Glyndebourne and Glastonbury

This summer sees the relaunch of two of Britain's most celebrated seasonal music events. Tim Ashley and Caroline Sullivan ask their respective guardians what the future holds


'Glyndebourne," says the festival's new musical director, Vladimir Jurowski, "has already had such a glorious history. It has always, in a way, developed itself. It always seems to know when it's time to correct the direction."

Some might disagree. Many consider Glyndebourne's recent history to be less than glorious. The festival, privately run by the Christie family, who built the first theatre in the early 1930s, was widely perceived as having gone off track after its new house was opened in 1994. Its usually impeccable standards were deemed to have become variable. Graham Vick, then director of productions, had apparently gone into decline with his controversial stagings of Mozart's Da Ponte operas. Nicholas Snowman's brief, awkward tenure as general director provoked doubts about Glyndebourne's choice of repertoire, as large-scale works, such as Verdi's Otello (performed last year) and Wagner's Tristan und Isolde (planned for next season) joined the more intimate operas widely regarded as constituting the kernel of the festival's activities.

Not all of the controversy was justified. Vick redeemed his fading reputation in 1999 with an outstanding production of Debussy's Pelléas et Mélisande. Otello, meanwhile, took everyone by surprise. Andrew Davis, throughout, had been an exemplary music director, though his eventual departure for the Lyric Opera in Chicago paved the way for Jurowski's appointment, which was announced in August 2000.

Glyndebourne, by then, was already in the process of "correcting its direction". Gus Christie took over from his father, Sir George, as executive chairman in January of the same year. Vick departed in the summer of 2000. Snowman left the following November to be succeeded last July by David Pickard, former chief executive of the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment.

Jurowski's appointment has been described as the one outstanding legacy of the Snowman era, though it has not been without controversy. At 30, he is far younger than any previous conductor in the post, and has a reputation as a "wunderkind". He is actually far from precocious, and has a maturity of insight and intelligence.

He first caused a stir in the UK when he made his Royal Opera debut with Verdi's Nabucco in 1996. A number of powerful interpretations followed that brought him to Glyndebourne's attention: a dark Hansel and Gretel, and his famous Queen of Spades, both for Welsh National Opera; his suave, yet bitingly satirical, performances of Rimsky-Korsakov's The Golden Cockerel for the Royal Opera. WNO were reportedly anxious that he should succeed Carlo Rizzi as music director, but Glyndebourne pipped them. He makes his debut at the festival this August with a revival of Albert Herring. "I was offered it before I got the job. It's a wonderful opportunity to get in smoothly," he says.

Pressed on his plans for Glyndebourne, his response is telling. "I don't see the necessity of radical change. We will try and bring some fresh wind into the repertory, keeping in our minds that the main features, which are Mozart, Handel and Britten, should persist."

The combination of tradition and innovation reflects the legacy of Jurowski's own background. One of the last great musicians trained under the Soviet system, he was born in Moscow, where his grandfather was a composer and his father, Mikhail Jurowski, a conductor of considerable stature. "I studied at the music school, which made part of the college that made part of the Moscow Conservatory. I started at the age of five with the piano and musical theory and this stuff."

The idea was that on graduation from the music college, he would enter the Conservatory. In 1990, however, as the Soviet Union began to crumble, his father landed a job at the Dresden Semperoper. The family moved to Germany and Jurowski completed his studies, first in Dresden, then with Rolf Reuter, music director of the Komische Oper in the old East Berlin.

Jurowski's father gave him his first conducting lessons and was instrumental in engineering his debut at the Komische with a ballet version of The Three Musketeers. "It had music by Georges Delarue, whom most people remember as a film composer from the 60s. It was a ballet my father conducted. He took me along as his assistant. There were two or three performances he could not conduct, so he gave the thing to me. I was 21." He impressed the orchestra so much that when the post of second Kapellmeister fell vacant, they asked him to audition. He was offered the job on the spot. "I did a very wide repertory there - ballets, Gluck, Puccini, Verdi, things like Fledermaus and Lucia di Lammermoor." He still lives in Berlin with his wife and daughter.

If Rolf Reuter was one influence, the great Russian conductor Gennadi Rozhdestvensky was another. Jurowski's views on music are very much coloured by his idol. "To me, he's the best part of that great thing we call Russian and Soviet culture - well, he was actually anti-Soviet - which vanished or is vanishing. Through him, and through my father, I learned how to handle the orchestra and build up the programme, and how important it is not to go along with the mainstream but perform the pieces people don't expect you to perform. It's not enough to be a conductor, you have to be open-minded."

Jurowski's open-mindedness, and his sense of being heir to an ongoing, if threatened, tradition, explain why his view of Glyndebourne's development is evolutionary rather than revolutionary. He refuses to talk about his plans beyond 2004, though there are signs that he intends to blend the familiar with the new. "Next year, I'm taking a more radical step, in a way, with Fledermaus. To a lot of people, it's an unusual choice. To me it's a great piece of theatre, but it has to be properly staged, not as a series of gags."

In 2004, however, he will combine Glyndebourne's mainstream repertory with the unexpected when he conducts both a new production of Mozart's The Magic Flute and a double bill, consisting of Puccini's Gianni Schichi and Rachmaninov's rarely performed The Miserly Knight. He is approaching The Magic Flute with caution. Many musicians start with Mozart on the assumption that if you can perform him, you can perform anything. Jurowski, by contrast, thinks you should not go near Mozart until you can conduct everything else. "When I was at the Komische, I did not touch Mozart. That was a very personal decision. Mozart is simpler than anybody, and that is the greatest difficulty: to recreate that process of divine inspiration. Mozart is a riddle - but I hope I still have time to get to the solution in a couple of decades."

Most of us suspect he will find it more quickly. As for Glyndebourne's future, expect its traditions to be maintained and tended - but be prepared for more than a few surprises along the way.


'If you look right through the centre of the Pyramid stage," says Michael Eavis, waving at the steel framework that squats surreally in the middle of a buttercup-spangled field, "you can see it's lined up with Glastonbury Tor." Once the stage is fully constructed, the tor - a distant hilltop with mystical associations for the many alternative types who live locally - will be out of view. But the New Age atmosphere that makes Eavis's Glastonbury Festival world-renowned will be very much present, transforming his 400-acre Worthy Farm in Pilton, Somerset, into a bustling city populated by 24-hour party people of every persuasion. An open mind and a taste for falafels are an advantage, but many find the three-day event life-transforming and come every year.

The last few months, though, have provoked speculation about whether this year's festival, which runs June 28-30, will offer the right amount of muddy euphoria. Ever since Eavis announced that he was turning over the problematic issue of festival security to promoter Vince Power, who runs the rival Reading and Leeds festivals, fans have fretted that Glastonbury is going commercial. They fear outside involvement will taint its unique atmosphere, citing the launch by a neighbouring farmer of a VIP package that includes a champagne reception and helicopter transport to the festival - yours for just £750.

Eavis, who launched Glastonbury (or the Pilton Pop Festival, as older locals still call it) with his wife Jean in 1970, says it is not going to happen. The helicopter, he says, has nothing to do with him, and doesn't have permission to land on the site - apparently, passengers will have to walk the final half-mile like everyone else. "I don't think they've had much interest anyway," he grins slyly.

And his alliance with Power? "Vince knows I'm in the driving seat and I've got control. He understands, because he loves the festival the way it is and he is as concerned as I am to keep it as it is. He knows the Glastonbury brand is the most valuable in the whole of the music industry."

That is not much of an exaggeration. The "brand" is valuable because Eavis, still impeccably left-wing at 66, has kept its original utopian values alive. It takes place on an organic dairy farm that has been in his family for four generations, profits go to charity and the atmosphere is so relaxed that, on occasions, revellers wander around naked without attracting a second glance. (Best attempted during the day, as the temperature drops dramatically after dark.)

Even fashion magazines have loudly clattered onto the bandwagon, staging photo shoots in the fields with models plastered in credibility-boosting Worthy mud, and this year some of the younger royals have enquired about coming. "There's been calls about security for them and stuff. They'd have to pay. They won't be on the free list," says Eavis, whose Methodist background bestowed socialist views about the importance of "giving something back".

Yet Glastonbury's ascent to fashion ability almost did for it after the 2000 event. Right now, all is tranquil as Eavis lies on his back, chewing a blade of grass, in the meadow behind the Pyramid. In a few weeks, it will house the backstage area, but today it's an empty expanse of grass and flowers (the cows that usually graze were moved off the land in April to prevent the possibility of festivalgoers contracting E coli). It's easy to appreciate why, in 2000, between 130,000 and 200,000 fans turned up. (The lower, and arguably more accurate, estimate is Eavis's, the higher the police's.) The trouble was that Eavis's licence allowed for only 100,000 - the rest were gatecrashers who swarmed through gaps in the hedge.

Intimidating tout gangs manned the gaps, charging around £10 per person for entry, as official stewards helplessly looked on. (Eavis didn't witness this: "I'm not allowed to leave the grounds at all during the licensed hours.") Although the extra numbers were absorbed - Worthy's 400 acres are supplemented during festival time by another 600 rented from neighbouring farms - Mendip Council and the Somerset police came down hard, ordering an extensive security upgrade. Shaken by the severity of the reprimand, Eavis immediately halted plans for the 2001 festival. "I decided on Monday morning after the last one not to run it the next year. We didn't announce it for a few months, but I knew straightaway we were taking a year off."

When he began to plan this year's bash, he accepted that he needed help. "In the end, the council wanted to see new management from outside, so that's why I got Melvin Benn from the Mean Fiddler [Power's company]. With him involved, the police and council felt reassured. At first, Vince said, 'Why should we help you? You're a rival.' There's a feeling among the other shows that they'd rather we were not running because they always do better when we have a year off, especially the Vs [Virgin's Chelmsford/Stafford weekend]. There's only so much space for festivals, and we take a lot of the money. But Melvin convinced Vince there was some benefit in being associated with the show."

Power's team are responsible for licence compliance, security and health and safety, for which it will receive 16 percent of the net profit. A new £1m super-fence is being erected, and those without tickets to the sold-out show are being urged to stay away. However, the higher cost of security means that Glastonbury will be operating at a loss this year. The charities supported by the festival - Water Aid, Oxfam and Greenpeace - will get their usual donations of around £230,000 each, but Eavis still wakes up "scared" in the middle of the night.

"Prices are going up and we're worried about whether we're viable and can run the show on £12m this year," Eavis says. "I worry about the weather, I worry about the fence being finished on time, I worry about suppliers holding costs back."

As usual, the festival sold out without any acts being announced, an achievement competing festivals almost certainly couldn't match. Rumour has it that Pink Floyd, Rod Stewart and "a very big Welsh band", whose name may begin with "Stereo", will be among those shaking their tushes on the Pyramid stage. If this makes for a rather underwhelming bill, there are always surprises - he may even get Madonna in the near future (he tries every year) now that she has been reborn as English landed gentry.

Eavis is passionate about both his festival and the artists who perform. His 23-year-old daughter, Emily, is increasingly involved in booking the bands, but he still does some of it himself, though he regrets never managing to get his favourite group, the Grateful Dead.

He inherited the farm when he was 19, having just returned from four years in the merchant navy, where his most memorable experience was "having to track down six of the crew in a brothel in Mombasa. I was 17 and a virgin." There's an unworldliness about him still as he drives around the site in a Land Rover, pointing out features like the Stone Circle and the covered pits that are about to be opened for their yearly stint as the dreaded "long drop" toilets. All is utterly peaceful in the midday sun, and his willingness to share it with 100,000 strangers seems touchingly generous.

"Well, I was thinking about retiring at 65, but then Jean died and I thought, I haven't got a wife so I might as well hang on to the festival. I have an overdraft of £800,000, which is the biggest of any farmer in Somerset, but I still have the Methodist thing of giving money away." Last year he remarried, and his wife Liz, a midwife, "is showing all the right signs of being interested in the festival".

The Land Rover comes to a halt near a barn at the top of the site where the cows are quartered until the festival ends. "Look at that," he says animatedly, climbing out of the car and pointing at a huge, aromatic grey pool next to the barn. At least, it looks like a pool. "It's a slurry pit," says Eavis, sounding suspiciously like a proud father. "It's only a foot high now, but it can get up to 10 feet." As he speaks, a cow makes her deposit in the pool, the contents of which will be recycled as fertiliser. If there's another promoter in the world who makes his own fertiliser, I'd like to know about it.

&#183: Glyndebourne festival opera opens on Saturday. Box office: 01273 813813. The Glastonbury festival, sponsored by the Guardian, runs from June 28-30.


Tim Ashley and Caroline Sullivan

The GuardianTramp

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