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Tim Bullamore

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Bath Festival

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By local author and broadcaster Jonathan Dimbleby

A brief history of music in Bath in general, and festivals in the city in particular. After several visionary festivals during the 1930s, a grand plan is drawn up in London for an "international festival of music, drama and the allied arts." Alas, the Second World War intervenes.

In 1948 Ian Hunter begins a festival in Bath, with the opening concert serving as the debut of the National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain. It is called the Bath Assembly and is well received.

After his initial success, Ian Hunter is dropped by the city which takes the Bath Assembly in house. After several years of deterioration and unimaginative programming, Ian Hunter is brought back in 1955 to rescue the ailing festival, which he does - but with financially disastrous results.

The festivals of 1956 and 1957 are dropped. Undeterred, Ian Hunter returns in 1958 with Yehudi Menuhin in tow. The following year Hunter installs Yehudi Menuhin as director and the tone is set for the sixties. Read it Online

After seven years of a rarely varied diet - Yehudi Menuhin and friends - the festival is showing signs of tiring. Menuhin wants more money and more opera; the city wants more fun. Eventually Menuhin - the legendary violinist who put Bath firmly on the international cultural map - is ousted.

Local composer and reactionary Michael Tippett takes the helm. Black tie is out and a blues festival is in. But Tippett refused to outstay his welcome and remains the only director to have left voluntarily.

William Glock, for many years controller of BBC Radio 3, took over in 1975 for ten years. The festival became more cerebral, established its format of two weeks and three weekends, and the opening night was born.

The chairman, Robin Buchanan felt that ten years was enough for William Glock and replaced him with The Times' music critic William Mann, who lived near Bath. Although William Mann knew his music, he was too disorganized and only lasted a year.

Amelia Freedman, director of the Nash Ensemble and one of the most respected names in the classical music business, was invite to take over and produced some exciting themes and concerts. However during the early 1990s a deep recession and a more vocal opposition combined to thwart her plans.
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After gazing into the chasm of extinction, the Bath Festival was rescued by the city council and put on a sounder financial footing. The price was to be the departure of Amelia Freedman, greater involvement of local politicians, and the establishment of Bath Festivals Trust headed by Tim Joss.

The author's summary of the lessons to be learned and the importance of the festival to the region.

APPENDIX Dates, with name of festivals, directors of the festival and themes.


Last updated: 27 October 1999
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