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‘One day we’ll have a school here,’ Benjamin Britten remarked to Imogen Holst at Aldeburgh in the early 1950s. It was to be a gift, it seems, for Peter Pears – a focus for his life once the singing career ended. The models may have been Tanglewood in the USA and Dartington in Devon.

The vision became tentative reality in 1972, with a weekend course for singers showcasing the teaching methods of Pears’s muse, Lucie Manen. Then, finally, 1977 saw the formal foundation of the Britten-Pears School for Advanced Musical Studies. Moira Bennett, part of the fixtures and fittings at the school for years, here traces the story with the eye for detail which by all accounts has been a hallmark of her work at Aldeburgh. What prevents it becoming too detailed is firstly the attention paid to gathering a host of anecdotes and testimonials from individuals connected in various ways with the school – Galina Vishnevskaya, Imogen Holst, Murray Perahia, Roger Vignoles, Colin Matthews, Jonathan Dove, and a host of others.

How many, though, will be able to resist first of all leafing their way through the myriad photographs, which alone convey a fabulously rich story? OK, they’re all in black and white but that matters not a jot given, for example, the fascination of seeing so many great names in international music doing their thing at the school – yes, another list: Witold Lutoslawski, Jacqueline du Pré, Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, Mstslav Rostropvich and the Beaux Arts Trio, to name but a few.

Pears died in 1986, the day after giving a masterclass on the role of the Evangelist in the Bach Passions, building up to the Crucifixion. ‘But then there was the resurrection,’ were his final words. This book is, in a way, a form of resurrection – a bringing to vivid life of how Britten’s innocent words bore extraordinary fruit.

ANDREW GREEN Read the full review on Agora Classica


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