Photo: Nathan Schram and Angelina Gadeliya play Britten's Lachrymae at Trinity Wall Street on Nov. 7.
There's a clear divide between American and British responses to the Britten centenary, which arrives on Nov. 22. Across the water, one sees understandable concerns about a relentless focus on a composer who has held dominion over British musical life since 1945, when Peter Grimes broke upon Sadler's Wells. Over here, though, Britten is in no way overexposed, and the composer's fans are jumping at the chance to hear works that appear in these parts rather rarely. Grimes, Turn of the Screw, the big song cycles, and the Yuletide choral pieces are familiar enough, but the Spring Symphony — which the New York Philharmonic will play during the birthday week — is an altogether different proposition. The orchestra has done the piece only once, in 1963, under Leonard Bernstein. I got to hear it at Aldeburgh in 1995, in a revelatory account under Oliver Knussen, and am eager to see what Alan Gilbert and his forces make of it. Paul Appleby, notable for his appearance in Two Boys, will assume the tenor part, and, before intermission, will sing Britten's Serenade.
The Britten 100 website gives a useful overview of other Britten festivities upcoming in New York. These include a Dessoff Choirs choral program on Nov. 14; a Noye's Fludde benefit for Lighthouse International, with Dr. Samuel Wong conducting; on the birthday itself, Carnegie Hall's centerpiece presentation, a hotly anticipated St. Louis Symphony Grimes (you can hear a broadcast from St. Louis on Nov. 16); on Nov. 23, a marathon of the complete string quartets at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts; on Dec. 7, a Central City Chorus rendition of The Company of Heaven; and, on Dec. 14, a Carnegie Discovery Day devoted to Britten, with more singing by Appleby and a lecture by Paul Kildea, Britten's most authoritative biographer to date. But the richest local response remains the remarkable series staged by Trinity Wall Street, which will go on through December. The full schedule is here; upcoming highlights are the Cantata misericordium on Monday, a children's program on the birthday, and a Dec. 5 account of the Third Quartet by the brilliant young players of Decoda. More on Britten in The New Yorker in a few weeks.
Among events happening elsewhere in America, I'd like to single out a birthday concert to be presented at San Francisco's Castro Theatre by musicians from the Ruth Asawa San Francisco School of the Arts, which attracts many students from underprivileged backgrounds. Matthew Cmiel will direct, and Chanticleer will participate. Cmiel — a composer and conductor who first came to my attention as leader of the Formerly Known As Classical series — tells me that his students have fallen in love with Britten, and have also been studying such advanced fare as the Second Quartet and Third Cello Suite. He also mentions the happy effect of Wes Anderson's film Moonrise Kingdom, which seems to have incited curiosity about Britten among musically aware kids around the country.