John Manduell, Michael Tippett & Peter Maxwell Davies outside Pittville Pump Room, July 1994 (Image: Martin Davis)

John Manduell, Michael Tippett & Peter Maxwell Davies outside Pittville Pump Room, July 1994 (Image: Martin Davis)

Sir John Manduell CBE 1928-2017

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A Cheltenham perspective by the current Music Festival Director, Meurig Bowen

At the same time that my successor is being sought – more on that soon – there is the sad news that one of my predecessors, Sir John Manduell, has died at the age of 89. (And this in the same year that another of Cheltenham Music Festival’s leading lights of yesteryear, Sir Peter Marychurch, has also died…at the age of 89.)

John Manduell’s impact on what we might currently look on as the ‘middle period’ of the Cheltenham Music Festival was immense. As the BBC’s Head of Music for the Midlands and East Anglia, he joined the Festival’s Management (aka Planning) Committee in 1962. In 1969, a time when he was moving from heading up Lancaster University’s music department to being the Founding Principal of the Royal Northern College of Music, John Manduell was appointed Cheltenham’s first Programme Director in the Festival’s 25th year. He presided over the next 25 festivals, until a triumphant finale in 1994, the 50th Cheltenham Music Festival.


John Manduell and Felix Aprahamian in Cheltenham Town Hall, 1962 (Image: Gloucestershire Media)

This was a hugely successful period of both stability and growth, a time when the Festival’s contemporary music horizons began to gaze beyond these shores, and when successive generations of outstanding composers and performers were welcomed in Cheltenham. Manduell’s first couple of festivals, in 1969 and ’70, featured the young Brendel, Stockhausen, Harvey and Tavener. Newcomers in his final festival included Evelyn Glennie, Steven Osborne and Joseph Phibbs.

John maintained a strong interest in Cheltenham in his years of retirement, and was hugely supportive of what I have been up to here in the last decade. The last time he was able to attend a concert here was in my first festival, in 2008. His other successors were also there that night – the other two MBs, Michael Berkeley and Martyn Brabbins – and we managed to be photographed together. It is the festival equivalent, I suppose, of a gathering of Doctor Who’s.


Sir John Manduell (seated), Martyn Brabbins, Michael Berkeley and Meurig Bowen in Pittville Pump Room, July 2008 (Image: Dora Black)

On the way back from a holiday in the Lake District with my wife and daughter last year, we were very glad to have been able to visit John and Renna at their home near Lancaster. I will not have been the only person to have been struck both by the terrible trials of his immobility and, simultaneously, his extraordinary mental acuity. This level of command from a man in his late eighties served only to emphasise how impressively switched-on, charming and in control John Manduell must have been at the height of his powers.

We in Cheltenham thank and salute you, Sir John.

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