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Adelaide and Aldeburgh: Tracing Britten’s Legacy



Commissioning composer, Anne Cawrse, has played an important role in my work over the past few months. Her brilliant work, Carmen Perpetuum, serves as a fantastic sequel to Benjamin Britten’s famous Six Metamorphoses after Ovid. It’s a work close to the heart of every English oboist—and I’m no exception.


My personal history with Britten’s music traces back to my childhood in Germany, where I played 3rd violin in Opera Noye’s Fludde at six years old. My father, the Director, delayed an idea to contact Britten about this international community performance, sadly just before the sick composer passed away.


Because my family heritage lies close to Aldeburgh in Suffolk, we are all connected to the reedy, marshy landscape that inspired Benjamin Britten. We used to visit my great-grandfather’s farm in the same area—a place he had left to serve in WWI and returned many years later. He was in his 90s when I visited, yet the farm remained as it ever was.


My new home, Adelaide, also plays a role in this special connection. This area provided the childhood home, education, and sailing focus for William Light, surveyor and designer of the City of Adelaide—now Australia’s only UNESCO City of Music.


Light named his chosen home suburb in his new city after Thebarton in Suffolk, where my mother used to cycle as a child—a parallel that inspires nostalgic sentiments from the same distance, half a planet away.


“Ovid’s stories are timeless, talking about the things we still talk about- love, death, feasting, mourning. Benjamin Britten perfectly captured the essence of six of these tales with elegance and precision. Oboist Celia Craig has given this music a lifetime’s consideration … to take us back effortlessly to the purity and beauty of Ancient Greece where these stories originated...”

- Master of the King’s Music, former oboist Judith Weir CBE, Hon FRSE


Exploring Britten’s Heritage In Scenic Suffolk


Prompted by nostalgia for country and home while borders were closed during the pandemic, I felt inspired to explore a new reading of Six Metamorphoses. The solo scoring made social distancing easy. I invited former Festival Director, Anthony Steel, to read the six lines from Ovid in his idiomatic British voice—creating a joint artistic statement during this shocking period.


Two years later, with my recording complete and a modern response from Anne Cawrse commissioned, I travelled to Aldeburgh, planning to research Britten’s archived manuscripts and explore his landscape. The trip was kindly funded by ArtsSA, fulfilling my pandemic-affected 2020 Fellowship.

Commissioning composer, Anne Cawrse, and me.


In Suffolk, I was excited to discover the original lake, Thorpeness Meare, where Metamorphoses premiered. I even found the exact boats in which the original 1951 performance was created—when the music famously blew away mid-performance!


Imogen Holst’s handwritten final score (with water damage intact) is in the US, but with a helpful archivist—who is also an oboist—Britten’s pencil sketches were available, revealing intriguing insights about his compositional process.


Still an attractive, picture-postcard village, Thorpeness Meare reflected the original vision of its creator, Glencairn Stuart Ogilvie (friend of JM Barrie, the author of Peter Pan), as an adult playground and village ‘with Neverland at its heart’.


Dug by hand and surrounded by chocolate box cottages, the iconic lake is only three feet deep. It attracts birds, scouting expeditions, picnickers, and families taking out a flotilla of shallow boats. The charmingly themed islands celebrate Peter Pan characters, with the famous crocodile and Captain Hook enticingly close to the ‘punters’.


Just five miles along the coast from Aldeburgh, I’m sure this special creation added an exciting nearby venue to Britten’s own community festival, and the lone oboist—Joy Boughton—playing solo on the water made for a striking event. I look forward to recreating it one day!

Six Metamorphoses after Ovid releases on all major streaming platforms on October 27.


The Aldeburgh-Adelaide Connection


Searching through the archives at The Red House, Britten’s home until his death in 1976, I found several handwritten letters from his friend Percy Grainger, further affirming the Adelaide-Aldeburgh connection. Aldeburgh was full of inspiration and sweeping vistas. Thanks to Britten’s pioneering vision, the Aldeburgh Festival is still a beacon of innovation and artistic engagement with the local community, heritage, and landscape.


In another unexpected Adelaide parallel, when I premiered Anne’s work at St Peter’s Cathedral, Foundation Governor Pauline Brooks gave the closing speech. Brooks publicly revealed that she had been Britten’s private nurse and physiotherapist in his later illness. Her descriptions of dancing to keep him active and creative are intriguing and invite further research!


On October 27, my two sets of Metamorphoses will be publicly revealed on digital platforms worldwide by the Planet Company, a division of MGM Distribution. Having since shared with Anne the status of Excellence in Classical Finalist, Australian Women in Music Awards 2023, and with a happy outcome for myself, I look forward to promoting South Australia’s talented Anne Cawrse and her brilliant companion pieces with this release continuing Artaria’s modern catalogue.


Click here to presave Six Metamorphoses after Ovid on your preferred streaming platform, and thank you for your support!


Celia


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