I hadn’t been to Cheltenham Music Festival for years, maybe a couple of decades, and on at last returning here, I thought the town was looking exquisite. The Regency style Pittville Pump Room in particular, set in beautiful parkland, is the perfect spot for absorbing some chamber music at 11am in the morning, and I’m so glad the Festival persists with activities of this kind, which some hipster types might deem “too classical”.
For the opening concert, I had written a new flute quartet, titled The Prelude, for the magisterial performers of the Nash Ensemble. I felt I was also in the presence of some magisterial listeners. A delightful woman taking official-looking photographs told me that she had attended the first ever Cheltenham Festival in 1945, five weeks after the end of WW2, and that its programme book had declared that it would be the “First Annual” festival of music. A remarkably positive statement, especially as the new event had been dedicated to contemporary British music, deliberately steering clear of choral music, to avoid any overlap with the Three Choirs Festival. I was reminded of my mother’s equally exciting memories of attending the first Edinburgh Festival in 1947. Goodness, those post-war folk; rationed in food, fuel, soap, clothes and paper, but bursting with artistic optimism.