Rob Gebelhoff

The Huge Legacy of Benjamin Britten

Frankly Music celebrates the centennial of British composer whose music continues to grow in stature.

By - Jan 23rd, 2014 11:13 am
Violinist Frank Almond will join three other musicians in this week's Frankly Music concert honoring Benjamin Britten.

Violinist Frank Almond will join three other musicians in this week’s Frankly Music concert honoring Benjamin Britten.

Benjamin Britten is not typically a composer whose work is celebrated in a chamber concert. Frankly Music, however, is up to the challenge.

“Next to John Lennon and Paul McCartney, Britten is probably the most famous British artist in 20th century,” says Frank Almond, director and founder of Frankly Music. “He’s just an iconic figure.”

World-wide there have been centennial celebrations of the composer (born November 22, 1913) and  Frankly Music joins in with two Britten pieces — Suite for Violin and Piano and Cello suite No. 3 — at its concert this week. The performance will also feature two works by Olivier Messiaen: excerpts from “Vingt Regards sur l’enfant Jésus (Twenty gazes on the child Jesus)” and “Quatuor pour la fin du temps (Quartet for the End of Time).”

Violinist Almond, who serves as the concertmaster for the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra, will be joined by three other musicians — cellist Joseph Johnson, Grammy award-winning clarinetist Todd Levy, and the nationally acclaimed pianist Christopher Taylor — to carry out the 20th century program.

“The concept behind putting people together is to create a chemistry that will make a great performance,” Almond says. “We have that here.”

Almond says he particularly wanted to program this concert since few Milwaukee groups were noting this centennial. Britten was born in 1913 on the feast day of St. Cecilia, the patron saint of music. Five years later, he began composing music, beginning a career that rivaled that of Igor Stravinsky.

He is best known for his operas, such as “The Turn of the Screw” and “Peter Grimes” and was also well-known for his interest in producing music for children such as “The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra.”

Benjamin Britten

Benjamin Britten

Like many of his contemporary artists, Britten was heavily influenced by the worldwide conflicts of his time. He was a dedicated pacifist and a conscientious objector to World War II, and those views come through in his choral masterpiece, “War Requiem.”

Interestingly, all the pieces included in Frankly Music’s upcoming concert are tinged by the effects of WWII, a connection Almond says he did’t actually intend when programming the concert.

“Both Britten and Messiaen were connected to the war, although Messiaen in a more immediate way,” Almond says.

Messiaen entered the war at the age of 31 when France was invaded by Germany. He was captured by the Germans in 1940 and sent to a prisoner-of-war camp, where he met three professional musicians — a violinist, cellist and clarinetist — for whom he composed “Quartet for the End of Time.”

The hour-long piece premiered at the camp outside and in the rain in 1941. The musicians used poor quality instruments, with Messiaen on a broken down piano. Still, the piece had an amazing effect on the prisoners and has since become known as one the composer’s most profound works.

“The really amazing thing about this piece is its endurance,” Almond says. “It’s been held up as a huge piece in 20th century classical music.”

The work has been performed by the ensemble in the past and has been well received by audiences.

“We wanted to repeat a few pieces that were kind of hits for the company,” he says. “I’m always shocked at how people react to the piece.”

But however interesting the history of how the piece was written, its all about the music, he stresses. “It helps to know the background. But in the end, people can listen without knowing a lot and still be blown away. That’s a mark of great music.”

The concert is at 7 p.m., Monday, Jan. 27, at the Schwann Concert Hall of Wisconsin Lutheran College. General tickets are $39, student tickets are $10. More information can be found at Frankly Music’s website.

Other Upcoming Events:

“A Celebration of Spirit” by the Festival City Symphony

The three pieces presented by the Festival City Symphony all in their own way live up to the concert’s title, “A Celebration of Spirit.”

Nothing lifts the spirits like the upbeat music of Gioacchino Rossini, in this case his overture to “The Thieving Magpie,” a light-hearted and beloved story about a bird that steals jewelry. Next, the concert turns to classic romanticism, as the FCS horn section performs Robert Schumann’s Concert Piece for Four Horn’s and Orchestra, a challenging piece requiring four virtuosi soloists.

But the big work here is Sergei Prokofiev’s Symphony No. 5, which he once called “a symphony about the spirit of man.” It has no explicit program but came at a happy time in his life and also was composed around the time the Soviet Union had achieved a major victory over the Nazis during World War II.

The concert is Jan. 26, 3 p.m. at the Pabst Theater. Tickets are $14 for adults and $8 for children, students, and seniors and available at the FCS’s website or by calling (414) 286-3205.

Jazz Heritage Festival by the Milwaukee Youth Symphony Orchestra

There’s more than just the classical genre in Milwaukee’s orchestras. The Milwaukee Youth Symphony Orchestra will prove that this weekend at its annual Jazz heritage Festival. The event will feature performances by MYSO musicians as well as by guest artist Tom Garling, who is a jazz trombonist, composer and arranger.

The all-day event starts at 9 a.m. on Friday, Jan. 24 and will last to about 3 p.m. It will take place at the Milwaukee Youth Arts Center. For more information, visit the MYSO’s website.

Brahms’ First Piano Concerto by the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra

Even though nationally acclaimed pianist Radu Lupu will not be able to perform this week with the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra due to an illness, audience members will not be disappointed. Pianist Inon Bartnatan will step in for Lupu to perform Brahms’ First Piano Concerto.

This is the second week in a row the MSO will celebrating the influence Brahms had on the classical genre. The concert will also feature Robert Schumann’s Manfred Overture and James MacMillan’s “The Confession of Isobel Gowdie.”

Concerts are at 8 p.m. on Jan. 24 and 25 at the Marcus Center. Tickets range from $22 to $102, and are available at the MSO’s website or by calling (414) 291-7605.

“Joker’s Wild” by the Concord Chamber Orchestra

The Concord Chamber Orchestra will an eclectic mix of classical composers – from Mozart to Gershwin – this weekend in one of four concerts it has planned themed to a deck of cards.

The concert is at 1:30 p.m. on Jan. 26 at Nicolet High School in Glendale. Tickets are $10 with discounts for students, available at the CCO’s website.

0 thoughts on “Classical: The Huge Legacy of Benjamin Britten”

  1. Anonymous says:

    I was glad to hear about Festival City’s Pabst concert (doing Rossini and Prokofiev) since I so enjoyed their London concert a few months ago!

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