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Apr 2 / Simon

City worker

Classical Music, Festivals 2013
Ian Ritchie’s eight-year reign at the City of London Festival is to end after this year’s June and July offering. Attesting to the increasing burden of fundraising in difficult times, he talks to Simon Tait about maintaining standards in one of London’s most colourful and innovative festivals

“There is an arc to one’s useful energetic engagement with a project,” he says. “There is a time in which one can do one’s best innovative work in a particular environment, and then it’s time to move on”. He will concentrate on another festival he runs, at Setubal in Portugal, and working with disabled musicians, bringing disabled children to music, and encouraging interaction by musicians across political borders and boundaries.

“There’s certainly a factor here which is that creating a new programme each year, which one has to do, is in a way as demanding as being required to produce a new symphony or write a new opera each year. It is a creative process, it’s not routine, and it’s not a shopping expedition to see what’s available and then just buying it and programming it in.”

Fundraising has become an increasingly time-consuming requirement, however, and this year for the first time the principal funder, the Corporation of London, will not be covering core costs, and there is no principal sponsor. “Can you go to a private donor and say, ‘Actually it’s the running costs we need your money for before we put any art on the stage, and that we have to close a gap of £100,000 before we do anything’?”, he said.

He calls for a new model of management for arts organisations in general, and festivals in particular, with responsibility for funding given to an executive director and an artistic director thereby freed to concentrate on programming.

In this his second iteration as director of the City of London Festival – he did it first for a year in the 1980s – he has made the event one of the leading music festivals in the world, mingling new music, often commissioned, with the historic environments of the City’s churches and livery companies.

As well as the Corporation’s subsidy falling away, the support from the financial services and banking industry has also fallen away, and deficit has only been avoided in the last two years thanks to reserves created from previous years’ profits. In 2012, the festival’s 50th anniversary year, ticket sales beat the budgeted expectation by 20%, 50% more than in 2011.

Ian Christie, 60 this year, went into music publishing, and then for five years ran Richard Hickox’s City of London Sinfonia as general manager. In 1983-4 came his first stint running the City of London Festival before becoming managing director of the Scottish Chamber Orchestra, which he did for nine years. For much of that time he also was co-director of the St Magnus Festival in Orkney. He was running the St Magnus again by himself when he had the call to replace the outgoing director of the City of London Festival of which already had inside knowledge – the outgoing director was his wife, Kathryn McDowell, now managing director of the London Symphony Orchestra.

“There has been a sort of enduring leitmotif, something I’ve done over the years since the Scottish Chamber Orchestra. We wanted to give it a unique profile, so we took it into the community – and we weren’t allowed to use public funding for that, we had to raise it,” he said.

He has continued with he festivals he runs, making them part of the community in which they are set, from the St Magnus in Orkney to the Setubal Festival in Portugal which he launched three years ago.

The City of London has been characterised by the Square Mile’s history, its churches which are often the venues and its livery companies which have been unfailingly supportive. The local authority is unique, apolitical and the oldest democratically elected assembly in the country, has also been steadfast but is now, like all other local authorities, in a straitened state.

This year’s City of London Festival will have links with Derry~Londonderry, UK City of Culture this year, at its heart, with performances of commissioned work taking place simultaneously in both cities.