Chair's Report 2021
2021 has been a difficult year, with the pandemic having a devastating effect on performing arts and theatres. The charity has risen to the challenges involved in dealing with the situation and, thanks to the efforts of the Festival community, we have been able to continue to run the organisation and stage events in spite of all the restrictions.
I will first describe the activities and achievements of both arms of the charity (Hastings Musical Festival and Hastings International Piano) over the past year, and then talk about our plans for the future.
Hastings Musical Festival
Given the uncertainty around Covid in the summer of 2020, when we were making final plans for the 2021 Festival, and the likelihood of having to cancel an "in person” event, the management committee decided to hold a virtual festival (as mentioned in last year’s Chair’s report). This was rather a leap into unknown and has proved to be a steep learning curve for all of us. Although virtual festivals had taken place elsewhere in the country, our Festival and requirements were more complex than most but we were able to work closely with our IT platform, PlayandPerform, to introduce several new features into the software to allow us to include as much of the usual experience of competing in our Festival as possible. We had to adapt or remove some of our classes, but we introduced new classes that were particularly suitable for lockdown eg family groups, choreography and composition.
It was wonderful to see our virtual festival embraced by so many (we had around 1000 entries), and the feedback we have received suggests our efforts were appreciated. We held a "results weekend” where competitors were able to view other performances in their classes and learn the results, and we used our YouTube channel to broadcast video messages from our President, Petula Clark (from her home in Switzerland), the Mayor of Hastings, our adjudicators, and from Sophie-Louise Dann (a Festival alumna who went on to become a professional actress) who announced all the dancing results – we are very grateful to them all. Many thanks also to competitors for persevering with unfamiliar technology. We tried hard to keep as much as possible that makes our Festival special, and we are very pleased that we were able to continue to provide the opportunity for local performers to work towards, participate in and benefit from our Festival.
We are particularly grateful to the very generous financial support from RB Health & Safety which meant we could finance the virtual festival (despite the lack of ticket income) and also still be able to provide grants to alumni of the Festival to support them in their studies to become professional performers – we regard this support of the talented young people in the area as an important part of the aims of our Festival. We were very pleased to award the second Molly Townson bursary to Daisy Noton, a talented flautist who has now started her studies at Royal College of Music. We also awarded Festival grants to 5 new applicants, as well as continuing to support 11 students to assist them in their training for a career in the performing arts – we wish them all well in their studies and careers. We are also very grateful for the generous donation in memory of Mike Goodger (our former membership secretary) from his church, and to Hastings Lions for enabling us to provide 1st 2nd and 3rd awards this year, as we were unable to award our usual trophies – these proved to be very popular.
We were unfortunately unable to hold our usual Gala concert at the end of the virtual Festival, but instead, once the White Rock Theatre had opened again, we organised a Celebration Concert in October. This was in the presence of the Deputy Lieutenant of East Sussex and the Mayor of Hastings – we greatly appreciate their support. It was wonderful to have the Festival community back in the theatre to enjoy a delightful assortment of performances across the four sections and of all ages. Performers included past Festival winners and contributions from Hastings and Bexhill dance schools who regularly support the Festival. We also welcomed Festival alumni back to our stage, including our two Molly Townson Bursary winners and three recipients of Festival grants who compered the show – it was lovely to see how they are continuing to develop their talents, and to hear them express their support and gratitude for their experience at the Festival over the years. The Celebration Concert was also a great opportunity to catch up with Festival friends and to introduce others to the Festival.
We look forward (hopefully) to welcoming everyone to our 2022 Festival which we hope will be in person at the White Rock Theatre next February/March.
Hastings International Piano
Hastings International Piano has like many other organisations dealt with many difficulties in the past twelve months. As reported last year, we had to delay the next edition of the piano concerto competition because of the ongoing closure of our venue The White Rock Theatre. We continued to offer online access to our digital concerts via our website, YouTube and social media. Our international Digital Piano Festival featured many well known artists including a return of Rufus Wainwright and our keynote speaker was Chi-chi Nwanoku the Founder of Chineke! Orchestra. Steinway and Sons invited us to record concert performances with our prizewinners, one of our ambassadors Martin James Bartlett Concert, an industry panel and also a young artists master-class with Professor Vanessa Latarche from the RCM, a Steinway Artist and our competition President of The Jury. Our audience was international with viewers from around the globe.
Our organisation was able to adapt to the early days of the post lockdown arts landscape by producing socially distanced concerts in Rye and Fairlight. The prestige of HIP has continued to grow with invitations accepted by Sheku and Isata Kanneh-Mason, Lucy Parham and Tim McInnerny and Mitsuko Uchida. Our first orchestral concert since lockdown took place in early October at the White Rock Theatre with The EU Chamber Orchestra and our Prizewinner Maxim Kinasov who performed a Mozart Piano Concerto to an audience which included many children and their parents from local schools, all enjoying free tickets via our HIP Free Ticket Programme.
The Piano Concerto Competition will return in Feb/March 2022 with two orchestras accompanying the Semi Final Rounds and Finals at The White Rock Theatre. The competition will enjoy its first competition partnership with Steinway and with hard work and a growth in reputation HIP is delighted that the 2022 competition has had record numbers of entries from a record number of nations since our last competition in 2019. We hope that our fundraising continues to bear fruit and work is already underway for our celebrity concert series returning next summer and autumn and an even closer partnership with Hastings Philharmonic and continued growth of our 'Moto Piano’ programme of Music Education in Schools. In 2019 we had 176 entries from 26 countries and this year for the 2022 competition we have had 360 entries from 42 countries.
New developments for next year
As you may be aware, Hastings International Piano (HIP) evolved out of a piano concerto class in the Hastings Musical Festival to become a major international piano concerto competition and associated high profile piano related events and educational activities. Although HIP has been part of the Hastings Musical Festival Ltd charity and under the oversight of the charity Trustees for 17 years since the piano concerto competition was relaunched in 2005, it has been managed separately with a separate general secretary and managing director, separate bank accounts and different funding streams to HMF. Given the diverging focus, scale and governance needs of the two arms of the charity, the Board of Trustees of Hastings Musical Festival Ltd has decided it would be in the interests of both organisations for Hastings International Piano (HIP) to operate under a new separate charity. A new charity and Board of Trustees has therefore been established for HIP, and Hastings Musical Festival and HIP are now separate entities. We consider that having separate governance arrangements and charities will ensure each Board of Trustees can focus on the needs and opportunities for each operation.
The existing Board of Trustees of Hastings Musical Festival Ltd will continue but now focus on the Festival. We wish HIP well, and we will continue to maintain the strong relationship between the two organisations, working together where appropriate for the benefit of Hastings and surrounding areas. However, we will also consider how the HMF charity can be governed more effectively with the clearer focus on the Festival.
Three of our long-standing Trustees will be retiring after the AGM: Brenda Bailey, Roland Garrad and Pauline Ash. All three have been members of the Board since it was established in 2018, but were Trustees for many years before that on the Festival Executive. Brenda has also been Singing Section Secretary, General Secretary and Chair of the Festival Management Committee. Roland has also been Vice Chair of the Festival and is well known for his appearances as concert compere and platform steward, as well as being the author of a history of the Festival. Pauline also has had a long association with the Festival, and her experience and dance expertise has been invaluable in building the dancing section of the Festival.
In addition, David Kowitz resigned as a Trustee of the charity in March 2021, having joined the Board when it was formed in 2018. David had been instrumental in the relaunch and expansion of the Piano Concerto Competition and without his substantial support it would not be the success it is today.
I would like to thank them for all they have contributed to the Festival over many years – they will be greatly missed, but we hope that they will still stay involved in the Festival in other roles.
We therefore now have vacancies on the Board of the Festival. I am very pleased that Hannah Deeble has accepted the invitation of the Board to put herself forward to be a Trustee of the Festival charity. Hannah was General Manager of Hastings International Piano Concerto Competition for many years, and is now the General Manager of Fat Tuesday in Hastings. I am sure the Festival would benefit hugely from her experience. I am also talking to other potential Trustees, and we hope to co-opt more Trustees during the coming year to broaden the experience and skills on the Board to support the Festival.
I would like to thank everyone for their patience and support in getting us through this challenging year. I am especially grateful to our management committees and in particular our Festival Section Secretaries and our Festival General Secretary for their enthusiasm and dedication to ensure that we could run a virtual festival this year, and to Ian and Hannah (the HIP Managing Director and General Manager) for successfully steering Hastings International Piano through a difficult time while continuing to organise prestigious events within the limitations of the pandemic restrictions.
We could not run the Festival without our volunteers – I would like to thank you for your continuing support throughout this year, and hope to see you back in the White Rock Theatre next year. We are also extremely grateful for all the donations, large and small, which enable us to continue to organise ambitious events, and to inspire local performers and lovers of the arts. We are also very grateful to White Rock Hotel for their support and allowing us to hold our meetings here. The White Rock Theatre are also very supportive to us and we are thankful for their help.
Lastly, we are always keen for new people to join us in helping to organise the Festival. If you have an interest in the performing arts, either through past experience with the Festival or elsewhere, and would like to support us, why not get in touch to see how you could get involved? There are many roles requiring different levels of time commitment and experience, both during the Festival itself and throughout the year. I would particularly like to talk to anyone who is interested in becoming a Trustee or a Treasurer, or who has experience in marketing, publicity and social media and/or fundraising, but would also welcome a chat with anyone with enthusiasm who would like to volunteer to help the Festival continue to inspire and support local talent.