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Running Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival (HCMF) for 23 years was clearly a labour of love for Richard Steinitz and he has approached this record of its history in the same spirit, with the enthusiasm, commitment and attention to detail that were the hallmarks of his tenure as artistic director. No aspect of the event is left undiscussed: the practicalities of putting on performances in a diverse selection of venues; the minutiae of budgeting; partnerships with other arts organisations; the challenges of working with some of the 20th century’s greatest composers; the festival’s relationship with its host institution as it evolved from college of technology to polytechnic and now university; and of course the content of HCMF’s inspirational programmes of new music and related performances, talks, walks and exhibitions.

Setting the story in context allows Steinitz to provide his own knowledgeable perspective on the development of arts management and music education as well as composition through the second half of the 20th century. The extent of his interest in how his festival is presented in print comes across strongly; even after HCMF could afford administrative assistants and then professional designers, he wrote all copy and spent a huge amount of time on commissioning photos and artwork. The results contribute to the appeal of this book, a large-format paperback, packed with fascinating illustrations, including reproductions of letters, budgets and pages from Steinitz’s planning books; performance shots; and wonderful portraits of festival artists – a 1985 meeting between Cage, Boulez and Messiaen stands out for its warmth and charm. Stockhausen, Xenakis, Ligeti – towering musical personalities leap from the page anecdotally too.

Where are the audience-attracting stars of today, Steinitz wonders? But he is generous in his assessment of recent festivals; forced by ill health to retire prematurely, he is on good terms with his successors and brings HCMF’s story right up to date with a confident prediction for its future. An enthralling and entertaining read.

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