I’ve just returned from watching my brother perform in a Suffolk Youth Music concert at Snape Maltings. Having visited the concert hall regularly since I first performed there at the age of 13, it holds not only a sentimental attraction but a musical one too. The hall’s excellent acoustic justifies its international reputation, and its position nestled amidst the reed beds lends it a character missing from the corporate designs of many cosmopolitan concert halls.
The scattering of buildings which makes up the artistic complex is situated next to the River Alde. From art galleries to food shops, the site has a rich cultural offering. On this sunny day, retro vans offered drinks and ice creams to the bustling site. A light breeze skimmed across the river while the reedbeds danced, and a few solitary birds made their way through the thick mud at the edge. Art installations are dispersed around the site, blurring the man-made and the natural. It is possible to lose yourself on long walks around the reed beds, and to find yourself completely alone.
Today, though, I have different plans. The menu at the Plough and Sail (a mere two minutes from the hall itself) is packed with fresh seasonal ingredients, and the wing of skate I choose is particularly fine. After a perusal of the deli, we head over to the main concert hall. I lose myself in the shop in the foyer, including special memorabilia to commemorate Britten’s upcoming anniversary. In the end, I come away with the New Aldeburgh Anthology, a collection of prose, poems and pictures.
Although the site offers opportunities for culture of all sorts, it is the music which my family (and many others) have come for. The site’s isolation offers a special inspiration to musicians, hence its use for various schemes including Aldeburgh Young Musicians and the Britten-Pears Young Artist Programme. In these educational projects lies the continued presence of local hero Benjamin Britten. Britten moved to Snape in 1944, creating the first Aldeburgh Festival just four years later. Music here has since gone from strength to strength, from the addition of the Snape Proms in the 1980s to the development of malting and storage buildings to a collection of studios and offices. The small village has attracted leading musicians from across the world, and will be playing a large role in the celebration of its most famous son over the following 18 months.
The concert I saw was the culmination of a year’s work for the flagship ensembles of Suffolk Music. Featuring Strings, Wind Band and Orchestra, the youths presented an evening ranging from Coldplay to Shostakovich under the eaves of the former malthouse. Many of the 830 seats were taken, and the players earned enthusiastic applause. Over the course of the last year, the ensembles have taken part in intense courses and (for the Wind Band and Orchestra) concert tours in Europe. The process has been overseen by dedicated peripatetic staff, and some passages could certainly give professional ensembles a run for their money. Near the end of the concert, Philip Shaw (Head of the County Music Service) outlined the framework of provision for music education, which is funded by the DfE and distributed by Arts Council England. He talked of how such extra-curricular musical experiences as these ensembles have prompted musicians to study music academically to various levels. However, a justification of the power of these ensembles seemed unnecessary after two hours of playing full of passion and conviction. The grand finale of Shostakovich’s Festive Overture was the highlight of the evening for me. Players from the wind band joined the orchestra for the climactic fanfare of the piece, the 23 brass players blasting the roof off with Simon Bolivar-style gusto. Given Philip Shaw’s speech, the celebratory tone seemed perfect. The buzz after the concert as everyone dispersed into the balmy night showed that such music (and such a venue) is not being taken for granted.