The Windsor Festival was founded in 1969 with Yehudi Menuhin and Ian Hunter as Artistic Directors. Based around the participation of the Menuhin Festival Orchestra with Yehudi Menuhin using St George’s Chapel, the State Apartments of Windsor Castle and other venues in and around Windsor and Eton.
The roots of the Festival stretch back to 1967, when Robin Woods, Dean of Windsor and President of the Windsor and Eton Society, invited Yehudi Menuhin to put on a concert in St George’s Chapel, Windsor Castle. And so it was, that through their collaboration, an impressive evening of music took place in this prestigious venue.
At the time the Dean wrote: ‘In October 1967 the climax was reached in a memorable performance by Yehudi Menuhin and his sister Miss Hephzibah Menuhin in the Nave. Several hundred people will not forget the joy of listening to Bach, Brahms and Franck.
He began to realise the further potential of the Castle as a place to stage an annual music or artistic festival and had been inspired by similar festivals established in other cities. His vision did not end there, however, imagining events for the delight of the local people extending from the Castle to Eton, the Town Hall to the Theatre Royal and beyond.
Meanwhile, Ian Hunter, former Director of the Edinburgh Festival and Menuhin’s agent, thought ‘what a magnificent setting Windsor and Eton would make for a festival of the arts.’ He wrote to the Dean that year setting out his ideas and within a few months, through the remarkable drive and enthusiasm of everyone involved, a new charity, the Windsor Festival Society, was formed.
Over the years the Festival has attracted many international players besides Yehudi Menuhin and his family including Artur Rubinstein, Andres Segovia, Vladimir Ashkenazy and more recently Vadim Repin.
Venues include the State Apartments of Windsor Castle, St George’s Chapel, Eton College, Cumberland Lodge (Windsor Great Park), and the Royal Chapel (Royal Lodge).
The Autumn Festival now includes the Windsor Festival International String Competition, alternating biennially with the Spring Leap, a youth and community festival held in March, as well as running the Schools’ Programme, a creative competition for secondary school students in the Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead.
The Windsor Benefit Trust supported the Windsor Festival with two substantial grants in 2017.
Yehudi Menuhin with Andre Previn at The Windsor Festival
A Performance in The Waterloo Chamber at The Windsor Festival
Ji Yoon Lee, past winner of Musician of The Year at The Windsor Festival, receiving her award from HRH The Earl of Wessex, President of the Windsor Festival. (Copyright Gill Aspel)