The Academy of St Martin in the Fields celebrates the Britten centenary in 2013 with a special programme of music both by Britten and inspired by him, including a new commission from celebrated British composer Sally Beamish entitled Variations on a Theme of Benjamin Britten.

Beamish’s new work will be given its world premiere by the Academy in the Turner Sims Concert Hall, Southampton on 9 May with four further performances in the UK culminating at London’s Cadogan Hall on 23 May.

Beamish, a former member of the ASMF’s viola section, has a deep understanding of writing for strings. The new work for string orchestra takes a theme from the second Interlude of Britten's Sea Interludes as the theme for Beamish’s new piece. She has also used Britten's Frank Bridge Variations as a source of inspiration which will close the programme.

Sally Beamish says: "My mother and I both played the Frank Bridge Variations with the Academy of St Martin in the Fields, and I was delighted to be asked to write a companion piece for the centenary celebrations. I immediately thought of the very special democracy of the Academy – the fact that every player is regarded as a soloist. This piece celebrates the Academy, and explores its collective virtuosity, and the richness and fullness of its sound."

Britten’s Frank Bridge Variations explore various dance forms, and Beamish has loosely echoed this idea. After an introductory fanfare and initial statement of the theme, the first variation takes the form of a ‘barcarole’ – the traditional Venetian boat song – a symbolic spanning of Britten’s operatic output from his first to his last opera: Death in Venice. Later, a ‘Lament’ is for those lost in war – an acknowledgement of Britten’s strongly held pacifist beliefs.

There are clear references to Britten in Beamish's new work, and in some ways this piece is an ‘homage’. But Beamish has also referenced other composers, as Britten did in his variations, so that the end result is woven from many different elements, held together by Britten’s simple and beautiful theme.

Sally Beamish commented: “It means a great deal to me to be invited to write a piece commemorating Benjamin Britten. It is made all the more special that it is for the Academy of St Martins, with whom I played regularly in the eighties, and my mother before me. This is my third commission for them, which is an honour I value most highly.”

Variations on a theme of Benjamin Britten is set alongside two other Britten works: Variations on a Theme of Frank Bridge and Lachrymae performed by acclaimed violist Lawrence Power. The programme also includes Arvo Pärt’s Cantus in Memoriam Benjamin Britten and Elgar’s Introduction and Allegro op.47. On 12 May, the Academy will perform Britten’s Simple Symphony in place of Lachrymae.

The Academy of St Martin in the Fields is renowned for its ability to produce ‘chamber music on a grand scale’. Founded in 1958 by Sir Neville Marriner, the orchestra is now directed from the leader’s chair by new Music Director and violinist Joshua Bell. The Academy has also developed a successful partnership with internationally renowned pianist Murray Perahia, who has been Principal Guest Conductor since 2000. The concept of the conductor-less ensemble, however, has remained the guiding principle of the Academy of St Martin in the Fields’ artistic policy and, over the years has been strengthened through its associations with high-profile artists including Julia Fischer, Julian Rachlin, Janine Jansen and Anthony Marwood.


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