Field Recordings

Britten Goes Back To Brooklyn With Nicholas Phan

Composer Benjamin Britten, whose 100th birth anniversary falls on Nov. 22nd, is so deeply associated with his native England that he's on a new 50-pence coin issued by the Royal Mint. This British cultural icon felt so strongly his music should be of a particular place that he set down roots in the seaside town of Aldeburgh, England and stayed there for nearly 30 years until his death in 1976. But he had a surprising two-year sojourn living far from home — in a boisterous, bohemian group house in Brooklyn.

Coaxed to the borough in 1939 by a friend, poet W.H. Auden, Britten and his longtime partner, tenor Peter Pears, moved into 7 Middaugh Street in Brooklyn Heights (an address long claimed by the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway). Their housing situation there could only fairly be described as bohemian. Along with Auden, the house's revolving cast of residents included novelist Carson McCullers, composer and writer Paul Bowles, and burlesque dancer Gypsy Rose Lee.

So in hopes of evoking something of that 1930s Brooklyn boho vibe, we invited an extremely fine young American tenor Nicholas Phan (pronounced "paan"), who's become a champion of Britten's vocal music, to return to Brooklyn on Britten's behalf, accompanied by harpist Sivan Magen. We shot this Field Recording at 70 Fox House, a communal house in the Fort Greene neighborhood not all that far from where Britten and Pears lived and made their own art. Phan chose arrangements of three folk songs that Britten made in 1976. Witty and surprising, these songs are full of odd — but beautifully moving — harmonies and textures. It's a perfect match for Britten and Brooklyn.

PROGRAM: (all songs arranged by Benjamin Britten):
  • "Lord! I married me a wife"
  • "She's like the swallow"
  • "Bird Scarer's Song"
[+] read more[-] less

More From Classical

Tiny Desk Concert with Jason Vieaux and Yolanda Kondonassis. Meredith Rizzo/NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Meredith Rizzo/NPR

Tiny Desk

Jason Vieaux And Yolanda Kondonassis

Watch the Grammy-winning guitarist and acclaimed harpist play music influenced by Africa and Asia.

Viola da gamba master Jordi Savall leads his ensemble Le Concert des Nations in a performance at Carnegie Hall's Zankel Hall on Apr. 16, 2015. AJ Wilhelm for NPR hide caption

itoggle caption AJ Wilhelm for NPR

Carnegie Hall Live

Jordi Savall And Le Concert Des Nations WQXR-FM

Hear the consummate master of early music lead an exhilarating program of French compositions.

Listen Loading… 2:21:40
  • Playlist
  • Embed
    Embed <iframe src="http://www.npr.org/player/embed/347126561/401021961" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no">

Tiny Desk Concert with Anonymous 4 on March 4. Emily Jan/NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Emily Jan/NPR

Tiny Desk

Anonymous 4 With Bruce Molsky

The a cappella quartet, with banjo and fiddle, offers popular songs from the Civil War era.

András Schiff takes late sonatas by Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven and Schubert to Carnegie Hall. AJ Wilhelm/for NPR hide caption

itoggle caption AJ Wilhelm/for NPR

Carnegie Hall Live

András Schiff Plays Mozart, Haydn, Schubert And Beethoven At Carnegie Hall WQXR-FM

On March 10, hear the eminent pianist in a solo recital of sublime masterworks.

Listen Loading… 2:03:37
  • Playlist
  • Embed
    Embed <iframe src="http://www.npr.org/player/embed/347112344/392189990" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no">

Baritone Thomas Hampson brings a Civil War-themed program to Carnegie Hall Feb. 9, 2015. Kristine Hoebermann hide caption

itoggle caption Kristine Hoebermann

Carnegie Hall Live

Thomas Hampson Sings A World Premiere WQXR-FM

Hear the beloved American baritone sing a new work by Jennifer Higdon in this recital.

Riccardo Muti leads the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in a concert of powerhouse orchestral works at Carnegie Hall. AJ Wilhelm for NPR Music hide caption

itoggle caption AJ Wilhelm for NPR Music

Carnegie Hall Live

The Chicago Symphony Plays A Colorful Concert WQXR-FM

Hear the CSO and its charismatic conductor Riccardo Muti in a program of Scriabin and Debussy.

Listen Loading… 2:00
  • Playlist
  • Embed
    Embed <iframe src="http://www.npr.org/player/embed/347102210/382739058" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no">
Back To Top