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This is an outstanding re-telling of the 1951 Festival of Britain story to greet this year’s 60th anniversary: immensely readable, never short on detail and analysis.

Assessing the extent of change the festival engendered of course depends on your starting point. If, for example, you felt the event should aggressively promote the musical avant-garde, you were disappointed. Whereas classical music virgins encouraged by festival fever to sample the odd dollop of Bax and Bliss had plenty enough on their plates – but might well have explored further.

Music is just one element in Turner’s survey of the many cultural dimensions to the festival. He indeed suggests that the composers commissioned to write new works for the event (from Britten and Rubbra to Ireland and Lambert) were hardly enfants terribles, nor were music events generally much more than conservative – there was concern among the festival hierarchy about anything that detracted from ‘the fun’ of the event. Turner suggests that the new royal Festival Hall grabbed much of the attention going, not least with Tommy Beecham issuing scathing broadsides. The opening concert was hardly adventurous, though – can we imagine that happening now? Turner retells the story of George VI advising Malcolm Sargent afterwards that every concert should contain Rule Britannia – if it didn’t, he for one wouldn’t be there. no royal beacon for change, then.

One key area of interest is the involvement in the festival of the still youthful Arts Council. The event was just what it needed to find its bearings and develop its presence across a range of musical events nationwide (several new festivals were born at this time). As Turner points out, the council was soon to become hugely important in lobbying for the arts and successfully arguing for substantial amounts of public money.

Tough overall to assess the musical legacy of the event, but we might conclude that (whatever the bitter disputes over its acoustic) the Festival Hall has been as bright an artistic beacon as any for 60 years.

ANDREW GREEN Read the full review on Agora Classica


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