgh Festival is for you.
An Annual Event for Decades
Every June, the festival fills a quiet backwater near the Suffolk Coast with music, opera and performing arts. Leading artists and ensembles from all over the world gather to perform in remarkable venues at an event founded by British composer Benjamin Britten.
In 1948, Britten, together with tenor Peter Pears, his companion and collaborator, and Eric Crozier, Britten's frequent librettist, founded the Aldeburgh festival as a home for their touring opera company, the English Opera Group.
Their aim was to produce fresh interpretations of classic repertoire, to rediscover forgotten works and to foster working relationships and collaborations between established artists and talented younger musicians.
Music Near the Sea that Inspired it
It all began in churches and local halls in and around the coastal resort of Aldeburgh. Sixty-seven years on in 2016, the festival is now centered on Snape Maltings a collection of Victorian buildings, barns and workshops covering seven acres beside the Alde estuary.
It's about five miles from Aldeburgh where Britten and Pears made their home. Its views of the ever changing North Sea as well as local legends inspired Britten's tragic opera "Peter Grimes."
The main concert hall was once the largest barley "maltings" in East Anglia, used for malting grain until 1965.
It was converted into a concert hall by British designers Arup Associates and opened by the Queen twice - once in 1967 and again, after being nearly destroyed by fire, in 1970. It's now one of the most important music venues in the east of England.
If you go, the Maltings will probably be the most unusual concert hall you've ever visited. But it is just one of several buildings and outdoor spaces used for the festival and for year round education, artist development and community music. The festival, that the Guardian called "arguably the best music event in Britain", now spreads into the nearby towns of Snape, Blythburgh and Ipswich as well as the beach at Aldeburgh.
In addition to opera and orchestral music it usually includes chamber music, contemporary music, an art show, walks in the Snape Marshes and talks. A program of alternative events in the Pumphouse, a disused Victorian pumphouse on the marshes, might include comedy, world music, jazz and theater. The site itself is home to tempting restaurants, shops and galleries (open year round) and the departure point for river trips along the Alde.
One element that makes the Aldeburgh Festival so special is the campus setting, where audience members can mingle with music makers throughout the 17-days.
Aldeburgh Festival Essentials
- What: A festival of music, opera, and other performing arts founded by composer Benjamin Britten, English tenor Peter Pears, Britten's partner, and director and librettist Eric Crozier.
- When: Two weeks in June. In 2017, the festival will be held from June 9 to 25.
- Where: Snape Maltings, seven acres of restored Victorian buildings near the Alde Estuary near the Suffolk Coast
- Admission: Various ticket prices
- Telephone +44 (0)1728 687 100
- Find a B&B nearby