The centenary of Benjamin Britten’s birth is being celebrated in many ways all around the world, and internationally renowned cellist Matthew Barley has found his own unique way of paying homage.

He is marking the composer’s 100 years by taking his cello the length and breadth of the UK from the Shetland Islands to Cornwall, playing in at least 100 Britten-themed recitals, as well as delivering workshops and other special events.

The tailor-made creative workshops are designed to interest people of all ages in schools, colleges, hospices, adult education institutions and prisons. The events will explore Britten’s own genius, introduce solo cello music from the baroque to the newly-commissioned, and aim to enhance the concert experience for audiences.

“It entered into my head around three years ago to undertake something of an odyssey to celebrate the centenary and without really thinking too much I thought that 100 events would be the perfect way,” Matthew, who is the founder of performance education group Between the Notes, explains.

“It took a huge amount of organising and some very wonderful people working with me to make it all happen.”

The tour is taking him to so many varied and fascinating venues, many of them in partnership with the National Trust, with a praiseworthy determination that the enterprise should not be London-centric.

“I’d always admired Britten’s decision to place his festival in Aldeburgh rather than London, and so I wanted also to take my concerts to less usual places,” Matthew declares.

“As this idea developed I had all sorts of wonderful suggestions coming in for where to perform. What I really like is the enormous cross-section of venues in society that I’m visiting, from quality traditional venues like cathedrals, churches, the Wigmore Hall and the CBSO Centre to a swimming pool, a lighthouse and a cave!”

Benjamin Britten
Benjamin Britten
 

The cave is in fact the Peak Cavern in Derbyshire known as the Devil’s Arse. Other Midland venues have included Coughton Court, Alcester, and tonight (Thursday) Matthew plays at Hanbury Hall, near Droitwich.

Britten’s 100th birthday on November 22 (the name-day of St Cecilia, the patron saint of music) will be celebrated with a recital in Sheffield, and the tour will end at Britten’s own Red House in Aldeburgh on December 4, the day the composer died in 1976. And as the tour progresses Matthew will be adding tracks of commissioned world-premieres to an album he released in January with Signum Classics and i-tunes.

All of this takes time away from practising, plus concerto engagements, as Matthew admits.

“Practice is always hard to fit in when you are on tour and I’ve had to limit myself this year to the Britten and a few other projects. I’ll resume concerto work next year in January with a performance of Larcher’s Double Concerto with my wife, the violinist Viktoria Mullova, in the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam.

Both Mr and Mrs Barley, who are based in London, have a wide range of musical interests in a multitude of genres, and are keen to embrace new multi-media technology in their performances.

“I’ve listened to a huge range of music since early childhood and somehow, quite a long time ago I started to think that if I love some music then I should be able to play it, even if it is from a different genre,” says Matthew. “However, having said that I don’t really think in terms of genre - there is just music.”

* Matthew Barley performs at Hanbury Hall tonight (Thursday) and at the CBSO Centre on September 10 (details on 0121 345 0603).