This is page 3 of the complete text of Chapter 9 of Fifty
Festivals: The history of the Bath Festival by Tim Bullamore. It is
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CHAPTER NINE Page 3
Nod Knowles's jazz programme was by now a solid and well-established part of the festival, interwoven with the classical ambitions of Amelia Freedman. In 1991, he arranged for John Dankworth and Cleo Laine to make a return visit to the festival. Also on the programme were the National Youth Jazz Orchestra, the Northumbrian pipe player Kathryn Tickell, and a programme of modern jazz led by Keith Tippett. Falling both inside and outside of the classical and jazz programmes was the Kronos Quartet, an American group that had made a name for itself by breaching such boundaries and conventions. Their concert at the Forum, featuring only music by living composers, included spectacular lighting and sound effects.
The festival's position as a purveyor of high dare one say elite? arts, was exaggerated by the absence of a true fringe in 1991. While to those in the know the festival and the fringe are two very different beasts, to the public at large they are often seen as one and the same. Consequently, the lack of fringe activities made the festival appear to some as nothing more than a highbrow event. With the rise in fame of the Edinburgh Fringe, which in terms of publicity has sometimes eclipsed the main Edinburgh International Music Festival, there were calls for Bath to have something along similar lines.
The seeds of discontent were growing. Severely hit by the recession of the early 1990s, the festival countered the accusations of elitism by making demands for public funding to be increased from £42,000 in 1991 to £110,000 in 1992. The administrator Christopher Head raised the stakes by publicly announcing that it was a case of all or nothing. If the council wouldn't put up the entire £110,000, there would be no festival. At the same time, councillors were busy studying a report written by musicians in the city claiming that the festival had cultivated an aura of exclusivity, and didn't seem to care if the public bothered to go to concerts or not.
The waters were muddied because some of these local musicians were seen as using the festival's weaknesses to further their own ambitions. The short-lived Bath City Orchestra and its conductor Simon Ible, the opera designer John Pascoe (who had previously designed sets for the festival opera) and the local impresario Tom Clarke, were all among those seeking council funding for their promotions. And all three spoke out vociferously against the festival.
The festival was defended by the local conductor and former King's Singer, Nigel Perrin, who argued that the festival's prestige both in this country and overseas made it a worthwhile event. He said: `I don't believe that these people who are criticising the festival have actually been to the concerts.' Perrin was rewarded for his support by the revival, under his direction, of the Bath Festival Chorus for 1992. As he pointed out, it was a tangible way of involving more local people in the festival. The Bath Chronicle (August 30, 1991) similarly stuck by the festival: `Whether or not you agree with criticism that the festival is elitist and that its long term future needs to be considered, the fact remains that the city would be poorer, in every sense of the word, without it.'
Eventually the festival struck a deal with Bath City Council in October 1991, which provided a bailout of £110,000 to save the 1992 festival. In return, the festival had to succumb to scrutiny from a working party, which would include some of its sternest critics as well as representatives from other arts organisations.
The Liberal Democrat leader on the city council, Cllr Sue Sutherland, said: `The festival is viewed as being elitist by an awful lot of people in the city who are now going to be asked to pay for it.' Festival chairman Ken Broadhead argued that the council was reaping the cost of not investing properly in the festival in the past. He said: `I am very well aware of what happens in Cheltenham and Leeds, and that those councils are far more generous.'
As a prelude to the working party, four students were drafted in from the University of Bath's School of Management to undertake a survey of arts groups in the city, and to ascertain the views of the public in Bath. Their findings revealed that 93 per cent of respondents were in favour of the festival continuing in one form or another. Doing its part to either fan the flames or stimulate debate, depending on your point of view, The Bath Chronicle organised a festival forum at the Guildhall in February 1992. Some 300 people turned up, and one after another called for more fun, more fringe events and less elitism. Days later, despite the Natural Theatre Company being brought in to provide light-hearted entertainment at the official launch, Nod Knowles and Amelia Freedman announced a programme for 1992 largely full of classical music. There would also be Knowles's jazz programme, a Georgian treasure hunt, and a project presented by the Society for the Promotion of New Music looking at the fusion of modern music and architecture. However, for the festival's image the timing could not have been worse.
At the height of the controversy, the festival administrator Chris Head left for unconnected reasons to join a Bristol charity. Fortuitously, his place was taken on an interim basis in March 1992 by Nod Knowles, whose position as jazz director meant he was allied with the more accessible image being advocated by the festival's critics. His long relationship with the festival also paid dividends in the months of turbulence that lay ahead.
By May 1992, the city's director of leisure and tourist services, Denis Easterby, had considered the festival and its future. In his report to councillors he attributed the problems to `inadequate management control and conceptual extravagance in the late 1980s.' He added that to give the festival a broader appeal it would need further substantial cash injections. On his advice, councillors voted in June 1992 to extend a second £110,000 lifeline to the beleaguered festival. However, by early 1993 a clear and decisive business plan would have to be in place. The Arts Council demonstrated its support for the 1993 festival by increasing its grant to £50,000. While grass roots opinion was sharply divided, arts professionals clearly felt the Bath Festival was, in principle, a good thing.
Despite the ongoing debate, a festival did actually take place in 1992. It exploded into life with a massive evening of entertainment, including fireworks, in front of the Royal Crescent, and was opened by the actress Fiona Fullerton. A coup for the festival came when Bath was the only venue outside London to use an original piano that once belonged to Beethoven. It was played by Melvyn Tan in a concert with the London Classical Players conducted by Roger Norrington, and attended by the festival's patron, the Prince of Wales. Another memorable highlight of 1992 was a performance of the former festival director Michael Tippett's oratorio A Child of Our Time in Wells Cathedral.
For her theme in 1992, Freedman turned her attention to home. England and the effect our own culture has had on music in the rest of Europe was the basis of the festival. It included performances by the percussionist Evelyn Glennie, the pianists Joanna MacGregor and Alfred Brendel, the guitarist Julian Bream and the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra.
In 1992, the Contemporary Art Fair returned to the now-repaired Assembly Rooms, while the long-empty Empire Hotel was pressed back into service as a joint club and information point for both festival and fringe. The fringe, newly constituted, began addressing the demand in the city for alternative and light-hearted forms of entertainment. At the same time, festival organisers made a concerted effort to get the message across that there was a festival happening in the city, with gimmicks such as having a string quartet play inside the Marks and Spencer store.
By the end of the festival Amelia Freedman was claiming that the controversies had merely served to strengthen the festival, and that the sold out notices proved that people in the city wanted the core of the festival first rate classical music to remain unchanged. She said: `The silent majority voted for the international class programme to continue. What we needed was the fringe to be re-established and for the whole festival to have a much higher profile.'
By the end of the year the tensions were clearly visible once again. The country was deep in recession and Freedman, like Menuhin 25 years earlier, had ever rising and ever more expensive ambitions. Unfortunately, popular support was not on her side. Despite the council's intervention and bailouts, the festival would have to live hopelessly beyond its means if it was to keep pace with her demands. Financially it was still in as much of a mess as ever. Ken Broadhead persuaded his former employers to extend the festival's overdraft way beyond any reasonable limits. He said: `We enjoyed it [the festival] until we got all the bills. Often we were holding back and only paying at the last minute. We held back until the writs were coming in.'
With limited political support and muted public support, there was no real future for the Bath Festival in its existing form. There was just enough will-power to stage a festival in 1993, but few people expected anything more. Artistically, Amelia Freedman put on a brave face. She turned to Norway, a country celebrating the 150th anniversary of the birth of its most famous composer, Edvard Grieg. His music was contrasted with several works by the English composer Robin Holloway, who was celebrating his fiftieth birthday. Among Holloway's pieces was the world premičre of Partita for solo horn given by Freedman's own group, the Nash Ensemble, at the Guildhall.
Yet again, Freedman programmed a concert in Wells Cathedral that clashed with the opening night celebrations. With vast crowds now turning up in front of the Royal Crescent to enjoy the party, there was something undeniably elitist about the festival's top brass distancing themselves from the great Bath public. While the St Petersburg Philharmonic raised the roof in Wells with Rachmaninov's Symphony No.2, fireworks were raising the skies in the centre of Bath. The message about being inclusive clearly had not penetrated to the heart of the festival. And even the prestigious opening night festivities were having problems recruiting sufficient sponsorship. In January 1993, the organiser Pamela Wordley told The Bath Chronicle: `If we don't get a bit more money together, I am getting to the stage where we cannot put a show on.' Fortunately it was saved, but even the opening night format was looking a little jaded. A parachute drop by the Royal Marines and a military drill display were not really the type of entertainment the city wanted to party to. Reserved seating for the great and the good, leaving the rest of the city to mill around the park, widened the chasm between those who were part of the festival and those who were not.
Elsewhere in Freedman's final festival, there was a good cross-section of different music, including a concert by The English Concert with Trevor Pinnock in Bath Abbey, an all-Schubert piano recital by Andrįs Schiff, and an appearance by the Borodin Quartet. There was also sitar music from Budhaditya Mukherjee, two generations of Dankworths John and Alec appeared at the Pavilion, and the classical pianist Joanna MacGregor teamed up with the jazz pianist Django Bates for another of those events that didn't really fall into any category.
Even today people have widely differing views on Amelia Freedman's directorship. Although many found her programmes to be stimulating and imaginative, her style of being an absentee director was one more befitting the Menuhin era. In many respects, Bath still did not really know what it wanted from its festival: visiting international artists, the participation of local people, a blend of the two, or some higher and more imaginative approach.
But Freedman had had enough, and she was lured away by a post at the Philharmonia Orchestra in London. Although she had continued to find new ideas by adopting countries or nationalities for her themes, which admittedly made extracting money from national governments, embassies and cultural institutions relatively easy, the concept was wearing thin and many of the same artists were coming back year after year. It had all become a little routine. `In the end, it all ran away with itself,' says Ken Broadhead.
Just like the city council in the 1950s, Yehudi Menuhin in the 1960s and to a lesser extent William Glock in the 1980s, Amelia Freedman had tried to repeat a once-successful formula. And that in itself was not enough to carry the Bath Festival any further forward after her initial achievements. With her difficulties compounded by the many outside forces detailed above, in February 1993 Freedman announced her departure after that year's festival.
|Text copyright © Tim Bullamore 1999.
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