Caro Barnfield left Germany to work at Britten Pears Arts in 2006 and returned to make the organisation and Suffolk her home after working for the London Symphony Orchestra for three years. She regards the Britten Pears Young Artist Programme central to her working life and now as Director of the Music Programme she is steering the development of young artists towards exciting new horizons.

Could you say something about your role at Britten Pears Arts and how you came to work here?

I grew up in Germany and went to Music College as a singer, but I didn’t pursue it as a profession. Instead, having discovered arts management at the Schleswig-Holstein Music Festival I came to the U.K especially for this role which was my first full-time post. I started out as Masterclass Co-ordinator in the Britten Pears Young Artist Programme (BPYAP) and worked in various roles here and the London Symphony Orchestra and have now been the Music Programme Director for a year. It’s fair to say that Artist Development has been at the heart of my entire professional career and the BPYAP for most of it, too.

What was it about BPA that particularly attracted you?

The historical legacy and the links to the Aldeburgh Festival: That there was a festival here was a big part of my excitement about coming to work here - that festival atmosphere is hard to beat, it’s something I’ve always loved.

What does the 50th Anniversary of BPYAP mean to you?

Organisationally this anniversary is an important moment - there are brilliant Young Artist Programmes across the globe now, but I love the fact ours was trailblazing, and is still seen as a centre of excellence for nurturing young artists.

Personally it’s hard to be objective because I feel part of me is bound up in this programme. It was the place that gave me my ‘work home’ and I met my partner and some of my best friends here.

Looking back over the history of the School as it was then, what are your highlights?

Well the heart of the Programme hasn’t changed – there’s a sense of honest generosity toward the next generation. A few years ago, I had a conversation with someone who was involved with the BPYAP at the very beginning, and it struck me how the ‘spirit’ of the programme they had experienced was very much still alive. Perhaps there’s also something about it having been effectively a present from one person (Britten) to another (Pears), with their legacy in mind – people feel that when they come here.

It's difficult to pick out any particular projects – each one somehow seems to develop its own life. There have been fantastic opera productions, vocal courses, orchestral courses and the Composition and Performance course was an incredible addition to the programme through Colin Matthews and Oliver Knussen in 1992. There’s an ongoing sense of wanting to be at the forefront of change and reacting to the type of support artists need. The addition of cross-genre projects like the Residencies programme have all come out of that innovation.

A project has now been launched to re-connect with past Alumni - can you say what has motivated this and why it’s important?

We need to be able to tell the Young Artist Programme story well, and to build an easy overview for anyone interested in the history of it, and to enable those for whom the programme was part of their life to reconnect - so it’s a moment to tidy up the data. This will then allow us to tell the story in much more detail and depth. The number of artists who become Britten Pears Arts alumni (also through newer strands of work such Aldeburgh Young Musicians and the Residencies) is ever increasing and we need to be able to connect with people in an efficient way. The 50th anniversary of the BPYAP seems a great moment to take stock & plan for the future.

In terms of the challenges that are facing young artists today, how do you think this programme prepares them for the future?

You can’t really see BPYAP in isolation at Britten Pears Arts as it is now inextricably and delightfully linked with other parts of the organisation – the Community Programme as well as other strand of Artist Development and of course the Performance Programme. We are listening to this generation of young artists and hearing what their needs are rather than only sticking to what we’ve previously done. There will always be exceptional artists coming through who embark on a solo performance career, but for most young artists a ‘portfolio career’ is much more fulfilling.

Artist Development at BPA focuses on the individual needs of artists, and we aim to support everyone to find their voice in this industry. Our role is to enable access, to open doors, to suggest options, to support someone to try something new.

The first study weekend in 1972 was a ‘weekend’ and then turned into something much bigger and more formal - what does the Young Artist Programme look like today?

The programme consists of anchor points across the year. Either masterclasses or courses focussing on particular area of repertoire or genre. They can be quite niche, and are certainly in-depth and intense (in a good way!).

A high-profile experienced artist sharing their expertise - the need for this will never go away. There’s something special about being able to learn from someone with incredible knowledge and expertise with time & space away from everyday life, out here in Suffolk.

Our courses include vocal & piano, instrumental music and composition. We’ve produced operas and have led large scale orchestra courses. Alongside this we offer a more tailored approach – for whom can we enhance the experience by offering something else? What else will someone need to make a success of the start of their career? The answers can lie in mentoring others or being mentored, learning workshop leading skills, media training, digital assets, partnerships with other organisations…the list goes on and is as diverse and flexible as our Young Artists.

The Programme for Young Artists means something special. It is very personal. Perhaps it’s because the School was effectively a present from Britten to Pears, I think people feel that longevity and legacy.

In the current climate, how are things going to move forward in future for the BPYAP?

As long as we stay flexible, open minded and generous at heart we’ll be ready. Our work should always be in response to need. As I’ve mentioned before, the need for established artists to share their experience with younger artists will never go away. That’s where you can learn simply by being here and soaking up all those almost intangible nuances that will bring you to the next step in your career. And young artists need to build networks: peers and tutors may become future collaborators.

We want to enable people to be their best, to deliver their best work. And to understand that there is more than one avenue available. Sometimes young artists discover that they need to change direction and that’s not a failure - its embracing who you are. That is what the programme is about.

Just for the historical record do you want to say a little bit about the Covid period - was it actually a useful time to reflect on things?

Having to cancel almost everything we’d worked towards for years was awful. We couldn’t offer support in the way we normally would. We moved one course online – it was an experimental music creation course, which felt the right moment to test an online version of what would normally happen on site.

However, being forced to pause and take stock is never a bad thing - the enforced break made us re-evaluate what we are doing, and we drastically changed the programme for one year in response to the restrictions and uncertainty. We asked artists to apply for a whole year of projects & courses that would enable us to be flexible, both in terms of Covid-related restrictions but also in terms of artists’ needs: their profession had been almost non-existent throughout the pandemic (other than some of the amazing & inspirational things you could find online) and so young artists at the beginning of their career had been particularly badly hit by the pandemic.

It was liberating to start from scratch and I’m glad we did it – moving forward we can now include all the things that worked really well whilst also going back to more international courses. It was very much ‘learning by doing’ for the last year – a feeling that was amplified by the fact that we had gone through some organisational changes (Covid & the 2020 merger of the Britten Pears Foundation and Snape Maltings) and welcomed a large number of new staff members to the team. We learnt so much from this last year, and I’m grateful for the organisation to have been so flexible – the Programme is in a good place.

Would you like to say something about your personal highlights during your time here?

Before we had the Hoffman Building, we hosted symphony orchestra courses with rehearsals taking place in the Peter Pears Recital Room. I have fun memories of Mahler symphonies being rehearsed with the timpani in the courtyard because they didn’t fit into the room. We had our offices out of earshot in the Britten Pears Building, but everyone else had to work with Mahler & Bruckner Symphonies being blasted out into the courtyard (not necessarily a bad thing!). We were lucky that it always seemed to be great weather in August then…

Our 2007 production of Britten’s ‘Rape of Lucretia’ is another great memory – we had a really wonderful international cast. Such a great atmosphere for several weeks with incredible results. It stands out in my mind as an example of what young artists can achieve.

And I can’t possibly not mention Grimes on the Beach in 2013 – the Britten Pears Orchestra and various alumni singers, and Steuart Bedford conducting from the pit dug into the shingle on Aldeburgh Beach. The whole thing was magical.

It’s been so lovely to welcome back artists several times over the years, some having been involved in the programme from the start – for example Roger Vignoles, Malcolm Martineau and Ann Murray to mention only a few. Courses across the years can have the same topic, but it’s fascinating to see how each tutor tackles things differently and they all really embrace the experience, which takes the teaching to another level. There’s also something lovely about being able to offer artists development for established artists who haven’t done a huge amount of teaching yet and offering a platform to give it a go.