Spotlight on Charlie Bennett, Founder and Artistic Director of the Chipping Campden Music Festival
Charlie Bennett is the Founder and Artistic Director of the internationally renowned Chipping Campden Music Festival. In 1962 Charlie started, what was then, Chipping Campden Grammar School and was there during the merger with Moreton-in-Marsh Secondary Modern in 1965. From Charlie's point of view, the greatest benefit of the change was the arrival of the brilliant and charismatic music teacher, Roy Whittingham, 'my lifetime love of music, which led to the founding of the festival, was fostered and supported by Roy Whittingham, the inspirational head of music at Chipping Campden School.' After leaving School, Charlie attended the Royal College of Music followed by eighteen months in Australia before returning to Chipping Campden.
In 1999 Charlie and Roy arranged to host a visit from the choir of the Kodaly School in Kecskemét, Hungary, where Roy was working. The choir returned in 2000, and it was these concerts that reignited Charlie's desire to get involved in music again. The first Chipping Campden Music Festival was in 2002 and has since become, in the words of Julian Lloyd Webber, 'a jewel in the crown of British music-making...Charlie Bennett has created one of the 'hottest tickets' in classical music.'
Like countless other music festivals and events across the globe, the 2020 Chipping Campden Music Festival was cancelled. It usually runs in May, a culturally rich month in Chipping Campden that starts with the Literary Festival, run by Charlie's wife, Vicky, followed by two weeks of world-class music in St. James's Church. Lockdown has shattered the livelihoods of many artists, but Charlie has endeavoured to make some good from the current situation. A combination of Charlie's desire to support musicians and the generosity of the festival's supporters has enabled Charlie to ensure the artists due to play in Campden received some payment. Ivan Hewett, the Classical Music Critic for the Daily Telegraph, wrote about Charlie's intention to support artists and described him as a 'shining a ray of light for classical music.'
Back in March, when the festival was cancelled, Charlie sent out a message to support the artists who faced 'the potential disaster of income drying up completely for many months.' Charlie and his trustees wanted to ensure that they could help their artists through this challenging time, so put a plan in place to ensure that they could pay for any preparatory work undertaken and expenses incurred. The plan was also to try and pay a proportion of the fees too. Although Charlie made it very clear that all ticket holders were entitled to a refund, he requested that they considered converting part of the ticket value into a donation, scaled between 25% - 100%. The response to his request has been fantastic, enabling Charlie to pay the professional members of the Festival Academy Orchestra in full and all the other 2020 artists have received a minimum of 50% of their fees, with some of the loyal regulars getting full fee. Many value being part of a supporting, creative community like Chipping Campden, epitomised by Charlie and Vicky. We look forward to next year, when we have adapted to a 'new normal' and hope the Festivals return.