In September of this year the Windsor Festival celebrates its 50th anniversary. Its roots go back a little further though.
In 1967 the then Dean of Windsor, Robin Woods, by chance got to know the celebrated violinist and conductor Yehudi Menuhin. The two got on very well and quickly saw the potential of St George’s Chapel, Windsor Castle as a concert venue.
As a result in December 1967 a ‘one off’ evening of music took place in the chapel – to general acclaim. Subsequently the Dean, the musician, and Menuhin’s agent, Ian Hunter, quickly developed a vision that could build on this success. The three of them realised that the Chapel and the State Apartments in the Castle could provide a wonderful setting in which to stage an annual music and arts festival. Furthermore other prestigious locations in and around Windsor and at Eton College across the river could mean that events might extend beyond the Castle walls and serve a wide local community.
So it was that in autumn 1969 the first Windsor Festival took place. Organised by the Windsor Festival Society (a charity) the early programme was mainly musical. Over the subsequent half-century the Festival has broadened to include a very wide range of other artistic activities such as literary events, exhibitions, and lectures. More recently a ‘Fringe’ festival has developed alongside the main event.
The Festival quickly attained Royal support, commercial sponsorship and help in-kind as well as a loyal membership of many individuals. It is now financially sound, engages a management company to run its interests, and is also supported by many dedicated volunteers.
Complementing the Autumn Festival, a Spring Festival and the International String Competition are now held alternately in March of each year. The International String Competition attracts exceptional young string soloists from around the world for seven days of musical performances. It results in the identification of a winner. This year’s was Danish cellist Jonathan Swensen who will play with the Philharmonia Orchestra in the Autumn Festival.
Looking forward to the 50th Anniversary Festival in September some forty events are on offer over two weeks. These will include regular favourites and some innovations such as the 50th Anniversary Dinner at Coworth Park. Examples of what is coming include concerts by the Philharmonia and Royal Philharmonic Orchestras and Tenebrae. Literary events will be presented by star authors such as Lucy Worsley, Prue Leith, Simon Heffer, Robert Harris, and Anna Pasternak amongst others.
For the more adventurous a series of guided walks around Windsor and Eton provide exercise. Exploration includes ‘Victoria and Albert 200 Anniversary Walk’, which will tour sites around of particular relevance to the pair, such as the Albert Institute, and the Prince Consort Cottages. Likely to be very popular is new‘The Historic Pubs of Windsor Walk’
Also included in the fortnight are a number of more socially-oriented sponsors’ dinners, teas ,and receptions which build a community of friendship amongst Festival’s supporters and help support the programme.
While all this is going on the Windsor Fringe provides comedy, dance, drama, film, and The Kenneth Branagh Award for Drama Writing. Bringing the Festival and the Fringe together is the Artists Open House weekend during which local artists invite the public into their homes to view, and hopefully buy, their works. This year 15 individual artists and two groups of artists, Windsor Artists Collective and Fairground Allotment Painters, are participating.
Extending from Windsor Castle and surrounding much of the town Windsor Great Park is filled with many ancient oak trees. The Windsor Festival in its 50th year is a fitting reminder that ‘great oaks from little acorns grow’.
The Windsor Festival 15 – 29 September www.windsorfestival.com
The Windsor Fringe 20 September – 05 October www.windsorfringe.co.uk
Artists Open House 28/29 September (see both websites)