When Stephen Banfield’s book on Finzi was published in 1997 Finzi Friends offered members an autographed copy at a considerable discount, and as I was the committee member responsible for sales, visited the author – then a Professor at Birmingham University – in his flat with boxes full of the book. The signings were spread over two sessions, during which there was much leisurely chat. Among the topics covered was the fact that performances of Finzi’s marvellous song cycles were so rare.

Lying in bed that evening it occurred to me that if anyone was going to put on recitals that included Finzi song cycles surely it should be Finzi Friends, so with the centenary of Gerald’s birth coming up in 2001 it seemed an obvious occasion to promote these. The rest of the committee however, knowing of the problems of “selling” song, were not very enthusiastic. One member however, Anne Warner, showed enthusiasm and she supported me in formulating the idea of a Weekend of English Song. Our first challenge was to find the right venue, but in looking for places with a Finzi connection we found that there was no suitable hall in Painswick, Harrogate or the Newbury area. Casting the net wider we found that most cultural centres like Oxford, Cambridge, Stratford or Birmingham had the problem of parking and shortage of affordable accommodation. So our thoughts turned to Ludlow, which although there was no Finzi connection, I knew from the Housman Weekend that I had run there with Jennie McGregor-Smith in the Shropshire Lad Centenary year of 1996, was an ideal centre. The town had character and in the Assembly Rooms a venue that combined a concert hall with a large room in which 120 people could be served meals. What’s more the iconic Feathers Hotel would be an excellent place for the artists to stay as it had real character and was within a short walk of the Assembly Rooms. So we block booked the whole hotel and obtained very favourable terms from the manager.

As the weekend approached complications had developed in Anne Warner’s life so Jennie McGregor-Smith took her place, and as she and I knew Iain Burnside well from his involvement in our very successful Weekend of Housman settings in Bromsgrove, we knew he was the obvious choice as Artistic Director. We had a number of London meetings with him and decided on a format of five main recitals with “star” singers at the start and end of the weekend, and three singers sharing the other three recitals. The next challenge was who to invite as singers! Thomas Allen, the star baritone of the day, was first one pencilled in and, knowing what a wonderful artist Stephen Varcoe was, he was the choice for the final recital. Thomas Allen was to give the Master Class on Sunday morning and for his accompanist we decided to try a young graduate of the Guildhall who had written to me asking if he could be part of the Weekend – his name, Simon Lepper! The tenor and baritone of the trio of singers to deliver Iain’s ingenious programmes fell to Adrian Thompson and Brett Polegato, a Canadian who was rapidly making a name for himself. The soprano was more of a problem as all Iain’s first choices had prior engagements and in the end he decided on a Scottish singer he knew from former days, Irene Drummond. There would be five talks interspersed over the weekend and these more or less chose themselves. Stephen Banfield on “Finzi, English Song and the Elegy”, Ian Rogerson on the illustrators of Hardy’s novels, Norman Page on “Meeting the Compose Halfway: Hardy’s Words for Music”, Madeline Goold on her sculpture exhibition “How Like an Angel”, Stephen Varcoe on “Singing English Song” and Jeremy Allen (from Boosey and Hawkes) on “Publishing Finzi”. There was also a “Finzi Forum” for which the panel was Stephen Banfield, Judith Bingham (the commissioned composer), Andrew Burn and Michael Kennedy, with Lyndon Jenkins as Chairman.

Through all this planning the big question of funding was never far from the surface. Grants were hard to come so a good take up of Saver tickets was essential to the success of the weekend. Imagine my relief (and that of the committee) when within a week of booking opening Saver A tickets had sold out!

Artistically and administratively the Weekend was the greatest of successes and I had well over forty letters of appreciation in the following weeks. One that I particularly treasure came from an audience member to whom one of the catering staff at the Assembly Rooms said, “Goodbye; we have loved having you all; you are so much nicer than the public.”!