Like many a glorious child WIMF was not planned. It happened like this…
A clarinet-playing friend of mine had been in long mourning following the death of his wife. To bring him back into society and regain the joys of music we decided to enrol together into the woodwind course at the Dartington Summer School. As the former artistic director of the London Chamber Music Society, my friend knew, and had booked, all the eminent professional course tutors. We ate meals, and drank at the bar with many of the artists, and enjoyed their concerts in the evening.
That is how I came to meet cellist Raphael Wallfisch, violinist Jack Liebeck, the violist Rivka Golani, and had the pleasure of playing Martinu’s oboe quartet with the leader of the Wihan Quartet. Returning to Wimbledon I met local pianist Anthea Fry who invited me to a concert of what transpired to be the final concert of the second year festival at St John's, Spencer Hilll, in celebration of the Baptist’s saint’s day. Living only a dozen roads away, and having performed several times in the church, I was surprised that I had never heard of the festival, and the attendance of loyal supporters suggested that a marketing budget had been the issue.
Full of Messrs Wallfisch, Golani, the Wihan Quartet, and the wonderful Wimbledon-born horn player Richard Watkins whom I had known since birth, I suggested that these names for a future festival might provide the required promotional clout. Elected to the Music Committee my suggestions were adopted, artists contacted, dates fixed, fees agreed, and booked. Then everyone got cold feet. With such eminent but expensive artists, who would take the risk? John the Baptist’s Day falling just before Wimbledon tennis, when many people go away, was also considered a difficult time of year.
What was I to do? Half a dozen world-class artists already booked. People advising caution – 'start with one weekend'. As yet no financial support. I would have to take all the risk.
My old friend, Andrew Edwards, who became WIMF’s first chairman, suggested that the autumn might be better timing for a festival. Bookfest has already taken the prime spot of early October… But St Cecilia’s Day! St Cecilia, Patron Saint of Music, November 22nd (Benjamin Britten’s birthday) - after Guy Fawkes, and before Christmas. That seemed as good a time as any. ALL the artists were free and keen to help launch a new festival. So that is how it all began.
As ever some good luck: Robert and Margaret Lyons of the Tertis Foundation
heard about the festival, and have been our generous supporters from the outset. I took inspiration from the wonderful Chipping Campden Music Festival, and co-opted from there Tom Hull, an important music agent, who joined as a Trustee. And Juliet Abrahamson, the long-time and experienced Festival Director of the Cambridge Summer Music Festival, gave me wonderful advice and encouragement, and has been the ‘Festival Angel’ ever since.
We began with ten events - all with world-class musicians. Eight standing ovations, and we covered our costs! Year two followed, and we are still here eight years later. We have a group of international co-commissioning partners. I’m proud to have helped to bring new works to life; and we have enjoyed some quite spectacular original productions – none more so than Benjamin Britten’s Noye’s Fludde, given on St Cecilia’s Day, the composer’s birthday.