Spring in Benjamin Britten’s garden

The Red House on the outskirts of Aldeburgh in Suffolk was the home of Benjamin Britten from 1957 to 1976.

The Red House from the croquet lawn.
The Red House through some budding mahonia.

Britten shared this extended, late-seventeenth century farmhouse with his partner, the tenor, Peter Pears, until Britten’s death in 1976.

The Composition Studio with first floor window giving views across the orchard.

Many of Britten’s world famous operas and music pieces were composed working in his first floor composition studio. Once when giving a talk he said

At the moment in my studio where I work in Aldeburgh . . . there’s a blackbird making a nest just outside my window and I’m very interested to know whether she’s sitting on her eggs when I should be working.

Benjamin Britten, 1963.
Viburnum, mahonia and ornamental flowering currant are planted along the garden wall of the Red House.

When I visited the garden earlier this week it was full of floral potential and already the gorgeous scent of an early flowering viburnum was wafting across the path on the way to the archive building.

There were buds and tightly furled leaves just waiting to burst given a couple days of sunshine.

The orchard has some old apple trees supporting mistletoe and a variety of new fruit trees that were added in 2008 as the garden was rejuvenated and recreated following the 1950s layout. The orchard has been underplanted with daffodils and pale yellow primulas and hellebores are growing beneath the surrounding hedging.

Receipts discovered in the extensive Britten-Pears Foundation Archive show that in 1958 Benjamin Britten ordered 63 fruit trees, 76 roses and two dozen blackcurrant bushes from Notcutts, the local nursery in Woodbridge.

It was a gentle, pleasant English garden and will be worth another visit later in the gardening year.

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A quintessentially English weather drama

Clouds-bringing-rain

Suffolk is well-known for big, open skies. These skies of cool blue with puffs of white cloud were made famous in the paintings of Suffolk-born, John Constable, from Dedham Vale on the Suffolk/Essex border.

Flatford-Mill-John-Constable
Flatford Mill (Scene on a Navigable River) by John Constable   1816
Oil on canvas. 52.4 in × 6.4 in × 62.3
Tate Britain, London

However, it’s not always sunny in Suffolk and recently there have been spells of speedily arriving storm clouds and heavy summer showers.

rainbow over sea
Dark skies, heavy showers and bright rainbows over the North Sea at Aldeburgh.

These conditions, combined with the evening sunlight, have resulted in some spectacular, brilliant rainbows. Sadly, I didn’t get the best shot as it was gone by the time I’d run back indoors to get my camera, but one rainbow looked like it was dipping into a pot of gold in the depths of the sea. It was the brightest, most vibrant rainbow I’ve ever seen.

The next morning following the stormy showers it was the return of blue skies and white clouds complementing the painted houses bright along the seafront – a very English view.

Next-morning-sunny

Still, what’s to do on a stony, shingle beach with a very calm sea, ah yes, skim stones.

Pebble-Beach-Aldeburgh

On perfection – two quotes and a short visual commentary

“The true work of art is but a shadow of the divine perfection”
Michelangelo
“Have no fear of perfection – you’ll never reach it.”
Salvador Dali
This year the Edexcel examination board set an A level art exam paper called ‘Flaws, Perfection, Ideals or Compromises’. In the era of the selfie, and where so many images are blatantly photoshopped to remove every facial flaw, I admire the examiners for selecting a title that provided sixth formers with the starting point from which to seriously investigate beneath the presented surface.

Obviously, there is a philosophical component to the exam theme too and surely any received notion of perfection is dependent on cultural, religious and contemporary expectations, and, dare I say it, always subjective. And, once we start to look we very quickly find plenty of makers who have chosen to work towards or work against ideas of perfection.

And, finally . . .

Vanitas-18th-century-Wellcome

Shopping globally, inspired locally

UKHandmade-showcase-front-pageDon’t you just love our flexible outlook on life? Most of us have that strange ability to hold two totally opposing views at the same time. Here on Planet Earth we happily buy and sell to each other all round the globe, but at the same time we applaud the idea of ‘buying locally’. Luckily for me my scarves when boxed up are small and light so earlier this year shipping to Singapore was as easy as shipping down the road to the next county. On Monday of this week my work was chosen to appear in the current UKHandmade Showcase ‘Textiles’.

double page spread silk scarves UK handmade showcase
Inside double-page spread.
(Mildred pink uses motifs from the medieval rood screen at St Helen’s Church, Ranworth, Norfolk.)

I guess we like the idea of shopping locally as we feel connected to our town, region or even broadly our country. Sometimes, and I think this is particularly so with handmade craft pieces, there is often a reflection or essence of place in an artisan made object. Designer-makers, along with fine artists frequently cite their environment as a major source of inspiration. There can’t be a finer example of the importance of place as inspiration than the magnificent Maggi Hambling work ‘Scallop’ a tribute to Suffolk composer Benjamin Britten. The Suffolk coast was, of course, the inspiration for Britten’s ‘Sea Interludes’ and Suffolk born Hambling says of her work

“An important part of my concept is that at the centre of the sculpture, where the sound of the waves and the winds are focused, a visitor may sit and contemplate the mysterious power of the sea.”

scallop aldeburgh Maggi Hambling
‘Scallop’ Maggi Hambling
2003, Aldeburgh beach, Suffolk.
This 4 metres tall, steel sculpture is a tribute to Benjamin Britten.
The words “I hear those voices that will not be drowned” from Peter Grimes are cut into the steel.
Made by Aldeburgh craftsmen Sam & Dennis Pegg.

Peter Grimes – Sea Mist, Sea Breezes & a Suffolk Opera

Sometimes people have grand ideas that never come to fruition, but luckily those amazing people involved with the opera production of ‘Grimes on the Beach’ for the 2013 Aldeburgh Festival brought us a dramatic and memorable evening. Despite the myriad of difficulties associated with staging an opera outside on a beach, seeing ‘Peter Grimes’ on this specific beach where the fictional action takes place, was mesmerizing.

Grimes stage setting left
Grimes on the Beach – a dramatic yet poetic staging.

Our evening was enhanced by arriving in a thick sea mist that came and went during the performance when the weather changed as dusk turned to night.

Sea mist Aldeburgh
The sea mist engulfs the coastal path walking into Aldeburgh.

Britten’s music evoking the sea and the Suffolk coast, a particular coast of shifting shingle, has always been significant for me especially during my time living away from East Anglia. I am a girl of the grey sea and the huge skies, and hearing the waves breaking on the shingle in the quieter passages of this tragic opera was enchanting.

Grimes Stage Right
Grimes on the Beach with the North Sea as the backrop. Aldeburgh Festival 2013

It was a brave decision to mark the centenary of Britten’s birth with this ambitious production and I’m sure I’m not alone in wishing to thank and congratulate the soloists, chorus and orchestra members, and all the production team for this spirited and successful work. Bravo.