Tenor Grayson Hirst performs Sunday afternoon in the “Barber & Britten Music + Festival.”

Kelly Presnell / Arizona Daily Star

Nov. 22 marks Benjamin Britten’s 100th birthday — a perfect excuse to dust off his little-played song cycles and chamber works and fête the influential 20th century English composer.

The University of Arizona School of Music will celebrate Britten alongside fellow 20th century composer American Samuel Barber at this weekend’s sixth annual composers festival.

What ties them together? Both were neo-romantic composers, clinging to a style that was considered out of style in the age of serialism — think Arnold Schoenberg, Alban Berg, Karlheinz Stockhausen and Pierre Boulez.

“They created absolutely gorgeous music, which has been somewhat neglected,” said festival founder Daniel Asia. “They were following their own path. ... The result is that we have these bodies of music that are absolutely gorgeous, but where the composers are known by and large by only a couple of pieces. A lot of their work is simply not that well known.”

Britten is best known for his opera “Peter Grimes,” but the composer, who died in 1976, penned choral works, chamber pieces and orchestral works that have been praised by critics and musicologists, but mostly forgotten. The same could be said of Barber, who has only a handful of works that are regularly played today. The irony is that almost everything Barber wrote has been recorded.

Asia, who teaches composing at the UA and is a prolific composer, said he hopes this weekend’s festival shines a light on both men and their music.

“Here are two composers that you may know only one or two pieces of, but they spent a lifetime composing music and a lot of it is absolutely extraordinary,” Asia said. “This music that’s been created 50 years ago is still incredibly relevant.”

This weekend’s festival includes four concerts with student and faculty musicians, a symposium, guest artists including Welsh baritone Jeremy Huw Williams and screening of a film that features music by Britten.

Events will be held at the UA School of Music; the film will be shown at Fox Tucson Theatre, 17 W. Congress St.

The schedule


1 p.m. – “Barber and Britten — Their Music and Lives” with Jeremy Huw Williams and Matthew Mugmon; Music Room 146.

4 – Concert featuring organist Pamela Decker, trumpet players Edward Reid, Amy Burmeister and Max Goldschmid, pianist Bokyung Park and the Arizona Choir. Holsclaw Hall.

7:30 — Arizona Symphony Orchestra, UA Wind Ensemble and Arizona Choir in concert. Crowder Hall.


2 p.m. – Concert featuring tenor Grayson Hirst and alto Nicholas Scheier; Misael Barraza on guitar, Tannis Gibson and Rex Woods on piano and Brian Luce playing flute. Holsclaw Hall.

4:30 — Concert featuring baritone Jeremy Williams, violinist Ellen Chamberlain and pianist Paula Fan.Holsclaw Hall.

7:30 – Film “Moonrise Kingdom” (2012) directed by Wes Anderson, featuring music by Benjamin Britten. Fox Tucson Theatre.

I cover music for the Arizona Daily Star.