When it all began…. Festival Founder, David Laing, recalls the first years of summer music making…

One of my abiding memories of the Festival recurs annually as the Queen Anne’s Lace comes into flower along the roadsides. In the twelve years of my custodianship we drove many miles between the houses where the concerts were taking place, the airport to collect and return many of the
musicians, and Castletown, and later Russborough, where we were based for the duration. For mile after mile the Queen Anne’s Lace accompanied us on our journeys – and subsequently, when it reappears each year it jogs my memory – it must be Festival time!

I once met a quite well-knownauthor and told him how much I had enjoyed something he had written. He looked rather startled, and dismissed it as “a folly of youth – a folly of youth!” Well, if the Festival was one of no doubt a
great many follies of my youth it is one which has proven itself by surviving in the care of others into middleage.

It was – inevitably, I suppose – dependent on the support of a number of my friends both in the musical circles in which I worked, and others who came to lend a hand in the logistics of the whole enterprise. Looking back through the old programmes still gives me a thrill remembering the times we spent with Paul Tortelier and his family; the Amadeus Quartet; Bernadette Greevy; the Allegri Quartet; Marisa Robles; Hugh Maguire; the New Irish Chamber Orchestra and the Ulster Orchestra, as well as the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields under the dynamic direction of Iona
Brown and so many others.

For years I carried round a small notebook so that when I heard something live, on the wireless, or in someone’s house that I thought might be suitable for these concerts down it would go, to be drawn on later on when the programmes were being put together. Sometimes there were pieces not previously known to the musicians that played them which would
turn up later in programmes elsewhere, in broadcasts and recordings. There were oddities too – the chamber version of Richard Strauss’ tone poem Till Eulenspiegel arranged by Franz Hasenohrl –of which it proved almost impossible to find the music! – the seldom heard Clarinet Quintet of Max Reger which got two performances both north and south and the wonderful songs of Lord Berners which nearly brought the house down!

Of course the whole thing would have been impossible but for the cooperation and patience of the houseowners – and having been Curator of Russborough for five years I know a little of what a time-consuming and never ending source of expense and effort an old, large, building can be. The most modest alteration or repair can become a major matter and the
daily expenses and upkeep assume unpleasant proportions.

There were also many friends in Dublin and further afield who made the considerable task of raising sponsorship each year less onerous than it might have been, and I remember too the assistance we received from Bord Fáilte and the Arts Council at different times.

So here we are 50 years on – quite apart from anything else that has been 50 years of creating employment for musicians, a benefit often overlooked in consideration of these things. It has certainly brought visitors to Ireland, and it has been written up and talked about in other countries probably far more than we know.

I hope circumstances continue to inspire those who arrange the concerts these days to continue their excellent efforts, whether as organisers, supporters or sponsors.

Every good wish to you all!
DAVID LAING

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