Two major new films by John Bridcut have recently been screened by BBC Four. Britten's Endgame (see below) launched the BBC's celebration of the Benjamin Britten centenary in November, while Requiem explored the history of one of music's most powerful and enduring forms.
John Bridcut is an award-winning film maker, with a string of varied documentaries to his name, ranging from politics to contemporary history to the arts. His latest award is for Colin Davis In His Own Words, a tribute to the British conductor who died in April 2013 at the age of 85.
The Britten film is his sixth composer portrait, after studies of Elgar, Vaughan Williams, Delius, Parry – and his first Britten film, Britten's Children.
Most of his work is produced by his own company, Crux Productions, but he is also a freelance director and producer for other production companies. He has published two books on Benjamin Britten, and lectures on music, broadcasting and current affairs. In November, he curated Illuminating Britten, a weekend of special events at the Barbican Centre and the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London, and co-presented the Britten anniversary weekend on Radio 3, live from Aldeburgh.
Work is currently in progress on a musical portrait of the Austrian conductor, Herbert von Karajan. More details on this shortly.
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Britten weekend on Radio 3
The history of the musical Requiem came to S4C on Sunday evenings in May. The three-part series (in Welsh) began on Sunday 4 May at 8.30pm, and told the fascinating story of the famous requiems by Mozart, Verdi, Berlioz, Brahms, Fauré and Britten, narrated by Mali Harries.
The Requiem films feature thrilling special performances by the BBC National Orchestra and Chorus of Wales, conducted by Edward Gardner, with singers Elin Manahan Thomas, Neal Davies and Annemarie Kremer. The unaccompanied choral singing is by the peerless choir, Tenebrae, conducted by Nigel Short. Also contributing to the series are Bryn Terfel, Bishop Rowan Williams, Sir Colin Davis, Huw Tregelles Williams, Gareth Glyn and Sally Harper. The Cardiff-made series was directed by John Bridcut and produced by Bethan Anwyl, and is a Bulb Films production in association with Crux Productions.
Rostropovich: The Genius of the Cello and Nureyev: From Russia With Love have been screened in the Trans-Siberian Art Festival in Russia's third city, Novosibirsk. Both films have been shown in Moscow on previous occasions, but this was their first screening in Siberia, in the ambitious new festival curated by the violinist, Vadim Repin.
John Bridcut's new feature-length film for the centenary of Benjamin Britten explores the composer's creativity in the face of death. Those closest to Britten watched anxiously as he raced to complete Death in Venice in defiance of medical advice, tackling an edgy subject which resonated with his own life. His eventual heart operation after years of stress and illness left him incapacitated and prematurely old and frail, yet somehow he rediscovered his creative urge to produce two late masterpieces.
Nine years after John Bridcut made his award-winning Britten's Children for BBC Two, this is a rich and poignant film about the final years of a surprisingly insecure composer, and the impact of what Britten's partner, Peter Pears, called 'an evil opera'. After preview screenings in London and Aldeburgh, it was shown on BBC Four in November 2013.
Specially-filmed performances by John Graham-Hall (pictured above) as Gustav von Aschenbach in Death in Venice, Allan Clayton, Sarah Connolly, Xavier Phillips, BBC Concert Orchestra (conducted by Paul Kildea), the Fitzwilliam String Quartet and Schola Cantorum of Oxford (conducted by James Burton).
One year after his death in April 2013, BBC Four has shown again the poignant and unusual portrait of perhaps the greatest British conductor of his generation, Colin Davis In His Own Words. In his last major interview, filmed shortly before his final illness, Sir Colin spoke to John Bridcut movingly and at length about his career, his philosophy of life, his musical passions, and the death that he sensed was approaching.
John Bridcut's film for the Benjamin Britten centenary, Britten's Endgame, has now been issued on DVD by Decca, along with his 2004 film Britten's Children. Both can be ordered from the Shop on this website.
Britten's Children was hailed by The Times as a "brave and beautiful film" about the composer's music for and about children, and his relationships with them. This DVD release has been made possible by the generous support of the Britten-Pears Foundation.
Britten's Endgame has been described as "another masterful film" (The Times) and has been screened recently in Moscow, Berlin and New York.