MUSIC, ART & POLITICS: A History of the St Pancras & Camden Festivals 1954-87

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MUSIC, ART & POLITICS: A History of the St Paneras & Camden Festivals 1954-87 By Helen Lawrence Camden History Society: 136pp £7.95

History is not for viewing the past through rose-tinted glasses but the present through a microscope and the future by telescope, so this slim volume, despite its parochial provenance, is a valuable reference for anyone interested in the state of the arts in Britain today. Helen Lawrence, herself an opera singer, has drawn on reminiscences and shaky primary sources, so there are some understandable inaccuracies and mis-spellings. I am sure that the Finnish composer Einojuhani Rautavaara will forgive her for substituting his name for that of his famous aunt Aulikki Rautavaara, who sang in the inaugural Glyndebourne Season.

The year-by-year description of Festivals can be slow going, but this is a compelling account of the fate of community arts in the UK over the past half-century, a sort of tragedy in three acts.

Actl: St Paneras Council, an inner London Borough with roots in 19th-century Socialism, the belief that alleviating cultural deprivation is as important as provision of housing, schools and hospitals, protracts its Coronation celebrations with an annual Festival. The centrepiece is the performance of forgotten operas, initially Handel and early Verdi. The Festival rapidly gains international renown, not only for its repertoire discoveries but also the artists given early platforms: Joan Sutherland, Pauline Tinsley and Janet Baker to name but a few. …