Benjamin Britten would have turned 100 on Friday 22, and Carnegie Hall is celebrating the English composer’s exact centenary with a concert performance of his operatic masterpiece, Peter Grimes. The 1945 London premiere of this craggy, sea-haunted and deeply involving work remains legendary, one of those nights when everyone recognizes that the game has changed. Grimes signaled the rebirth of the British operatic tradition, iffy since Henry Purcell’s death in 1695.
Britten’s surging music showed traces of Mussorgsky and even Gershwin, but made manifest his talent for delivering both large-scale ensembles and telling, characterful detail. Writing about his native East Anglia, the effectively openly gay, pacifist composer limned the status and fate of outsiders in traditional communities.
At Carnegie Hall, David Robertson and his St. Louis Symphony will tackle Britten’s fantastic score. His Grimes, Anthony Dean Griffey, has tackled the haunting part worldwide with his cutting but honeyed tenor—and the crystalline diction heard to very different effect on his new Christmas album, This Little Light. Susanna Phillips lends her warm, blooming soprano as the character Ellen Orford, and resonant bass-baritone Alan Held sings fair-minded Captain Balstrode. The strong ensemble includes Meredith Arwady, Nancy Maultsby, Patrick Carfizzi and David Pittsinger.—David Shengold