From prisons to caves, concerts fit for a maestro

The cellist Matthew Barley is marking Britten's centenary with an unusual tour

In 2010 when I began to dream up Around Britten, there seemed to be so much time. I could afford to ruminate at leisure on the 100 events that would make up my celebration of Britten's centenary, the heart of which is taking the wonderful, emotional music of Britten to as many places and people in the UK as possible.

Suddenly it was September 2012, the tour was a matter of months away, and I had only confirmed a fraction of what I was aiming for, and half the money needed to pull it all off. I went into overdrive, working 16-hour days – I was touring at the time but the many undisturbed hours in hotel rooms were a blessing. Thinking of places to perform off the usual concert circuit – places where I thought live music would be truly memorable, and where I might find a different audience from the classical music-listening public in the concert halls – was one of my favourite aspects.

The Peak Cavern in Derbyshire is a spectacular cleft in the hillside. I was thrilled to find a kind of natural underground amphitheatre in solid stone, a fantastic spot for performance. Not only will this make a profoundly atmospheric concert; it's fun telling people I'm playing in the "Devil's Arse" (to use its more memorable nickname). The National Trust venues are equally exciting. They're not set up for concerts so it has taken persistence to make them work, but it will be worth it: they are some of the country's most outstanding buildings – the impossibly romantic ruined castle at Bodiam, and South Foreland Lighthouse on the white cliffs near Dover to name just two. Many ideas fell by the wayside – I was fired up about performing in Battersea Power Station; my excitement waned when I realised it would cost £15k to hire.

The Scottish leg will be an adventure – Mull, Skye (hopefully in a whisky distillery), Cromarty, Shetland and Orkney, a Glasgow prison and the superb Queen's Hall in Edinburgh. I'm looking forward to long beautiful journeys relaxing, listening to music and just thinking.

The final concert is on the day Britten died, 4 December, when I'll perform in the great composer's home in Aldeburgh, The Red House. It will be an emotional occasion, after nearly a year of taking Britten's music all around the country, to be playing on that day, just yards from the room where he passed away.

And then for the music. I wanted to create something around Britten's profoundly beautiful Third Suite for solo cello that was unique and really challenged me. So I'm incorporating visuals from Yeast Culture, which utilise ground-breaking technology in the way my playing will sync with animated film via footpedal control. I've commissioned new works by Dai Fujikura – electronics order the piece differently each night, and I only find out when I press play, onstage – DJ Jan Bang, and James MacMillan, one of today's foremost composers. I impetuously asked James for a virtuoso showpiece. He obliged, so now I'm paying the price with practice hours. In fact, impetuous might be a good word for that initial idea back in 2010…

My head spins overseeing the detail: finding the right kinds of screen and PA for multiple stages, proof-reading materials for programmes and CD booklets, figuring out what kind of vehicle we need, seeing if it's possible to travel from the Outer Hebrides to Zurich on a Sunday in June.

Thousands of people, thousands of miles, 100 performances, 100 years since Britten was born. I can't think of a better way to spend 2013.

Matthew Barley's 'Around Britten' tour begins in Southampton on 15 January. His recording of Britten's Third Cello Suite is out this month on Signum (matthewbarley.com)

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Dress the Gaza situation up all you like, but the truth hurts

    Robert Fisk on Gaza conflict

    Dress the situation up all you like, but the truth hurts
    Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

    Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

    When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
    5 News's Andy Bell retraces his grandfather's steps on the First World War battlefields

    In grandfather's footsteps

    5 News's political editor Andy Bell only knows his grandfather from the compelling diary he kept during WWI. But when he returned to the killing fields where Edwin Vaughan suffered so much, his ancestor came to life
    Lifestyle guru Martha Stewart reveals she has flying robot ... to take photos of her farm

    Martha Stewart has flying robot

    The lifestyle guru used the drone to get a bird's eye view her 153-acre farm in Bedford, New York
    Former Labour minister Meg Hillier has demanded 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists

    Do women cyclists need 'pootling lanes'?

    Simon Usborne (who's more of a hurtler) explains why winning the space race is key to happy riding
    A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

    A tale of two presidents

    George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
    Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover

    The dining car makes a comeback

    Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover
    Gallery rage: How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?

    Gallery rage

    How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?
    Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players

    Eye on the prize

    Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players
    Women's rugby: Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup

    Women's rugby

    Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup
    Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

    The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

    With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
    Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

    How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

    As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
    We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

    We will remember them

    Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
    Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

    Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

    Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
    Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

    Acting in video games gets a makeover

    David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices