Completing on Britten and Pears’ vision

Benjamin Britten’s home – The Red House – and the iconic concert venue he established at nearby Snape Maltings are to merge.

One of the biggest challenges for the original Aldeburgh Foundation (which then became Aldeburgh Music in the early 2000s and in recent years just ‘Snape Maltings’) has been the existence of Britten’s legacy in both the coastal town of Aldeburgh and the nearby village of Snape.

One single location makes branding events, seasons, venues and various other endeavours a much easier marketing process, compared to the challenge of managing the messaging for separate destinations across split sites, in some cases run by separate organisations with different funding streams. Confusing messages result.

Merging the Britten-Pears Foundation with Snape Maltings to create one organisational entity – the Benjamin Britten Foundation – helps a great deal.

Snape Maltings Concert Hall

In its own right, Snape Maltings has undergone a considerable transformation since the tenancy for the entire site was finally acquired from site owner Jonny Gooderham seven or eight years ago. Since Roger Wright‘s arrival on the scene, the Snape site has expanded its operation to include a range of retail, accommodation, and catering activities. Now there are more reasons for more people to visit Snape. Good business sense.

There’s an expanded vision too – explained to me a couple of years back by one excited staffer – that established the Snape buildings as a destination for exciting thinking collaborations, over and above music performance and talent development.

So this intention to merge both Snape and the Britten-Pears Foundation (the Red House) does then make perfect sense. Part of a business development story that has taken a long time to make happen.

Britten and Pears’ home, The Red House in Aldeburgh

I recently met with the Chief Exec (now Executive Director) of the then Britten Pears Foundation (though I might add – I knew nothing then of what was planned). As she explained what work goes on at the Red House, I recognised how the vision for Britten’s former home had changed considerably since I last worked in Aldeburgh.

Back then, the Red House was a scholarly location, access granted according to your educational credentials and publisher-endorsed research needs. There were one or two events for the select few. The then General Manager of the Aldeburgh Foundation even lived in one of the converted outbuildings. Twenty years after Britten’s death and ten or so after Pears’, the Red House was there but couldn’t be touched. At least that’s how it seemed.

Inside the Britten-Pears Archive – a new building opened in 2012

Now the Red House is a destination in its own right. It’s projected as a National Trust location without being part of the National Trust network. The vision is about reaching out to those outside of the classical music and opera world, illustrating Britten’s contribution to the county of Suffolk. Using the Red House as a gateway for those who have never even heard of Britten, let alone his music.

That shift in vision is refreshing. In truth, I quite liked the austere aspiration the Red House exuded back in 1997. But in a place like Aldeburgh, to have struck out and implemented change is quite some achievement. It’s a surprisingly conservative environment. It would be easy to succomb to years of convention.

In this way, bringing the two organisations together is a consolidation of that strategy. It means that resources are pooled between the two sites. More can be done, and more can be offered, more efficiently. It realises Britten and Pears’ original intention too.

Although personally I’m uneasy to see that Pears’ name is lost from the new entity’s name, I’m pleased to see that Snape existing programmes – the Britten-Pears Young Artist Programme and the Britten-Pears Orchestra – will still carry his name. There are, I understand, further plans afoot to celebrate Pears’ contribution too.

Read ‘Inside the Red House’ – a tour of Britten’s home from 2012

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