This is page 4 of the complete text of Chapter 4 of Fifty
Festivals: The history of the Bath Festival by Tim Bullamore. It is
spread over 4 pages. Use the navigation buttons at the top and bottom of
each page to move between pages.
CHAPTER FOUR Page 4
|The city council's financial support of the festival in 1962 had
remained at a paltry �1500, bringing a scathing rebuke from Aubrey
Jackman, chairman of the Bath Hotels and Restaurants Association. He said
such a low level of support was `utterly unrealistic and almost incredibly
unenterprising.' Meanwhile the Arts Council and TWW had put up �1750
each. Despite these contributions, when the final figures for 1962 were
known there was a loss of �2792, bringing the accumulated deficit up to
In 1963 the festival began to make more serious overtures towards the Bristol authorities. Seen from a London standpoint, the two cities seem very close; why not capitalise on their proximity? The first suggestion was for a jointly hosted open-air production of Anthony and Cleopatra at Dyrham Park. The National Trust, the Drama Department at Bristol University and the Fringe Committee were all keen, but the Entertainments Committee of Bristol City Council vetoed any financial support for the project.
Even without Bristol's backing, things began looking up financially in 1963. Bath City Council, the Arts Council and TWW increased their contributions to �2500 each. The festival was also blessed with a new venue: the Assembly Rooms. Still intimate in scale, it could nevertheless accommodate more people and hence raise more revenue than the Guildhall. Consequently, box office takings hit a record �14,500. Despite the extra accommodation, popular events began selling out quickly, and festival membership, with its priority booking period, became a sought after commodity. The festival was clearly settling into what would later be seen as something of a golden era.
John Betjeman, long a fan of the city of Bath, wrote an extensive introduction to the festival programme book in 1963 comparing Bath to Rome. But he concluded with a warning:
The applause in churches argument of 1962 was resolved with a sentence in the programme for each concert held in such a venue: `If they so wish, members of the public is (sic) invited to show its appreciation by standing in silence while the artists leave the church.'
Although there was no danger of forfeiting its highly regarded classical music heritage, the festival was reaching out more than ever into the community and involving local people and young people. Bath Cantata Group under the baton of David Lloyd-Jones sang cantatas by Buxtehude; Roger Norrington conducted the Springhead Ring Choir; the Essex Youth Orchestra with their Bathonian conductor Raymond Leppard appeared at the Pavilion; Menuhin conducted the City of Bath Bach Choir, and also took time out to rehearse an orchestra made up of pupils from several local senior schools including Bath High, Kingswood, Monkton Combe and the City of Bath Girls' and City of Bath Boys' schools.
In an attempt to break down barriers between followers of classical music and jazz, Yehudi Menuhin and Johnny Dankworth united for an event called `Musical Encounter', which was only moderately successful, as Morley Pooley recalled in The Bath Chronicle (June 13):
Notable visitors in 1963 included the Zurich Chamber Orchestra with Edmond de Stoutz; the cellist Maurice Gendron performing all six Bach solo cello suites in two concerts; Peter Pears singing Schubert's Die Winterreise accompanied by Benjamin Britten; the Smetana Quartet; and Claudio Arrau in an all-Chopin programme at the Assembly Rooms. But the acoustics of the Assembly Rooms gave cause for concern to some critics. The Daily Telegraph said: `It turned out that this hall will not take well to collective string scales.'
The Daily Mail was particularly sarcastic in its verdict:
As an emergency measure, velvet drapes measuring 40 feet by 25 feet were installed behind the platform in a moderately successful attempt to deaden the resonance.
The final figures, although in the red, were no more depressing than previously. On a turnover of more than �27,000, the 1963 festival lost �1373 bringing the accumulated deficit to around �5000. Sir Edwin Leather MP, chairman of the Festival Society, said at the end of the 1963 festival:
* * *
After her successful and widely acclaimed appearance in 1962, Dame Margot Fonteyn pitched up again in 1964, this time with Rudolf Nureyev. She was scheduled to appear in two gala performances with him at the Theatre Royal, the first on Tuesday, June 9. The previous evening she had been rehearsing before dining at the Hole in the Wall restaurant when, unknown to Dame Margot, her husband, Dr Roberto Arias, the former Panamanian ambassador to Britain, had been shot and critically injured in Panama City. Shortly before midnight she returned to the Lansdown Grove Hotel to be greeted with the news by Diana Menuhin. A night of frantic telephone calls followed. The following morning she declared to her anxious and expectant audience that, as Dr Arias was out of danger, for that night at least the show must go on. She said: `Naturally I want to go and see my husband but I don't like rushing off today and letting down the festival.'
And on the show went, culminating in a stunning and highly charged performance by Fonteyn and Nureyev of Bart�k's Sonata for solo violin, played by Menuhin. Speaking in 1998, Menuhin recalled the occasion: `I played in a kind of sentry box on the left hand side of the stage and they danced. I loved it just the feeling of seeing people dance to your music, whether in rhythm or inspired by the mood.' Immediately the curtain came down, Dame Margot was whisked away to London to begin a 6000-mile flight to the bedside of her wounded husband. Her declared intention had been to return to Bath for a second performance just four days later on Saturday. Alas, she found her husband's condition to be worse than expected, and Lynn Seymour stood in to dance with Nureyev.
There was an element of humour in the tragedy. Dame Margot was waiting at the Lansdown Grove Hotel for an important telephone call from Buenos Airies to tell her if Dr Arias was sufficiently out of danger for her to give her performance that night and leave the following day. The world's media and press had been gathering in the hotel's lobby, where the elderly head porter was in his element organising the camera crews and journalists who were milling around. In the middle of the kerfuffle the old-fashioned switchboard, which was open to everyone, started ringing. In the absence of the switchboard operator the porter picked up the phone, and silence fell over the assembled company. A distant voice said `Allo. Allo, this is Buenos Airies.' To which the porter replied: `This is no time for practical jokes, we've got a crisis on' and pulled out the plug, creating uproar among the gathered media.
While the Fonteyn episode dominated the festival and the appearance with Nureyev undoubtedly ranks in the festival's top ten achievements there was plenty more besides. In Bristol, a church opera by the conductor Gian Carlo Menotti was given its world premi�re in the cathedral, and Yehudi Menuhin gave an all-Bach recital of solo violin music at the church of St Mary Redcliffe. If the programmes looked much the same as previous years, that was because the format was, in essence, unchanging: Bach, Mozart, Haydn and Beethoven played by Menuhin, members of his family Hephzibah Menuhin and Fou T'song for example and a collection of regular friends such as Raymond Leppard, Janet Baker and the Festival Chamber Orchestra.
But as long as Menuhin and Hunter could find a few surprises for the audience, they could paddle in the same direction. After having their fingers burnt with the classical-jazz crossover of 1963, Menuhin and Dankworth were more cautious in their partnership this time around. At a concert in the Assembly Rooms, Dankworth, a clarinettist by profession, took part in a performance of Bart�k's Contrasts with Menuhin on the violin. As the wind part had originally been written for Benny Goodman, the whole thing was a more natural collaboration than the 1963 attempt at fusion.
This was the year that brought the composer Michael Tippett, resident near Corsham, a few miles east of Bath, into the festival fold. He conducted a performance of his new secular cantata, Crown of the Year, with the Bath Cantata Group and Janet Baker. It was the beginning of an important association between the festival and one of the greatest British composers of the second half of the century. The other great gem of that year was a trio of appearances by the soprano Victoria de los Angeles, including a performance of Mahler's Symphony No.4 at the Abbey with the London Symphony Orchestra under the baton of Istv�n Kert�sz.
The `Roman Rendezvous' and `Jambeano' continued with a vengeance, and Barbara Robertson organised a Festival Ball at Combe Hay Manor which was disrupted by rain but nevertheless continued indoors until breakfast. The jazz programme continued largely unaltered, and at the Holburne Museum an exhibition looked at the history of baths and bathing through the ages. But it was in repeating previously successful events that, in the author's view, the Bath Festival began making mistakes, just as it had when under the control of the city council in the early 1950s. Assuming that what worked one year will work again the next year is a false premise. Although only just over halfway through Menuhin's tenure as artistic director, the signs of stagnation only ever visible with the benefit of hindsight were slowly beginning to creep in.
The loss in 1964 was �848, a figure shrugged off not unreasonably by Sir Edwin Leather as `a thoroughly manageable figure'. He insisted that the finances of the festival were `in good heart'. But in January 1965 the festival was approaching financial crisis, and asked the city to double its annual grant from �2500 to �5000, the amount given ten years earlier. The council declined. Leather declared that, despite the rebuff, the festival would go on. However, he warned that Yehudi Menuhin had received an approach from elsewhere. He said: `Personally, while I would do anything to bring Menuhin's music to the British people, if we move outside Bath, the whole character of the operation will have completely changed and this would be a thousand pities.' Although there was no extra cash forthcoming from the city or from TWW, the Arts Council upped their contribution to �2750 and also agreed to cover some of the rehearsal costs for visiting orchestras.
In February 1965 Aubrey Jackman, long an outspoken supporter of the festival and chairman of the Bath Hotels and Restaurants Association, called on the city council to have a wider vision towards the festival. He said: `Those in a position of responsibility in the Guildhall know full well that the festival is worth at least �30,000 a year.' He added that it was the duty of councillors to put the good of the city first and to explain to opponents in their wards the wider implications of its abandonment. He said: `The ramifications and indirect benefit of the festival is enormous. The city council must have wider vision. If the festival is lost to Bath there will be nothing to take its place.'
Nevertheless, the increasingly highbrow feel of the festival's musical programme particularly in the midst of the swinging sixties was clearly causing rancour. Sir Edwin recognised this point. In March 1965 he said: `We are working on the question of a wider appeal, because some people contend that our festival is terribly highbrow. But it is inevitable in the business in which we are concerned. Producing excellent music and producing popular music at the same time is a paradox and we are acutely conscious of it and are doing our best to deal with the matter.' It was statements such as this that, in the long run, probably did the festival more harm than good. It reflected a long suspected view that the festival was out to convert the people rather than reach them.
The crossfire continued. On April 27, Sir Edwin lashed out at the festival's critics during a Bath Rotary Club event claiming the city was `perilously close' to losing the festival as it had done the annual military tattoo, once a major part of the city's social calendar. He said:
He then went on to reveal that Menuhin, in response to the festival's financial plight, had waived all his fees for 1963 and 1964. Appealing for more support from everyone in Bath, Sir Edwin said: `If you are going to have a genius like Menuhin, you have got to provide him with proper facilities or you just don't have him at all.'
Sir Edwin was right. The world's greatest violinist deserved to be paid for the work he was doing. However the MP's approach once again fostering a `you must help us' direction rather than a `how can we work together' angle did nothing to endear him to the city nor the city fathers.
Sir Edwin had reason to be worried. The cost of mounting the 12-day extravaganza was continuing to rise, and in 1965 was estimated to be �37,000. Something had to be done to widen its scope and raise greater funds. A member of the Festival Society's board, George Comer, established a Festival Association. It was intended to be an organisation to run and develop fringe events that would complement the main festival. It was in essence the forerunner of today's fringe as a separate organisation, two differences being that, firstly, its relationship with the main festival was one of close co-operation, and secondly it would despite the organisers' best intentions end up appealing largely to existing festival supporters and others in the socio-economic group that the festival reached, rather than drawing in those whom the festival did not normally attract. Sport, tennis, five-a-side football, golf and skittles were suggested. Despite being a member of the Festival Society's board, George Comer had to vigorously defend himself from charges that he was undermining the Society and criticising its running. He said:
Sir Edwin welcomed the move but Lord Strathcona, the deputy chairman, was condescending: `I don't think it is fair to suggest it will help the festival's finances, but it would help to silence the knockers.' In its first full year, to July 1966, the Festival Association itself made a loss of just under �200, largely on a week of old-time music-hall that had been expected to reach those to whom the festival didn't appeal, but which turned out to be poorly attended.
An Olympic-style relay of athletes opened the 1965 festival, running through the city's streets to Abbey Church Yard where a flame which was supposed to burn in a circular stone dais for the duration of the festival was lit by Arnold Goodman, chairman of the Arts Council of Great Britain. Trumpeters in colourful blue outfits sounded a fanfare and the drums rolled as the final runner approached. Designed by architect, former mayor and ex-chairman of the festival, Hugh Roberts, the structure was about ten feet in diameter enclosing a tiered flowerbed. The circle of stone surrounding the flame-producing apparatus was engraved `Bath Festival Floreat Bathon' (Bath Festival: long may Bath flourish). Unfortunately the flame proved somewhat temperamental and had to be regularly checked and relit. There was also suspicion of sabotage or vandalism, and eventually police with guard dogs were brought in to watch the flame.
Building on the successful window display competition of 1964, Milsom Street won the Best Decorated Street Award and Jollys department store won the festival rose bowl for a spectacular depiction of the Agincourt Ball. How sad that in the 1990s Jollys, now part of the House of Frazer, no longer take part in this annual event. The city probably looked its best ever in 1965, with window displays and flowers everywhere. Ian Hunter took time out to write a rare letter of thanks to The Bath Chronicle, saying: `Having been connected with the Bath Festival since its inception in 1948... I have never seen Bath more beautifully decorated or looking more festive than during the present Festival.'
The introduction to The Bath Chronicle's four page supplement in 1965 unintentionally gives another clue as to the stagnation that was subtly grabbing hold:
The major musical development in 1965 was the premi�re of a violin concerto by the Australian composer Malcolm Williamson for Yehudi Menuhin. There was also a welcome return of the Moscow Chamber Orchestra who, with their conductor Rudolf Barshai, had appeared in 1962. This time they gave four concerts. George Malcolm performed Bach's Goldberg Variations, the Smetana Quartet returned to the city and so too did the London Symphony Orchestra with programmes that included Elgar's Cello Concerto (soloist: Maurice Gendron), Tchaikovsky's Symphony No.6 and Liszt's Piano Concerto No.2 (soloist: Louis Kentner). But essentially Yehudi Menuhin, his family, and the Bath Festival Orchestra (the word Chamber had surreptitiously been dropped from its title this year) remained at the heart of proceedings.
The 1965 Festival also saw the spectacular Agincourt Ball at Farleigh Castle, organised by the fringe committee. Together with other fringe events the ball contributed �200 to festival finances. These themed social evenings were now a well-established part of the festival calendar. And while their content, design and price would clearly appeal to a limited sector of the public, this was a group of society that gave the festival solid support both morally and financially. No matter how rarefied they might seem to the man or woman on the Twerton omnibus, such events provided a backbone for the festival, not to mention much-needed income. The story of King Henry V's victory over the French at the Battle of Agincourt in 1415 was told by 60 costumed characters within the ruined wall of Farleigh Hungerford Castle from 10pm to 3am, and at a price of four guineas per head. Among the 400 guests was Prince William of Gloucester, who played the part of Humphrey Plantagenet. Leaflets advising on costume were issued well in advance (including a section entitled Hints for Helpless Men) and descendants of the Hungerford family came from as far as Tanganyika (now Tanzania) and New Zealand to participate.
Kenneth Goodman described the scene for The Bath Chronicle (June 19):
However, much to the festival's embarrassment, tickets had to be given away to three concerts at the Assembly Rooms as well as to Johnny Dankworth's concert with his wife Cleo Laine, performing Kurt Weill's Seven Deadly Sins with the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra at the Colston Hall in Bristol. The festival's image of reaching into the community wasn't helped by the ending of the `Jambeano' street dancing, on the grounds that numbers had been down the previous year. To add to the festival's woes, two speakers Lord Gladwyn and Lord Snow both cancelled their engagements. The Bath Chronicle's diary columnist hinted at troubles ahead:
Despite these problems, Sir Edwin vigorously defended the festival: `It is not because the Bath Festival is losing its appeal. We have not dropped behind in our claim that we are one of the world's great music festivals.' Nevertheless, alarm was caused by an article in The Observer claiming that `the festival itself may go out when the event ends on Sunday.' Sir Edwin was furious. He said: `It is harmful and quite untrue. We are not in deep financial trouble... I have no idea where they got the story from.'
July 1965 brought about the end of the MP's chairmanship. At the closing concert of the 1965 festival he had been presented with a bronze bust of Yehudi Menuhin. He was replaced at the helm of the Bath Festival Society Ltd by the deputy chairman Lord Strathcona, who lived in Lansdown Crescent. Strathcona immediately declared a desire to widen the festival's appeal:
In the summer of 1965 there came a surprise move by the city.
Acknowledging their debt to Yehudi Menuhin for putting Bath so firmly on
the international map an indisputable fact, regardless of how one
Continuing their desperate bid to make the festival more attractive as well as better financed, plans were mooted to hold a festival casino in the Assembly Rooms. This was not as absurd as it might sound. Beau Nash, the man who had brought the city music, entertainment and dancing, had financed his lifestyle through the gaming tables. Nevertheless, the city's Spas Committee was po-faced about the proposal and rejected the concept outright in September 1965.
Whether it would have bridged the growing gulf whether anything would ever bridge the gulf is debatable. But an increasing inability to reach the ordinary people of Bath at a time when accessibility was all-important was a dangerous position to be in, and storm clouds were gathering ahead.
|Text copyright � Tim Bullamore 1999.
Web Page Design copyright � Mushroom Publishing 1999. Last updated 27 October 1999 .