22 August 2022

Rachel’s 2022 Theatre Tour goes to Snape Maltings

By Rachel Sloane
Snape Maltings Concert Hall and restaurant

It’s a place for shoppers, walkers, tourists, foodies, art lovers and music lovers – Snape Maltings.

With ample parking, it’s a destination for a good day out with shops, café’s, galleries …and a world famous concert hall.  

Over half a million people visit every year with 80,000 tickets sold for concerts (pre-Covid figures).  It’s the home of the Britten-Pears Orchestra, and the Aldeburgh Festival.  

Beloved by orchestras, singers and choirs, over the years performers from the world of pop, rock, blues, jazz, folk and world music have also beaten a path to the door of the Snape Maltings Concert Hall 

It all began 50 years ago when Benjamin Britten saw the potential of a rural industrial building, previously used as a maltings in the production of barley for brewing. In 1965 the Maltings complex was no longer needed, the business closed, 50 employees were made redundant, and the many buildings abandoned.

The whole site was bought by local farmer, George Gooderam to use for storage. Suffolk composer Benjamin Britten and his partner the singer Peter Pears, lived just up the road and knew the buildings well. They had been running the Aldeburgh Festival at the Jubilee Hall and in local churches,  but the music festival had outgrown the premises available. They suggested that the main maltings could be ideal as a concert hall.

It was a huge job to convert an industrial maltings into a concert hall and no-one could be sure how successful the acoustics of the building would be until it was almost complete. Luckily, it proved to be perfect.

In 1967, the transformed maltings was opened by the Queen and the first Aldeburgh Festival in the new concert hall opened with Britten’s especially composed opera … A Midsummer Nights Dream. 

Exactly two years later, in the midst of the annual Festival, and just two hours after a packed audience had left the maltings, the concert hall caught fire, and when daylight broke just the outside walls of the concert hall remained standing.  

Performances were hastily relocated into halls and churches in the area and, devastating as the fire was, Benjamin Britten announced that the concert hall would be rebuilt and ready for use for the Aldeburgh Festival the following year.  It was and has been used for performances ever since.

The concert hall (previously leased) was bought by Aldeburgh Music in 2015. The complete site, with shops, galleries, restaurants and two concert halls, (the original brink building with 800 raked seats, and the newer slightly smaller Britten Studio), is now owned and run by Britten Pears Arts. (Britten Pears Arts was formed in April 2020 when Snape Maltings, formerly Aldeburgh Music, and the Britten-Pears Foundation, that ran Britten and Pears’ estate, merged.)

Snape Maltings Concert Hall

The backstage facilities are excellent, with studios and practise rooms… and the dressing rooms look out over the marshes. 

View across the marshes

The concert hall and stage are like a brick box (the stage can be extended over the front seating area for larger scale productions and full orchestras) but there are no real wings, (just screens) nor a proscenium arch or stage curtains. I have seen professional modern ballet performed successfully with the dancers exit, leaping at speed … and the brick wall greets them! When a group such as the Co-op Juniors, with a cast of 200, put on their Christmas show, the stage setting must be created with movable scenery.

Snape Maltings ( photo: Philip Vile)

The second concert hall, the Britten Studio is in the Hoffman Building, and has seats that rise from a floor level performance area. During Covid a ‘dome’ allowed for outside free concerts and is still in use for some events this summer, through August. 

If you haven’t been to Snape Maltings, near Aldeburgh, you must go. It is a beautiful site, has excellent high-class shops, a restaurant and a pub, wonderful concert halls and a varied programme of performances. 



Worbey and Farrell, comedy concert pianists. Friday 19th August 2022

Worbey and Farrell and the screen

It was hard to choose what to see at Snape Maltings as they have such a range of performances this summer. Then I thought that a piano recital was a bit different – especially one that was billed as “Prepare to laugh with joy at the sheer ingenuity of the TV and radio regulars. You’ve never seen a piano played like this before…”

Steven Worbey and Kevin Farrell are internationally acclaimed concert pianists- amazing pianists who sit on one piano stool and play one grand piano at the same time, hands criss-crossing the keyboard. A giant screen behind gives the audience a birds-eye view of what they are doing. How they don’t get entangled is a mystery! 

Throughout, Steven and Kevin told stories about their careers and performing for famous people across the world… but seemed genuinely delighted as they declared they were fulfilling a dream to perform at Snape Maltings. 

It was Kevin’s birthday and he loved it when the audience spontaneously burst into a chorus of ‘Happy Birthday’ when Steven mentioned it. That set the mood for the evening really. We laughed at their anecdotes and were amazed by their musicality, as they performed Bohemian Rhapsody by Queen),  Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf,  Rhapsody in Blue, a mash-up of Waltzing Matilda and An English Country Garden, and many other well-known pieces. 

(Britten Pears are not providing programmes to their concerts but invite you to download one from their website as part of doing their bit for the environment. Unfortunately, there wasn’t once available for this show when I tried. A set list would have been useful.) 

Steven and Kevin explained that they initially chose to work this way, when they started out, as most venues don’t have two pianos available! Looking at the original orchestration, they colour-code the music when they arrange the piece, making each section of the piano keyboard represent a different section of the orchestra, eg brass, strings, etc. Either of them can play any part of the score– hence the crossing of four hands. 

When not watching transfixed by the screen, or swept up in the beautiful music , I also loved looking at their shoes…. Kevin’s glittery and Steven’s flowery! 

It was an evening that proved it is good to try something new and unexpected. I am still smiling – and listening to Worbey and Farrell on YouTube.


Taking a bow