On Monday, Sept. 16, a concert celebrating the life and works of Benjamin Britten was performed at Leffler Chapel and Performance Center from 7:30 p.m. to 9 p.m. The Britten Centennial Concert, which honored the composer’s 100th birthday, was performed by mezzo-soprano Dr. Sarah Daughtrey, assistant professor and director of vocal studies, and tenor Jeffrey Fahnestock, adjunct assistant professor at Gettysburg College. Both vocalists paid tribute to Britten’s work in the past, though it was Fahnestock who came up with the idea of the concert, with help from the College’s fine and performing arts department.
Born in Suffolk on Nov. 13, 1913, Britten established himself as one of the prominent musicians and composers of the early 20th century through his diverse and elaborate works of British classical music. A prolific opera-writer, Britten also turned his talents to chamber, choral and instrumental music.
Throughout his life, he was decorated for his many musical achievements, earning such prestigious awards as the British Order of Merit, the Royal Philharmonic Society’s Gold Medal in 1964, and the Classical Album of the Year Grammy in 1963, as well as countless other honors. Despite his death in December of 1976, Britten’s powerful and moving works continue to live on in performances such as the one at Leffler.
Fahnestock and Daughtrey opened with “How Now My Love” as Assistant Professor of Music Dr. Justin Badgerow expertly provided the accompaniment. Daughtrey’s vocals swept through the song-cycle of “A Charm of Lullabies”, followed by Fahnestock’s performance of the “Winter Words” composition. After intermission, Daughtrey returned to the stage to perform two Cabaret songs, followed by Badgerow’s recital of Britten’s “Nocturne” from the composer’s unfinished “Sonatina Romantica.” The musicians ended the concert with Britten’s “Canticle II: Abraham and Isaac,” a lengthy, spirited number that drew thunderous applause from the audience. Truly, the singers paid proper tribute to Britten and his music.
Daughtrey describes the two pieces as “very different works, one strange and deeply psychological (it’s based on the book by Henry James) and the other a very fun ensemble show which gives a vibrant picture of British Victorian society.” Regarding Britten himself, Daughtrey said, “Britten is well known for his writing for the voice and for his sensitive setting of the English language to music, as well as his colorful orchestrations and rhythmic dynamism, which were both highly evident in these two operas.”
The first time Fahnestock took part in one of Britten’s pieces was during his senior year of high school, when he sang “A Ceremony of Carols” in his high school’s choir. After discovering some of his solo works while an undergraduate and graduate student of the Eastman School of Music, Fahnestock took a genuine interest in Britten’s many entire musical repertoire. Fahnestock states that “Being at Eastman and having an incredible library at hand allowed me to listen to and see the scores of nearly everything Britten wrote. I’ve bought as many as I could find and afford.”
Fahnestock elaborated on what really fascinates him about Britten’s music. “I think what I find most interesting about this music is that he seems to find the truth in the texts he chose,” he said. “It is also gratifying to find so much music that was written for a voice similar to my own… I have listened to and read about this music for over thirty years and still learn or see new things each time I return to it.”
Fahnestock has performed many shows that feature Britten’s works, including “Saint Nicolas,” “The Turns of the Screw,” “The Rape of Lucretia” and “War Requiem”. After the Centennial Concert, Fahnestock has performances scheduled for Susquehanna University and Gettysburg College, on Oct. 1 and 6, respectively.
Britten’s inspirational works both require a certain level of passion in their performance. That is what makes Fahnestock and Daughtrey’s voices such a striking combination. Thanks to these two talented vocalists, the Britten Centennial Concert paid proper tribute to this decorated composer’s life work.