King's Lynn Festival, now in its 67th year, continues to provide high quality performances of classical music, recitals, choral and jazz plus talks, exhibitions and films.  The Festival features internationally renowned performers and uses beautiful historic venues around the town, including England's largest surviving Mediaeval Guildhall.  The Festival's ongoing success has helped establish King's Lynn as a Festival Town, and is especially known for bringing new compositions to audiences as part of its broad programme of music and arts.  Read on to find out more...

Courtesy of the
Eastern Daily Press
Our Founder Ruth, Lady Fermoy with Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother.

 

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History of the KING'S LYNN FESTIVAL

President: His Royal Highness The Duke of Kent


Sir John Betjeman

The King’s Lynn Festival grew out of celebration of the re-opening of the Guildhall of St George, reputed to be the oldest theatre in Europe where Shakespeare once appeared. The early 15th century building in King Street, described as probably the largest and most complete surviving Medieval Guildhall in Britain, had become very dilapidated but was saved from demolition, restored and adapted for the performance of concerts and plays by campaigners including Ruth, Lady Fermoy, grandmother of Diana, Princess of Wales. An accomplished concert pianist, she arranged a week-long programme of music and the arts to mark the completion of the Guildhall’s restoration.


Cleo Laine &
John Dankworth
Lady Fermoy had moved to King’s Lynn in 1931 as the bride of Lord Fermoy who was to become a mayor and MP of the town. She also fell in love with King’s Lynn and demonstrated her affection for the town by organising lunchtime concerts to give local people the chance to hear professional music of the highest standard.

Lord and Lady Fermoy raised funds for the ambitious restoration project. In 1951 to compliment the Festival of Britain, Lady Fermoy organised a triumphant festival. She was a close friend and lady-in-waiting to the Queen – later to become Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother – who agreed to be the festival’s patron and in July 1951 official opened the newly-restored Guildhall. The Queen Mother was an enthusiastic and active supporter who remained the festival’s patron until her death in March 2002.

‘Nothing but the best’ was the maxim adopted by Lady Fermoy when she organised that first festival. What ever the future night hold for the festival she was determined that, right from the start, its hallmark would be one of excellence. She single-handedly lined up a programme which read like a Who’s Who of the world of music and the arts including Benjamin Britten, Kathleen Ferrier, John Betjeman, Peter Pears, Peggy Ashcroft, Osbert Sitwell, Shura Cherkassky and Peter Ustinov.

The Gates of St Nick's in 1965

It says something of the speed with which the festival achieved its stature that the BBC Home Service broadcast live the official opening of the Guildhall. The whole festival was a huge success and went from strength to strength, quickly earning international renown.

The active interest of the Queen Mother and her frequent visits gave the event great prestige. Each year she stayed at Sandringham House in July, so her visits to the Sandringham Flower Show also coincided with the festival. The Queen Mother’s last visit was with the Prince of Wales to St Nicholas’ Chapel in King’s Lynn in 2000.

One of the features contributing to the festival’s appeal is the range of beautiful buildings which provide the setting for top-class performances. The Guildhall remains a venue at the heart of the festival with other historic Lynn buildings also creating stunning backdrops including St Margaret’s Church, the Town Hall and St Nicholas’ Chapel, refurbished in 2015. The Corn Exchange has always been used and has become a fine venue since its refurbishment in 1997. Concerts have also been held at Holkham Hall, Westacre Theatre, Park House and a number of West Norfolk churches.

Lady Fermoy was closely involved with the festival for 25 years and since she handed over the reins those entrusted with staging the event have always sought to maintain the tradition of excellence. Classical music continues to provide the cornerstones of the programme and a succession of world-famous orchestras, ensembles of international renown and big-name soloists have continued to draw audiences to King’s Lynn from far and wide.

Pianist Freddy Kempf, who is enjoying a meteoric career, is a vice-president of the festival and has become a favourite with audiences. Successful competitors in the BBC Young Musician Competition, violinist Nicola Benedetti, pianist Benjamin Grosvenor and cellist Guy Johnson have delighted concert-goers, as have established names such as pianist John Lill and violinist Tasmin Little, and 
Photo Courtesy: Clive Barda
1974 brochure cover

Historian David Starkey has informed and entertained audiences.

Festival organisers aim to cater for every taste and recent years’ programmes reflect the huge range of entertainment on offer with top names who have attracted increasing numbers from all over Britain and abroad. They have included legendary names such as pianist Alfred Brendal and soprano Dame Kiri Te Kanawa, the Stars of the Bolshoi Ballet, singers Lesley Garrett and Aled Jones, actors Tom Conti and Corin Redgrave, percussionist Evelyn Glennie, cricket commentator Henry Blofeld, the Black Dyke Band, Jools Holland and his Rhythm and Blues Orchestra, and famed folk duo John Tams and Barry Coope.

The Festival is also known for featuring contemporary composers and commissioning new works by young and regional composers. Each year a contemporary concert with a pre-concert talk is arranged - recent composers have included David Matthews, Howard Skempton and Toby Young.

Contact theBox Office now 01553 764864