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Having spent the better part of my lifetime forming and cultivating a relationship with the music of countless composers, few have made more of an impact than Benjamin Britten. I can’t even confess to having played all that much of his music. A great majority of it is operatic and vocal. Hearing his Midsummer Night’s Dream at the Adelaide Festival unlocked a desire to better acquaint myself with his operas, but it is most certainly his music for strings that has captivated me since I was a child.

Benjamin Britten London Records 1968 Publicity Photo For Wikipedia Crop
Benjamin Britten, 1968

The allure of Benjamin Britten’s music is hard to pinpoint - I first encountered him as a student in high school, performing his not-so-simple Simple Symphony for string orchestra, a youthful work that is as brilliant for students as it is for professionals. In the year of his centenary, I had the thrill of performing Britten’s utterly spell-binding Violin Concerto - an experience that brought me closer than ever to his music and his world. Directing his Variations on a Theme of Frank Bridge with the MSO in 2015 was a doubly delightful experience in that I came to marvel at the ingenuity of his string writing whilst simultaneously forging a new and exciting relationship with my colleagues at the MSO. Then there are his three string quartets… what masterpieces!

It has been a dream of mine for many years to perform Les Illuminations, a song-cycle for soprano or tenor, with string orchestra, set to the most evocative French poetry by Arthur Rimbaud. The fantastical sound world that Britten creates through combining voice, poetry and strings is for me both spectacularly theatrical and deeply personal. There is a shimmer of magic and a touch of madness that takes my breath away and to embody the spirit of this music, our dear friend Stevie will hold the key to this savage parade. His devotion to this score has been a source of strength and inspiration to me.

Brisbane-born violinist, Dale Barltrop, is Concertmaster of the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra and First Violinist of the Australian String Quartet.

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Shining Strings ~ The Art of the Quartet

Dale and Stephen will be performing Britten's Les Illuminations at Melbourne Recital Centre on July 23.

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