This is page 2 of the complete text of Chapter 9 of Fifty
Festivals: The history of the Bath Festival by Tim Bullamore. It is
spread over 3 pages. Use the navigation buttons at the top and bottom of
each page to move between pages.
CHAPTER NINE Page 2
Freedman's plans for 1988 were blighted by the great storm of October 1987 which closed the Assembly Rooms. Losing this important venue one of the three most important concert halls in the city along with the Abbey and the Guildhall was a major blow. Freedman turned instead to Christ Church on Julian Road, which sufficed because it had a very good acoustic, but she felt distinctly disadvantaged by its location near a busy road junction. She said:
Other alternatives didn't come to mind very easily:
The Contemporary Art Fair was also left homeless by the closure of the Assembly Rooms, but relocated to Green Park Station where it blossomed.
Thanks to Freedman's decision to make the USA her theme for 1988, the festival attracted an unprecedented �250,000 in sponsorship most of it from across the Atlantic. Although welcomed by the festival organisers, the overseas fund-raising success exposed miserliness at home. In March, just two months before the festival was due to begin, Bath City Council reneged on an agreement to give a grant of �36,000 to the festival. After much discussion, a Liberal-Labour pact led to civic support for the festival totalling just �28,000. Despite this blow, the festival scraped home with a surplus of �2900. But it hadn't begun seriously to tackle the previous year's deficit.
The New York Times headlined the migration of arts from the New World to the Old as `Yankee Doodle Goes to Europe', and this time actress Jane Seymour, who owned a house near Bath, managed to make it from America to declare the festival open during festivities in front of the Royal Crescent. In total, some 450 American musicians and artists pitched up in the city, including the composers Elliott Carter and George Crumb, the entire Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and Chorus, the dance company Lar Lubovitch, and the jazz greats Sweet Honey In the Rock. Other visitors included the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra, the veteran broadcaster Alistair Cooke and, delighting a new generation of jazz lovers, the seasoned festival artist John Dankworth with his wife Cleo Laine.
Freedman's growing international outlook led the festival chairman Robin Buchanan to rename it the `Bath International Festival'. Closer to home, a new venue, the Michael Tippett Centre at Newton Park near Bath, was opened by the composer as part of the 1988 festival. Eleven years later, the re-opening of the expanded and enlarged centre is to be a highlight of the first weekend of the 1999 festival. But the festival being the festival, it could not allow its 1988 fortnight of glory to pass without some controversy. A life-size wire sculpture of two copulating horses by the artist Sophie Rider, who had previously worked on a stud farm, stood proudly outside Green Park Station, attracting complaints. Graham Loader, who worked in a nearby office, said: `Some people might find it amusing but I think it's distasteful. I live in the country and see it all the time. There are going to be people who are far more outraged than me.' Like the art or not, it proved the launch pad for a revival of the elitism debate. Cllr David Gregory led the tirade in a letter to The Bath Chronicle calling it `pretentious, elitist and irrelevant.' He went on to lambast the Conservative-led city council: `They have not got the money to pay for council house repairs but they have it to sponsor an up-market peoples' festival.'
The American success was to be a contributing factor in the near downfall of the festival. The enlightened view of American patrons and sponsors led festival chiefs to believe they could continue to capitalise on that market place in the future, even when Amelia Freedman's artistic theme had nothing to do with the United States. The festival believed it could raise regular income from across the Atlantic, and opened up an American base. It was to prove a dangerous and expensive expedition. The future chairman Ken Broadhead explained, during an interview in 1998: `They tried to get a Friends organisation going in the United States but all they did was spend money.'
The emphasis of the festival returned to Europe in 1989 when, celebrating the 40th anniversary of the post-war state, West Germany was in the spotlight. It led to the West German government, through the office of its ambassador in London, Baron Hermann von Richtofen, donating �30,000 to the celeb-rations. It was at this point that Ken Broadhead, a former bank manager and classical music enthusiast, picked up the reins as chairman. What he found behind the veneer of artistic success was a crumbling and over-staffed structure, as well as a dreadful deficit hanging around the festival's neck. Speaking in 1998 he said: `When I took over we had not given returns to Companies House, and we were struck off and not able to trade. That was in my first three months.'
Despite the absence of results from its American venture, at the beginning of 1989 the ambitious festival established a completely separate fund-raising organisation in Britain, the Bath Festival Foundation. Complete with office, equipment and staff, it was chaired by Bristol solicitor Richard Smerdon and headed by Richard Evans. This paved the way for Christopher Head to move in as administrator of the festival. The Foundation's sole aim was to raise and invest �2m over a three-year period, which would generate up to �200,000 in annual income. The objective of the exercise was to avoid the annual, time-consuming and humiliating begging-bowl routine to city council, county council and Arts Council. Ultimately, the Foundation achieved practically nothing and, in the final analysis, cost more to run that it ever made. By October 1989, Richard Evans, who at the outset of the Foundation went on a six-week fact-finding mission to the United States, had landed himself a post in New York at the National Arts Stabilisation Fund.
While the fund-raising continued on an ad-hoc basis and London-based Amelia Freedman planned the programmes, Ken Broadhead tried to keep the whole show together. Although Broadhead, being a music-lover, was undoubtedly her favourite chairman, Freedman is cordial about her relationships with past-chairmen. She said:
But as the expansionary years of the late 1980s evolved into the recessionary years of the early 1990s, money was increasingly to become a major issue. The festival was not helped by great inflationary pressures in the classical music industry. Artists' fees had begun to soar as large American management companies moved into the British market place. Speaking in 1998, Freedman said:
Broadhead's appointment as chairman gave the festival a direct and crucial link to its bankers, NatWest, whose generosity in extending the festival's overdraft now kept the festival alive. The lending was secured on the festival's headquarters, Linley House, a building which was itself showing signs of dilapidation. And while lovers of the arts in Bath had reason to be grateful for the bank's benevolence, such generosity merely served to postpone the day of reckoning.
For the fortieth festival in 1989, the year in which she was awarded the MBE for her services to music, Amelia Freedman arranged a star-studded line-up including Ute Lemper and Georgie Fame. Together with the growing Contemporary Art Fair, there could be no mistaking that the festival was evolving into a celebration of the arts generally rather than classical music in particular. Visual art was well established, performance art cropped up with increasing regularity, and Nod Knowles's jazz programme was even beginning to rival the classical programming in terms of popularity. The 1989 programme saw performances by such greats as Nina Simone, Dizzy Gillespie and the David Murray Trio. But, as with the classical programme, a lot of the jazz was taking place in Bristol. While superficially it seemed to make sense, it actually caused a degree of underlying resentment. There was more discontent among audiences when the festival dispensed with the souvenir programme, and instead produced flimsy programmes for every event each priced separately.
On a happier note, the film star Jenny Agutter was brought in to declare the 1989 festival open in front of the Royal Crescent. Although the opening night programme was beginning to loosen up, it still had the feel of a military tattoo with salutes being taken, retreats being beaten and a march past by the Royal Marines. It was supposed to be a `dry' opening night. The city's new on-street drinking laws prohibited revellers from consuming alcohol outside bars and pubs, leaving a popular opening night watering-hole, the Vendange in Margaret's Buildings, with no choice other than to shut for the evening in case drinkers stepped outside the doors and risked the establish-ment's licence. Despite the new rules, there was no shortage of alfresco drinking both in Margaret's Buildings and in Royal Victoria Park, leading to claims that wine drinkers were receiving preferential treatment over beer drinkers.
Opera, the b�te noire of many a Bath Festival, poked its head into the programme again with a visit by Kent Opera performing Monteverdi's The Return of Ulysses and Britten's Peter Grimes. Meanwhile, the conductor Simon Rattle brought his City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra to the party, and Vladimir Ashkenazy appeared with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. Other stars of 1989 included the violinist Nigel Kennedy, the singer Margaret Price, and the veteran pianist Jorge Bolet. Lending his support to the fortieth festival celebrations was the Prince of Wales, who turned up to hear a concert by the Melos String Quartet from Stuttgart, Germany, at Christ Church, Julian Road. His Royal Highness also agreed to become the festival's new patron.
Entrants to the shop window competition had to arrange their displays on the theme of `echoes of romanticism', while the Festival Friends organisation launched a new recruitment drive to build up support for the festival. They were led in their efforts by Brenda Beeton, the wife of a former chief executive of Bath City Council. Meanwhile the fringe, presented by Bath Arts Association, continued to work in tandem with the international festival, presenting events such as poetry readings, theatre, bands and films.
The `lack of visibility' criticism reared its ugly head again in 1989. David Nice, owner of Edouards wine bar in Lansdown, claimed that the festival had not brought him any extra trade. As a sign, perhaps, that things were turning, The Bath Chronicle did not leap immediately to the festival's defence. It wrote:
Financially, however, 1989 was another disaster. How much of a disaster did not become apparent until almost the end of the year when a loss approaching �100,000 was revealed. The hunt for sponsors was renewed with vigour.
There was some solace when, on the eve of the 1990 festival, there came a four year sponsorship deal with BMW (GB) Ltd, which brought in �12,000 a year to shore up the festival's finances. It was the first of a number of long-term sponsorship deals. While these were crucial to the festival's ability to pay its bills and manage its cash flow, they alone were not enough to guarantee survival. The biggest disasters in 1989 had been the concerts in Bristol. Already budgeted to lose money, the Colston Hall was less than half full, creating a loss approaching �10,000 on one event alone. Speaking at the end of the 1990 festival, administrator Chris Head put a brave face on the financial situation. He said: `The long term aim is to make a surplus. Next year should see the first step on the road.' Those words had been heard before. For how long would the people and politicians of Bath continue to stomach a classical music extravaganza which, although one of the greatest of its kind in the world, was financially a lame duck?
The festival returned to Bath Abbey in 1990 with a concert by the City of London Sinfonia, featuring soloists Jill Gomez and Stephen Varcoe. The rector Geoffrey Lester had retired, and his successor Richard Askew was not prepared to reconsider the ban on applause until the church council met after the festival had finished. Nevertheless, applaud they did. The music of Spain formed the backbone of this festival and the Abbey concert included the suite from Bizet's opera Carmen. Highlighting the continuing divide between those who wanted their festival to be a musical one and those who wanted their festival to be one long party, this opening concert clashed with the festivities in the park where the poet Pam Ayres formally declared the festival open.
The rest of the festival included performances by several Iberian artists, including the flamenco star Paco Pena, the Spanish clarinettist Joan Lluna and his compatriot the cellist Lluis Claret. Jazz star Courtney Pine, the pianist Alfred Brendel, and the acclaimed baritone Thomas Allen all gave performances. So too did the American organist Carlo Curley, who arrived in the country to discover that restoration work on Bristol Cathedral's ancient pipe organ was not complete he had to use a computerised instrument instead.
Far away from the high art of classical music, the `Festival Fun Run' for vintage and classic cars proved to be a popular crowd puller. The 55 vehicles, with drivers and passengers dressed in period costume, left Green Park Station for a tour around the Cotswolds, returning to a Glenn Miller-style welcome from the Wells Cathedral Brass Band in Royal Victoria Park.
After the poor showing in previous years, large-scale orchestral concerts in Bristol were temporarily abandoned. But while there were cuts in that area, the tenth Contemporary Art Fair, at Green Park Station, was moving from strength to strength, and featured a staggering 800 artists with works ranging in price from �50 to �50,000.
Nevertheless, the fact remained that the festival was still primarily a classical music showcase attracting a stereotypical audience. And while surveys showed that the majority of that audience was indeed from the local area, an underlying resentment was building up in the city at large. Why were non-musical events tagged on to the festival rather than an intrinsic part of the whole thing?
As the curtain fell on the 1990 festival, Amelia Freedman attempted the same type of public relations exercise tried by Sir Thomas Beecham when the 1955 results became apparent. Speaking to The Bath Chronicle of her desire to make the Bath Festival feel less exclusive, she said:
The genie was out of the bottle. Amelia Freedman had spoken the `e' word. The charge of elitism which Sir Michael Tippett, Sir William Glock and William Mann had all managed to some degree to suppress was set to haunt Freedman and her festival for the remainder of her time in Bath.
The 1991 festival was saved by a stroke of good financial luck when, thanks to chairman Ken Broadhead's contacts, Beazer plc injected �100,000 to become title sponsor. Beazer became accredited as the `principal sponsor' of the Bath International Festival. It was intended to be the first part of a five year deal but Beazer was taken over, its enthusiastic executives disappeared, and the Bath Festival was left abandoned by its sponsor after just one year. On an overall budget of �683,000, the 1991 festival scraped home with a �4000 profit. It was not helped by the result of a concert given by the Philharmonia Orchestra with conductor Leonard Slatkin and pianist Barry Douglas at the Colston Hall in Bristol, which sold less than 900 of the 2000 available seats and consequently lost around �10,000. The city's contribution was �42,000 while the Arts Council's offering was �43,000. However, with an accumulated deficit of �216,000, it was highly unlikely the festival was going to trade its way out of trouble. There was more expense with the inclusion of another Achilles heel of the festival opera. A group called Opera 80 gave performances of Mozart's Magic Flute and Donizetti's Don Pasquale.
Opened in Royal Victoria Park by the actor Anthony Andrews, the 1991 festival with its theme of `Beyond Vienna' brought some 900 artists to the city, including many who had never previously been allowed to travel from the former Soviet bloc when it was under Communist rule.
The opening night celebrations again clashed with a major concert. The Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by their Czech maestro Libor Peek, performed Brahms's Violin Concerto with Kyung-Wha Chung in Wells Cathedral. Later that evening Nigel Perrin's Bath Camerata gave a candlelit concert at St John's Church in South Parade.
The pianist Mikhail Pletnev, the violinist Josef Suk, the Vogler String Quartet, and the Franz Liszt Chamber Orchestra were typical of the Eastern bloc artists who were suddenly able to travel with greater ease. All the same, there were cultural misunderstandings to be overcome. The Franz Liszt Chamber Orchestra performed Mahler's arrangement of Schubert's Death and the Maiden. With Mahler's music still in copyright, and royalties still being paid to his estate, the British publisher could not understand how the orchestra had acquired their music without his knowledge. He attended the group's rehearsal at the Theatre Royal and followed the score note by note satisfying himself that the handwritten and photocopied parts on their music stands were indeed the same as Mahler's work. Confronted on the issue, members of the orchestra tried to insist that it was their arrangement of Mahler's ideas, but eventually they capitulated and agreed to pay the publisher for the music.
|Text copyright � Tim Bullamore 1999.
Web Page Design copyright � Mushroom Publishing 1999. Last updated 27 October 1999 .