Our Story

Where we’ve been 

The Bath International Music Festival began in 1948, though music festivals were held in Bath in the 19th century. The roots go back still further: Queen Elizabeth I came to hear choristers at Bath Abbey in 1668. Alas we know nothing of the musical or literary interests of King Bladud, said to be founder of Bath in 863 BC.

The first fifty years of the festival story is chronicled in Tim Bullamore’s book ‘Fifty Festivals’ (out of print), for example the key roles of Yehudi Menuhin, Rudolf Nureyev and Francis Bacon – and behind the scenes the permanent struggle to make ends meet, artistic tantrums, and the bogus but bedevilling dichotomy between ‘elitist’ and ‘popular’. Few now recall first hand the 1961 orgy in the Roman baths.

The Bath Literature Festival began in 1995 and has grown to up to 150 events, showcasing the leading writers, thinkers, journalists and poets of the day. In 2007 Bath Festivals acquired the rights to the Bath Children’s Literature Festival and this year marked the most successful such festival ever.

Throughout our history the participation of young and not so young people – who, for whatever reason, may not have been introduced to the joys of splendid music and literature – has been central to our purpose. That will continue with renewed vigour.

Where we’re going

Our future is driven by three factors. First, the world of festivals is changing fast and, having been there pretty much from the beginning, we want to stay at the leading edge. Second, the reality is that public money is in increasingly short supply. Rather than bemoaning that loss we are using the spur positively to connect better with a growing number of patrons and sponsors. Third and most importantly, we are excited about what can happen in the spaces between music, literature and other art forms.

The Bath Festival

In May 2017 we launch a new multi-arts festival for the city, building on the heritage of the literature and music festivals. This new flagship festival will have music and literature at the heart – classical, jazz, world and folk music alongside contemporary fiction, intelligent debate, science, history, politics and poetry – but embrace blends of the two as well as other arts. It will grow the number of world-class events we can bring to Bath and build our position as a leading arts organisation in the region.

The artistic directors of The Bath Festival are Alex Clark, David Jones and James Waters. Alex is an editor and literary journalist who frequently writes for The Guardian, The Observer and The Times Literary Supplement. She regularly chairs literary events and has also been on the judging panel for the Booker Prize. David Jones and James Waters are both leading figures in the music industry and experts in their own musical fields. They initially joined Bath Festivals in 2015 becoming Artistic Directors of the International Music Festival in 2016.

Bath’s biggest night of free music, Party in the City, will continue, with over 2000 people taking to stages across the city and 20,000 in attendance. We will enhance the 6000 year round learning and participation opportunities for young people. And we will continue to produce the much loved Bath Children’s Literature Festival.

See the full line-up here.

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