This is page 2 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
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CHAPTER FOUR � Page 2
The news that would ultimately make, and later almost break, the Bath
Festival came on March 5, 1959: Yehudi Menuhin was to be the artistic
director. It was a stroke of absolute genius on the part of Ian Hunter.
Speaking in 1998 he said: `I was his agent and the great thing with
Yehudi was that it kept him interested with new ideas. He had fallen in
love with Bath in 1955 when he appeared with Beecham.'
Few had not heard of Menuhin and his appointment opened up contacts to just about every artist on the planet. The appointment also confirmed, should there have been any doubt, the festival's direction as first and foremost a festival of classical music. Speaking in August 1998, Yehudi Menuhin explained why he agreed to take up the position:
Announcing Menuhin's role in the festival, Hunter said:
Giving details of the 1959 festival, Hunter explained that although Menuhin would not perform in every concert, he would appear in four differing roles: that of speaker in a discussion, violinist, viola player, and conductor of a hand-picked Festival Chamber Orchestra. Banished were the big symphony orchestras which had hitherto dominated the festival's orchestral programme.
The Festival Chamber Orchestra already existed in all but name. It was
a London-based band consisting of many of the top chamber music players
of the day and was used by the record company EMI as a backing group for
The Daily Telegraph of June 6, 1959, welcomed Menuhin's appointment:
There was also good news on the finance front. The local ITV company TWW, forerunner of HTV, was to come on board as a major sponsor with a donation of �1000. Their association with the festival was to last for many years providing not only a substantial financial base, but also added publicity and an important archive of festival footage. The Arts Council's grant shot up to �1750 including �1000 ring-fenced for opera.
* * *
With the austerity of the war years now 14 years distant, and basking in the success of 1958, the Bath Festival decided to spread its wings. The music programme was larger and more comprehensive than ever before. Menuhin was joined by his piano-playing sisters Hephzibah and Yaltah. The ladies performed Mozart's Concerto for Two Pianos while Menuhin himself directed the Bath Festival Chamber Orchestra in a complete cycle of the Brandenburg Concertos by Bach. Eschewing the Pavilion, the festival made use of Christ Church in Julian Road, where the sixth Brandenburg Concerto was performed twice _ ostensibly as an encore, but in all probability because the concert would otherwise have finished embarrassingly early. Menuhin also took three of the Brandenburg Concertos to Wells Cathedral.
Although well out of the Bath area in terms of political and funding considerations, Wells _ and particularly Wells Cathedral through the ancient diocesan links _ has a strong relationship with Bath. In festival terms it is a link that has survived where many others faltered, not least because Bath concert-goers have rarely failed to patronise events in such elegant surroundings.
At the Guildhall, Yehudi Menuhin was joined by Hephzibah on the piano and the clarinettist Reginald Kell for a programme that included a relatively modern work called Contrasts by the Hungarian composer B�la Bart�k. Announcing his intention of giving a repeat performance Menuhin added, with a twinkle in his eye, that anyone who wished to do so could, of course, leave. According to The Bath Chronicle there was a burst of ironic applause when one well-known, but unnamed, Bath resident got up from his seat near the front and solemnly walked out.
The 1959 programme included ballet with soloists from the Royal Swedish Ballet. The accompanying Goldsborough Orchestra spilt over from the pit of the Theatre Royal into the stalls while the group's harpist was forced to sit in a box. Children from the Spa School of Dancing formed part of the show. As the festival progressed, opera took over from the dance at the theatre in the form of Bizet's Dr Miracle and Purcell's Dido and Aeneas with Joan Hammond singing Dido. Also in the cast were such famous names as Janet Baker, Jacqueline Delman and Heather Harper.
That year also saw the first appearance of music from a foreign culture. Menuhin personally introduced a sarod recital by Indian musicians which took place at the Guildhall on June 8, 1959. Ever since then, Indian music has been a regular and popular feature of the festival. Other events in 1959 included an afternoon recital at the Guildhall by the tenor Peter Pears accompanied by the composer Benjamin Britten, and a dramatic recital at the Theatre Royal featuring Dame Peggy Ashcroft with Marius Goring and the harpist Osian Ellis. Hunter had originally invited Michael Redgrave and his wife Rachel Kempson to perform a dramatised version of Christopher Anstey's New Bath Guide at the theatre, but to his embarrassment had omitted to check their availability before publicising the event.
At the request of TWW, the festival introduced a violin competition to be judged by Menuhin and another well-known violinist, Manoug Parikian. The 100 guineas first prize was won by 14-year-old Peter Thomas from Aberdare, the youngest entrant.
Bath with Menuhin could certainly attract some big names in the classical field, and the jazz side fared no differently. Throughout the 1960s the name of Johnny Dankworth would become as closely associated with Bath as Menuhin's. The success of the 1958 jazz programme had been overwhelming and in 1959 it was extended to the full ten days of the festival, bringing great names not just from this country but from all over Europe. Led by Dankworth, the line-up included Monica Zetterlund, Hans Koller, the Ted Heath Band, Stephane Grappelli and Acker Bilk (who was born at Pensford), as well as the memorable Old Etonian, Humphrey Littleton. But with the exception of Dankworth and Heath, the size of the audiences was disappointing. Nobody quite worked out why. Possibly it was a case of simply too much at once.
To complement the music and theatre there was an outstanding exhibition of 46 Turner watercolours at the Holburne Museum, the first time the collection had left its home at Farnley Hall in Yorkshire. There was a Wedgwood display at the Victoria Art Gallery, and a flower exhibition by the Bath Floral Decoration Society at Abbey Church House. Departing from the world of the arts, the festival began a tentative alignment with sport: runner Chris Brasher inaugurated the new cinder running track at Norwood, where the programme included the Somerset AAA championships in field and track events. Other events included a pigeon race, a golf tournament and a scooter race.
These, together with the emergence of a strong Ladies Committee, which provided helpers at many events as well as catering and domestic assistance, were the forerunner of the fringe. The Ladies Committee took on responsibility for all types of entertainment as well as offering hospitality to visiting artists. With their tea-parties, open houses and hospitality, Bath's reputation as a friendly and welcoming festival began to grow, and was much remarked upon in the press.
A fanfare by trumpeters of the Royal Corps of Signals on the roof of the colonnade facing the Abbey formally opened the celebrations on June 3, 1959. Brilliant sunshine accompanied the ceremony by Lord Wilmot of Selmeston, a governor of the Old Vic and a director of the Glyndebourne Opera Trust. The Daily Telegraph captured the mood:
Two days after the festival finished Ian Hunter was declaring it an unqualified success. Owing to the numbers visiting from nearby Bristol, the suggestion was raised of staging events there as part of future festivals. The festival chairman, Cllr Hugh Roberts, said: `There is quite a strong feeling that we should put something on in Bristol next year as an integral part of the Bath Festival.'
Despite his enthusiasm for expansion, Cllr Roberts was still anxious to put the festival onto a more secure financial footing. The existing arrangements were for a guarantee fund, underwritten by local businesses and patrons, amounting to �2500. Any loss above that figure was borne by the Orchestral Concerts Society, an organisation set up by Ian Hunter's company, Harold Holt Ltd, to administer the festival. `I don't think the Orchestral Concerts Society can any longer be asked to carry on under that liability,' said Cllr Roberts. `And I do not believe that we can go on scratching around for �2500 every year.'
The reasons for his anxiety became clear in September 1959 when that year's figures were released: either Hunter had returned to the old days of over-stretching himself, or his luck _ often a variable feast _ had turned once again. `1959 Bath Festival: substantial loss shock' ran the front page headline in The Bath Chronicle. Guarantors, possibly lulled into a false sense of security by the easy ride in 1958, were obliged to dig deep into their pockets and pay 75 per cent of their guarantees. The extent of the Orchestral Concerts Society's total liabilities were not revealed, but were undoubtedly substantial.
Text copyright � Tim Bullamore 1999.
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