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Britten's War Requiem: 50th anniversary in Coventry

(April 2012)

Coventry Cathedral plays host on 30 May to the 50th anniversary performance of Benjamin Britten's War Requiem, to be filmed for release on DVD by Unitel.

This year brings the 50th anniversary of the premiere of Britten's War Requiem, one of the most powerful pacifist statements in all music. The first performance took place in 1962 in the newly consecrated Coventry Cathedral, built alongside the ruins of the old cathedral, left as a sombre reminder of the wartime bombings. On 30 May 2012, 50 years to the day, Britten's masterpiece returns to the cathedral, performed as at the premiere by the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra and vocal soloists from three once warring nations.

The anniversary performance is conducted by the CBSO's Music Director,  Andris Nelsons with fellow Latvian, the soprano Kristine Opolais, English tenor Mark Padmore singing the role written for Peter Pears, and German baritone Hanno Müller-Brachmann. Choral forces are provided by the CBSO Chorus and Youth Chorus. The concert is part of the 2012 Cultural Olympiad, one of the highlights among the classical music events joining the festivities. The Coventry performance will be filmed for future release on DVD by Unitel, a co-production with ZDF/Arte and NHK in collaboration with Classica (Unitel AO2007392), and will be broadcast live by BBC Radio 3 at 7.30 pm.

> Visit the Coventry Cathedral Golden Jubilee website
> Visit the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra website

Benjamin Britten (1913-1976) was commissioned to compose a work for the inauguration in 1962 of Coventry’s new cathedral, adjoining the old cathedral that had been bombed and nearly completely destroyed by the German Luftwaffe at the beginning of World War II in November 1940. The commission gave Britten complete freedom to choose the type of music to compose. He conceived of setting the traditional Latin Mass for the Dead interwoven with nine poems by the English poet Wilfred Owen, who had been killed in World War I. It has become one of the defining masterpieces of the twentieth century: a devastating meditation on the pity of war that is every bit as relevant today.

To celebrate its Golden Jubilee, Coventry Cathedral has planned a year of events in 2012, embracing concerts, exhibitions and talks. The special theme of Peace & Reconciliation marks the cathedral's special role in the Coventry community and the wider world, chiming with Britten's concerns in the War Requiem. Another highlight of the music programme is a new festive setting of the Gloria commissioned from James MacMillan to be premiered on 23 June coupled with Britten's St Nicolas. The MacMillan premiere features Ian Bostridge as tenor soloist, brass players from the CBSO, the St Michael's Singers and a children's choir drawn from Coventry schools. MacMillan's use of tenor soloist, children's voices and brass sonorities in his 20-minute score forges links with Britten's War Requiem across the half century.

Though the Coventry Cathedral performance of War Requiem on 30 May is already sold out, there will be further opportunities to hear Britten's major work around the world in honour of the composer's centenary in 2013. There are already 35  performances planned in 15 countries, indicating the international reach of the Britten 100 celebrations. The centenary website will be launched in May this year at www.britten100.org, enabling performing organisations to list their Britten centenary events.

War Requiem is one of the works featured in the new Britten Choral Guide by Paul Spicer. This is the first complete survey of Britten's choral works, created in advance of the Britten centenary in collaboration between the Britten-Pears Foundation, Boosey & Hawkes, Chester Music and Faber Music. The Guide can be viewed online by visiting:
www.boosey.com/downloads/BrittenChoralEnglish.pdf


> Further information on Work: War Requiem

Photo: the ruined Coventry Cathedral after wartime bombing

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