Discovering… “The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra – Benjamin Britten” 19 June 2022: Sunday on BBC Four

Discovering... "The Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra - Benjamin Britten" 19 June 2022: Sunday on BBC Four 11

Benjamin Britten’s The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra (1945) is one of the most frequently performed works of any British composer. It has introduced and enlivened the interest of whole generations of children in the instruments of the orchestra, in thrilling style. It is, however, much more than an instruction manual for youngsters. Now a classic of the concert hall, it is frequently performed to children and adults alike.

Katie Derham presents a detailed analysis of the composition, and the story behind its creation, before it is performed in full by the BBC National Orchestra of Wales with guest conductor Moritz Gnann in Cardiff’s Hoddinott Hall.

Orchestra members explain to Katie how Britten drew on the past for themes and techniques, and reapplied them in a twentieth-century context to show off each instrument in captivating fashion. Through interviews and archive Katie learns how the piece was commissioned for a Ministry of Education film during a post-war Britain filled with the optimism and promise of building a new world that would provide high culture for all – a central tenet of Britten’s own approach; to write music that is ‘useful, and to the living’.

The film demonstrates how Britten takes the orchestra apart, allowing each instrument its own variation on Henry Purcell’s theme of 250 years earlier. Through the performance we see how the 13 variations get to the essence of each instrument’s characteristics, showing each section of the orchestra at its individual best.

About Discovering…

Extraordinary pieces of music performed in full by BBC orchestras – a rare chance to explore each in-depth with those who bring it to life – the conductors and musicians.

This show is broadcast on BBC Four, also known as the British Broadcasting Corporation.

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