The Festival started life as the CHELTENHAM COMPETITVE FESTIVAL, and was renamed the CHELTENHAM FESTIVAL OF PERFORMING ARTS in 2006. The new name reflects more accurately the range of disciplines covered by the Festival. It also echoes the performance skills of our Vice-Presidents – Dame Felicity Lott, Russell Maliphant and Phyllida Lloyd – all of whom were encouraged to pursue their chosen careers by competing in the Festival, when young. Happily, such influence continues, in that Peter Liang, winner of the Keith Nutland Memorial Award competition in 2005 graduated from the Royal Northern College of Music, performed a solo violin performance in the Cheltenham Music Festival and performs with the Halle Orchestra as first violin. This followed the 2003 Nutland winner, Amelia Jones, who has a successful musical career and recently performed at St. Mary’s Church, Painswick.
The Festival was first held in 1926, the year of the General Strike, which hardly augured well for its future! The hope was then expressed “that in time it would become one of the greatest musical events in this part of England” – could they have imagined that the two day event would achieve its present pre-eminence and still be growing ninety years later?
It has been said that progress always means change but change does not always mean progress and whilst we can all find too many instances supporting that theory, the Festival positively disproves that notion. Our Festival has indeed seen many changes as the years have gone by, but the fact that we have celebrated our 80th anniversary (the oldest Cheltenham Festival, incidentally) is clear evidence that progress has indeed been made, as proved by the consistently large number of participants, which shows that the continuing revision of both classes and their scheduling has been beneficial, not to say essential: the Committee has its finger on the pulse!
That record reflects great credit on all who have given the time and commitment without which the Festival would have died. Alderman Lipson (later the town’s MP) said, years later, “these people, without any kind of personal reward, do a tremendous amount of work which is for the benefit and credit of the town and for music generally”. Such is still the case today and I acknowledge with gratitude the effort made voluntarily at every level. Many hands make light labour, as they say and I hope that you may feel that you would like to play a positive part in ensuring that the Festival continues to thrive: please do not hesitate to make contact, even if you can spare only an hour or two.
We are, of course, grateful to our sponsors, while not forgetting our historic debt to the Chamber of Commerce, who started it all!
A full history of the Festival is available to purchase from the Information Desk during the Festival.