Lina Lalandi OBE Founder English Bach Festival
Lina Lalandi OBE (d. 8 June 2012)
Lina Lalandi, the founder of the English Bach Festival, died last month. She was in her early nineties and one of the most colourful figures on the Festival scene during her lifetime. Her vision and flair, backed up by sheer nerve, made her a formidable character to deal with, yet her achievements were considerable and far outweigh the feelings of consummate exasperation if working for and with her. Mystique was also something she cultivated. A woman’s age was her own business! Stories of her numerous exploits in the Festival’s cause often took precedence over the actual facts of the matter, punctuated at many a rehearsal coffee-break by gales of laughter especially during the Festival period (April/May).
Madeleine (Lina) Lalandi was born in Athens in 1920. She graduated from Athens Conservatoire and then pursued a career as a harpsichordist, studying privately in Britain where she later made her home. Her interest in the music of Bach and prominent French Baroque keyboard composers led her to found the English Bach Festival in 1962, establishing it as an annual series presented in Oxford and London.
From the beginning, Lina’s natural flair and her pursuasive powers lured many prominent musicians into her orbit. Dr. Albert Schweitzer was the first President succeeded by none other than Igor Stravinsky and then by Leonard Bernstein. Her success is also due in no small measure to those who advised and helped her. Co-Artistic Director Sir Jack Westrup (d.1975) and LBS founder-conductor Dr. Paul Steinitz (d.1988) were among those she consulted on musical matters. Indeed it was Dr. Steinitz who contributed the opening article in the first Festival programme Book published in 1963. The article was entitled ” Notes on the history of the German Cantata”. Lina’s husband Ralph Emery was a considerably generous benefactor and long-serving secretary John Bertaut worked tirelessly on behalf of the Trust.
The EBF’s ‘golden decades‘ were perhaps the 1960s and 70s. Here Gönnenwein, Rilling, Richter and other German Bach specialists of the day featured and these were rare opportunities to experience live performances given by them as opposed to those captured on the raft of German Bach recordings available at the time. With the full emergence of period instruments on the scene in the 1970s, Lina Lalandi did not let the grass grow either….she invited Leonhardt and his Musica Antiqua Amsterdam and Harnoncourt’s Concentus Musicus Vienna to the EBF to packed audiences on London’s South Bank. Paul Steinitz, London Bach Society choir and Steinitz Bach Players were annual participants too, with invitations one particular year to present cantatas in Oxford on the Wednesday, then back there on the Saturday for a St. Matthew Passion, repeated the next day in the Royal Albert Hall!
From the late 1970s and into the 1980s, Lina’s attention turned more and more to baroque opera and dance, the perfect vehicles to indulge her extravagant tastes that must have given the treasurers nightmares. She formed her own ensembles for the purpose, with the fruits of her researches into baroque costume, gestures and dance forms bringing us the beautiful Divertissements in London’s Banqueting House or rarely-staged Rameau Operas at the Royal Opera House. These productions were then often taken to Paris, Madrid or Athens.
Elsewhere others will write of Lina’s work championing contemporary composers, especially her fellow countrymen Xenakis and Skalkottas, and will share their own memories of an extraordinary character – there will be plenty of them.
Lina Lalandi received many decorations during her lifetime – from France, Greece and an OBE in 1975. MS
(Updated on 12 July 2012)
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