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A Celebration – Our history


We are proud to celebrate the last 40 years of the Amersham Festival of Music and have put together a very special programme for April 2024.


The Festival was started over a drink or two in the French Horn pub in Gerrards Cross, by a group of four friends, Iain Ledingham, Mary Murley, Richard Steele and Martin Berry.  Iain became Artistic Director, Mary our Administrator, Richard our Chairman and Martin our Treasurer.  The plan was to promote high quality music-making in local venues; mostly classical music, but also featuring well-known names from the world of lighter music.  South Bucks Choral Society, founded by Iain in 1981, had already given concerts in the beautiful church of St Mary’s, Old Amersham.


The historic and very attractive old town seemed an ideal location for a music festival, with other excellent venues, including Chenies Manor House and some fine school halls in the vicinity.  We were fortunate to attract some very welcome sponsorship in our first year (1983) and were able to plan a beautiful programme of events ranging from orchestral music played by the Thames Chamber Orchestra and Handel’s great oratorio, Saul, to harpsichord music at Chenies Manor House and the Light Blues - a brilliant ensemble of ex-Cambridge choral scholars.


We were rewarded with large and enthusiastic audiences which continued to grow over the years and by generous sponsorship from several local companies and individuals.  Christopher Smith, Managing Director of Halstan and Company Ltd (printers of a superb range of classical music), supported the Festival from the start and was to succeed Richard Steele as our second Chairman five years later.


Over the years we were able to increase the number of events and, as well as a wealth of classical orchestral works and oratorios, our programmes featured solo recitals and chamber music by many distinguished artists, along with lighter concerts by Acker Bilk, Kenny Ball, Humphrey Lyttleton, Instant Sunshine, Harry the Piano, Dominic Aldiss, the Pasadena Roof Orchestra, Richard Stilgoe, Jacqui Dankworth and Richard Baker, to name but a few.  We have also greatly enjoyed showcasing local talent in the form of young musicians in the Chiltern Youth Chamber Orchestra, choirs from local schools and more recently Amersham Concert Brass, Chiltern Music Academy and Amersham Music Centre.  Many local music lovers have generously given up their time, helping with publicity, front-of-house, transport and catering and have done much to ensure the friendly and welcoming character of the Festival.


Amersham Festival Chamber Orchestra is the core now of so many of our concerts.  For the first few years we had the excellent Thames Chamber Orchestra for our orchestral and choral concerts; then, in 1987, we decided to establish our own Festival Chamber Orchestra.  There are many music festivals in the UK but very few have their own orchestra - something which has become the mainstay of our programmes, offering our local audiences first-class professional orchestral concerts without the need to travel to London.  Our players have all worked in leading Symphony and Chamber orchestras and, as soloists, have performed concertos and concertante parts in our Amersham concerts.  In 1990, we initiated our Winter Series of orchestral concerts: four concerts between October and February which quickly became very popular.  Our programmes have included a wide range of Baroque and Classical works and we have expanded the orchestra from time to time to perform bigger works by Beethoven, Schubert, Brahms, Richard Strauss, Britten, Vaughan Williams, Finzi and others.


A particularly exciting feature of the Festival has been our venture into opera, either fully staged or semi-staged, featuring some superbly talented young singers from the Royal Academy of Music and directed with great skill and imagination by Katherine Bond.  Our orchestra excelled in accompanying performances of The Marriage of Figaro, Cosi fan Tutte, Don Giovanni, Idomeneo, The Barber of Seville, Semele and Dido and Aeneas.


It is fitting that the opening concert of our 40th Festival features our orchestra playing at the Royal Academy of Music in two wonderful symphonies by Mozart and a selection of glorious operatic arias by Mozart and Rossini.


Iain Ledingham, Artistic Director


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