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Memories of Benjamin Britten

At 16, I was introduced to Benjamin Britten who said I "was the nicest girl he had ever met"! It happened in 1964 when I was going out with the son of the General Manager of the Aldeburgh Festival. Britten, Peter Pears and Stephen Reiss were dining in the Festival Club in Aldeburgh in August, as was their wont, and my boyfriend took me in to say hello. His remark was reported to me afterwards but I never met him again. In 1977, only a few months after Britten died, I spent five months working for the Aldeburgh Festival. I was given the job of digging out photographs to go with a history of the Aldeburgh Festival and Snape Maltings Foundation written by Eric Crozier, librettist for several of Britten's operas. These were to be made into an audio-visual presentation given to groups who toured the Maltings on Wednesday afternoons. I had to choose appropriate music as well, with the help of Rosamunde Strode, Britten's music assistant since 1964.

The powers-that-be wanted Peter Pears to do the spoken recording. I was desperate to do the recording myself, having spent hours and hours rehearsing it to get the timing right. Fortunately for me, Peter Pears was otherwise engaged, so I made the recording at Radio Orwell Recording Studio. Then I used to run the show with Fred Wickham, a volunteer guide, using two Kodak Carousel slide projectors. It was great fun.

A couple of years later a dedicated building for the Britten-Pears School of Advanced Musical Studies was realised, and I was asked to re-record the audio cassette tape to bring it up-to-date. Instead of a fee I was given the concert hall's restaurant for my wedding reception in May 1979.

I found Britten's work difficult to understand and enjoy but persevered over the years, especially admiring his chamber operas, Peter Grimes, Billy Budd and The Turn of the Screw. Now, it is thrilling to be learning his War Requiem with Thames Philharmonic Choir to sing at Cadogan Hall on 10 November (7.30pm) and I have been studying the recording made with Peter Pears, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau and Galina Vishnevskaya. These were amongst the names that I had to master for the epic recording made in 1977.

Sallly and Tom Pilkington at Snape Maltings in 2014

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