Kenneth Richardson was appointed director of the Oundle International Festival in May 2014, and came with a wealth of experience.
Kenneth, whose passion for music started from an early age, came to Oundle to take up the role of the director largely through a connection with the director of Oundle Organists.
‘I felt there was an interesting job to be done. Also, Oundle provided the opportunity for me to move out of London, which I had been looking to do for some time.’
Kenneth has since moved to Oundle. His role as director occupies 40 days of the year, otherwise he primarily works with the BBC Symphony Orchestra, specialising in concert staging.
‘I work to animate the concert, making it come alive for viewers.’
Kenneth’s career thus far has been varied, with much of his work dedicated to opera, particularly in Scotland, as well as the Covent Garden Festival, and work in America directing the Chicago Humanities Festival.
The role that the director plays in America is largely similar to that in England, although differences arise at trustee level.
‘The way the boards interact with the administration is very different. American tend to be more hands-on, as board members take on a number of responsibilities such as fronting committees and organising gala dinners.’
In Oundle, Kenneth has focused on ensuring the gradual evolution of the festival. He has devoted particular attention to developing the seven day food festival and the Party at the Wharf, which already represents a real celebratory evening with a strong family feel. The 2015 event reaped the rewards of this focus, with audience numbers doubling from the previous year.
Kenneth’s long term vision is to create a centre for the arts around the festival. So far, to facilitate this, the festival office now sells tickets for the Stahl and the Peterborough Cathedral. It is also taking over the administration of the Oundle Cinema and has increasingly supported the Music in Quiet Places concerts.
‘It is a case of evolution, rather than revolution, as we are constantly looking for ways to improve in the long-term.’
‘We also need to engage with the community as much as possible. Festivals should always be about relating to the place in which they exist, rather than imposing themselves upon the specific area.’
For 2016, nothing yet has been finalised, however there is a strong move towards a major headline act at the Party at the Wharf. Also in the pipeline is the Gabrieli Consort, which will also involve the local choir.
‘This is an essential aspect of festivals. They should not merely be about people coming to receive what is presented, rather there must be a strong element of interaction with the community.’
The Oundle International Festival is undoubtedly very popular within the local community, and there is a sense that this popularity is on the rise as the festival attracts an increasingly wider audience from further afield. However Kenneth acknowledges the need to avoid complacency.
‘There is lots of competition out there. We therefore still need to work hard to make sure everyone knows what’s going on.’
Across the country, festivals represent centres for artistic expression, varying from small one-day events to massive operations such as the Edinburgh Fringe.
While their popularity is undoubted, there is an increasing level of insecurity regarding their future.
They are dependent upon public funding, which has been steadily cut as a result of the changes at government level to the Arts Council and lottery funding.
Oundle is fortunate as it is not so reliant upon public funding, however this does not exempt it from the financial difficulties that all festivals are accustomed to.
‘We are in a constant battle to strike the right balance between staging interesting events and ultimately balancing the books.
‘The role of the festival director is to shape and dictate the direction of travel for the festival.’
With his aim to ensure the long term prosperity of the festival at the heart of his plans, there is reassurance that the festival has many more years of entertainment left in it.
By Thomas Lambton