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Festivals: The history of the Bath Festival by Tim Bullamore. It is
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CHAPTER NINE Page 1
Amelia Freedman is a strong-willed character with a remarkable list of contacts and enormously persuasive powers.
Her answer to questions on the disastrous William Mann era, of which she had to pick up the pieces, is succinct: `I think William Mann was a very great critic and writer. It's very difficult for me to answer.'
Freedman had made some suggestions for Mann's 1985 festival, and so it was to her that the administrator Richard Evans, then effectively running the show in Bath, turned for help. Unfortunately for Evans, he had chosen a director with whom he could not get along. The ructions were furious and even today, many years later, Freedman finds it difficult to talk about the hurdles that she feels were placed in the way of her ambitious artistic programming.
But that was yet to come. How did Amelia Freedman feel about being asked to undertake such an important role?
Admittedly, she had done nothing on this scale before, but when Freedman went to meet the festival's chairman, Robin Buchanan, he had asked her what the Nash Ensemble's turnover was. She said: `The Nash Ensemble's budget was larger in that year than the festival's, so they thought maybe I would have a good idea how to run it.'
Initially Freedman was asked to be artistic director for just three years. For guidance she turned to her predecessors:
But if she looked to Tippett and Glock, did Freedman also turn to Yehudi Menuhin?
Amelia Freedman started with a blaze of artistic glory, as she remembers:
It was indeed a high point in a festival full of high points. The festival had a predominantly French theme Freedman's links to French culture were well known. Two years previously she had been appointed a Chevalier d'Honneur for her services to French music. The cross-Channel entente cordiale came as a result of a financial contribution totalling some �40,000 from the Association Fran�aise D'Action Artistique, enabling more than 100 French musicians to visit Bath. The festival team were not slow to point out that this meant that overseas funding was exceeding our own Arts Council's offering of �36,000. With commercial sponsorship topping �135,000, a scheme of matching funding from the British Government (an incentive to first-time sponsors to get involved with the arts) brought in an additional and very welcome �25,000.
Freedman made other great waves in her first festival. She re-introduced jazz to the programme, and it wasn't just a token gesture. There were no fewer than eleven performances by artists as diverse as the Stan Tracey Big Band, Keith Tippett, Loose Tubes and the Jacques Loussier Trio. The jazz programme was organised by Nod Knowles, a local jazz concert promoter and agent who, belying his laid-back approach, would over the coming turbulent years act as a major source of continuity and stability within the festival.
Even though venues in Bath were bursting at the seams, Freedman was determined to expand further. The festival returned to Bristol, and this time for more than just a couple of big orchestral concerts. Freedman ran a whole series of Bath Festival chamber music concerts at St George's, Brandon Hill, in the centre of Bristol. Looking back, Freedman admits that her forays into Bristol were probably too much. Persisting with concerts in Bristol was a controversial policy. As every Bathonian knows, Bristol and Bath may look close on a map, but culturally they are miles apart. Being a Londoner, Freedman thought that the two cities could be brought together in an artistic collaboration. She soon found out it would not be so easy. Although Bath Festival audiences felt comfortable journeying to Wells, Bradford-on-Avon and Frome, when it came to Bristol they took a different view. For the big orchestral concerts which Freedman was determined to include in the programme, there was nowhere suitable in Bath. Wells did not always suit the repertoire, so she used the Colston Hall in Bristol.
One such concert in Bristol in 1986 was given by the Ensemble InterContemporain and their director Pierre Boulez at Clifton Cathedral. Other great names appearing outside Bath but in the Bath Festival included the cellist Paul Tortelier, the pianists Shura Cherkassky and Anne Queff�lec, and the violinist Augustin Dumay.
The festival `events', formerly the fringe, were sharpened up and designed to bring more relevance to the festival's overall theme, with talks by such musical luminaries as the broadcaster John Drummond and the writer Felix Aprahamian. Likewise, the Contemporary Art Fair, held over four days at the Assembly Rooms, was staggering in its magnitude, drawing dealers and collectors from all over Europe. The media coverage in 1986 was enormous. BBC2 broadcast a series of late night shows from the festival, Radio 3 practically lived in the city, and newspapers as far afield as the South China Morning Post in Hong Kong ran features.
The opening night of the festival continued its meteoric growth, and began to focus more on local celebrations. For example, in 1986 the displays in front of the Royal Crescent celebrated the 150th anniversary of the Bath police force and included demonstrations by past and serving members including the mounted police, dog handlers and police bands.
A survey of audiences during Freedman's first festival produced some surprising results, debunking the myth that the festival provided stodgy classical music for middle-aged people. Nearly a quarter of the 4800 people who completed the survey were under 35, 57 per cent were women, and a great many considered themselves `trend-setters' who read The Guardian newspaper and subscribed to everything from Dirt Bike to Oggi and The Beano. The festival survey also showed that concert-goers spent more than �400,000 on accommodation, meals, shopping and tickets.
In terms of programming, 1986 was a truly enormous affair including events as diverse as Britten's Curlew River in Wells Cathedral, a recital by the soprano Elly Ameling, and a concert performance of Jean-Marie Leclair's opera Scylla et Glaucus at the Theatre Royal. One of the big ideas of 1986 was to complement the well-established opening night with a similarly popular closing night party, keeping alive the social side of the festival which had existed since the days of the `Roman Orgy'. Bath racecourse was the chosen venue and the theme was `Asterix the Gaul'. Sadly, only a couple of hundred people ventured up to the dizzy heights of Lansdown to brave the cold and cheer a few bedraggled pantomime horses across the line. This was the last time there would be a major end-of-festival event until 1999.
Overall, Amelia Freedman's first festival went down well, and glowing reviews from the national press proved a welcome boost. Away from the musical programme, there was a substantial exhibition of sculpture not all of it uncontroversial. Although most was classical in style, the appearance of several hundred car tyres in the shape of a Polaris submarine outside the Assembly Rooms, created by the artist David Mach, made a very definite political point. The exhibit was equipped with 24-hour security which was more than could be said for other exhibits in the city. A spate of vandalism, particularly to the exhibits in the Circus, caused festival organisers some headaches. A legacy from that festival is a work entitled `Hanging Nails' by the artist Peter Logan. It is a 24-feet high collection of aluminium tubes floating in the wind that stands today by the entrance to the Homebase store, behind Green Park Station. It was based on a similar model by the artist called `Hanging Pencils' that was originally displayed outside the Holburne Museum during the festival.
The net result of Freedman's first festival was ticket sales of �45,000 and a turnover of �500,000. For their troubles, the festival, which had raised �135,000 from sponsorship, was rewarded in December 1986 with recognition from the Association for Business Sponsorship of the Arts (ABSA) as the most effective arts organisation in Britain at raising business sponsorship. Although the path is never smooth for the arts, the Bath Festival, in many respects, had never had it so good.
After Amelia Freedman's first festival, a new chairman was appointed to succeed Robin Buchanan whose five years were up. Tony Garrett, a former chairman of Imperial Tobacco, a vice-chairman of HTV and a founder member of the Association of Business Sponsorship of the Arts, lived in Thornbury and was well known for his artistic interests. He said he wished to change little of Robin Buchanan's direction but added: `One of the things I am positive about is increasing business sponsorship of the arts.'
The 38th festival in 1987 capitalised on the growing trend among festivals throughout the country for celebrating particular nationalities. After the success of Freedman's first year, she turned to the twin peaks of Russia and Italy for 1987. Politically it was an astute move: `perestroika' and `glasnost' had entered the vocabulary but the Berlin wall still stood. Demonstrating solidarity with Freedman's programming, the Italian government poured some �22,000 into the event. Our country's own Arts Council, however, felt unable to stretch beyond �36,500.
Freedman's doomed quest to unite the West Country in celebrating the arts led to her taking twenty-two events to Bristol. While Bath could not match Bristol in terms of a setting for orchestral events the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra and the Royal Philharmonic were scheduled to appear the use of Bristol for chamber music events felt ever more uncomfortable. When Bath had such glorious settings as the Assembly Rooms and the Guildhall, why use St George's, Brandon Hill? Freedman's determination to make the Bath Festival into a regional event, meant that one-third of the festival's entire artistic budget was spent on events taking place in Bristol. Although this caused displeasure among a few long-term festival-goers, Freedman's contacts brought some great names to the West Country, including the Russian bass Paata Burchuladze, the conductor Gennadi Rozhdestvensky, and the violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter.
But first came the 1987 opening night celebrations in front of the Royal Crescent. Thousands of people ignored the rain to see the author Jilly Cooper, a last minute stand in for the actress Jane Seymour, declare the festival open. And beneath a shower of fireworks a military band played while along the surrounding streets local residents placed hundreds of candles in their windows. The jazz programme was beginning to flex its muscles with the Orchestre Nationale de Jazz appearing with Courtney Pine, just one of the dozen or so participants. At Bath Abbey, the blind organist David Liddle won a loud round of applause from the 600-strong audience for his recital. This led to an unholy row as the rector, Prebendary Geoffrey Lester, furiously insisted his ban on clapping had to be observed. He said: `Some people like applause and some don't we don't. I don't have to explain the decisions of the Parochial Church Council to the general public. The church is not a public place.' Reacting to the rector's demand that people should show their appreciation by simply standing in silence, David Liddle said: `I was glad they all applauded. I think God gave performers their talents, and in applauding them you are applauding God.'
But there were more serious headaches than hand-clapping for festival organisers to contend with in 1987. Three days before their scheduled concert at the Theatre Royal, the Moscow Virtuosi demanded and were offered an extra �1000 on top of their fee. Then came a further demand from Gosconcert, the Soviet artists' agency, for yet another �5500 towards transportation costs. It was too much for the festival organisers, who refused to bow to the Russians' demands. At the last minute the festival managed to secure instead the services of the Polish Chamber Orchestra who were already touring the UK. A second scheduled concert by the Moscow Virtuosi was replaced with an appearance by the London Mozart Players conducted by Jane Glover.
Another Soviet hiccup came when a string quartet commissioned from the composer Sofia Gubaidulina by the BBC, and due to be heard in the festival, was dropped because the composer hadn't finished writing it. There were also cancellations on the Soviet front by the Borodin Quartet, the cellist Natalia Gutman and the pianist Victoria Postnikova, creating countless problems for the festival administration team. But there was a Soviet success in the 1987 festival: the commissioning and first performance of Edison Denisov's piano quintet. It contrasted, according to The Guardian's Gerald Larner, with another new work written for the Guildhall String Ensemble by Nigel Osborne called Esquisses. Larner described the Denisov work as `...complicated to play and, because it is so short and apparently so inconsequential, not very rewarding to hear.'
While 1987 brought a catalogue of irritations, the overall event was a remarkable artistic success. But when the figures were worked out, the net result was an enormous loss for the year of �58,000. Although great moments still lay ahead, with hindsight a deficit of such magnitude can be seen as the beginning of what was almost the end. Tony Garrett's chairmanship did not work out, and Robin Buchanan was brought back in for a year. Speaking in 1998, Amelia Freedman said: `The thing about Tony Garrett was that he just didn't understand the politics of the game. He was a decent man but it didn't work.'
|Text copyright � Tim Bullamore 1999.
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