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Membership celebrates its platinum jubilee

We look back at 70 years of the Glyndebourne Festival Society

As we celebrate 70 years of the Glyndebourne Festival Society, we unexpectedly find ourselves in similar circumstances to those that sparked the creation of our membership scheme.

The establishment of Glyndebourne Membership in 1951 helped the organisation to emerge from the impact of the second world war, while today we face the challenges of the Covid-19 crisis. 

The coming of war in 1939 brought a temporary halt to the Festival, and Glyndebourne became home to evacuated children from London. After the war ended, John Christie was keen for the Festival to return to its former glory, but financial constraints made this very difficult. Despite Christie funding a number of productions himself, generous donations from the John Lewis Partnership and support from the Treasury to stage the 1951 season (as part of the Festival of Britain celebrations), some bright ideas were needed if the Festival was to survive the austerity of the early 1950s. The creative forces put their heads together and came up with two brilliant concepts. The first was the Festival Programme Book, a lavishly illustrated publication which would carry advertising to raise money towards staging the Festival.

Above: The first Glyndebourne Programme Book, with cover artwork by Oliver Messel.

The second was Membership – for the sum of 25 guineas individuals would receive benefits including a copy of the Programme (in which their name would be listed) and priority booking. In 1952 the very first Festival Programme Book was published, with a cover by Oliver Messel, and a list of the very first Festival Society Members. Thanks to these two innovations, the Festival became financially independent, and to this day it receives no public subsidy.

A spirit of togetherness

The Festival Society has always been about more than just the material benefits of Membership. As stated in the original memo that announced the Festival Society to the press in 1951, the initiative was about bringing together a group of like-minded individuals ‘to secure a wide membership throughout the country of those people who are interested in Glyndebourne, not only for its opera, but also for the high standards it represents’. Seventy years on those ambitions have been thoroughly exceeded – Glyndebourne Membership extends not only across the country but around the world.

‘At a time when so many of us have been separated from the people and the experiences we love it is heartening that our Members are united by their passion for Glyndebourne’, says Gus Christie, Executive Chairman. ‘We saw this in the huge enthusiasm for our Open House digital season last summer and the unwavering support during this crisis. This sense of togetherness will help us weather the current storm, and will make coming together in person at Glyndebourne once again incredibly special for all of us.’

This feeling of unity is echoed in the thoughts of Member Elaine Chapman: ‘The atmosphere and people at Glyndebourne feel like my summer family. I’m a nurse and work is tough. Glyndebourne is a total escape!’

Over the last 70 years we have been overjoyed to see the enduring passion for Glyndebourne pass from one generation to the next, and when we asked our Members ‘What does your Membership mean to you?’, this was a theme that came up time and time again. ‘The challenges of the year of the pandemic have only really served to underline how much the music and the place means to me’, says Lucian Randall. ‘Having been introduced to it by my dad, a Member since the 1950s, I’m pleased to bring my own family along in turn and continue a family tradition.’

Of course, not all of our Members discover Glyndebourne through their friends and family. John Knight first experienced the Festival through his school in 1972: ‘I was then a young boy in a local residential special needs school and Glyndebourne’s legendary Geoffrey Gilbertson would often give the school tickets for dress rehearsal performances’, he recalls. ‘I remember it vividly. Imagine, a young seriously disabled boy living in a closed environment being exposed to the magical imagery and musical wonders of opera – it was transcendent and revelatory, providing me with an enormous hinterland which has sustained me ever since’. 

Many others have also come to us through our under 30s initiative, performances for schools, and our youth opera programmes. Associate Member Julia von dem Knesebeck first came to Glyndebourne with friends thanks to the under 30s scheme. She now enjoys ‘introducing our children to opera and supporting a great cultural undertaking!’

Above: Festival 2019. James Bellorini

We are so grateful to all of our Members. Everything you do, from your annual Membership renewals to additional donations, legacies, and ticket and shop purchases, supports Glyndebourne’s future. As Gus Christie says, ‘without Members, Glyndebourne simply would not exist.’ 

Written by Andrew Batty, Glyndebourne’s Digital Content Editor. This article originally appeared in the Festival 2021 edition of the Glyndebourne Programme Book.

Membership timeline

The first Glyndebourne Festival

The Glyndebourne Festival Society is launched

The first Glyndebourne Programme Book is published, carrying the names of the initial members of the Festival Society

Due to the demand for membership of the Festival Society a waiting list is created

A new level of membership – Founder Membership –
is introduced, recognising those who contribute to the building of the new opera house

The new opera house opens

The Festival Society waiting list closed

Subsidised £30 tickets are offered to under 30s for the first time

Associate Membership is created, giving second
priority booking and a place on a new waiting list for Festival Society Membership

A new membership level for under 40s is launched, providing a pathway to Associate Membership

Photos: The Festival audience in 1957. Guy Gravett | The audience enjoying the new theatre in 1994. Guy Gravett | Audience members at Festival 2019. James Bellorini

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