In 1952 Denys Darlow was the organist at All Saints’ Parish church, Tilford, a small rural village in the west of Surrey. He had the idea to establish an annual festival in his own village to celebrate his favourite composer, Johann Sebastian Bach. Thus, the Tilford Bach festival was born. Seventy years later it is still going strong.
Denys, beside being a fine organist, was also associate conductor of the BBC Opera Orchestra and conductor of his own Alexandra Orchestra and Choir.
A committee was formed and its aim was “to promote an annual Bach Festival of the music of Johann Sebastian Bach and his contemporaries, predecessors and successors, in a manner most consistent with the style and demands of the period”. Denys’s personal aim was that all performances should be fully professional and of the highest quality so as to entice soloists of international renown to come to a small church in a tiny village situated several dark, winding miles from the nearest railway station.
Quite remarkably, some seventy years later every one of these aims are still being met at each annual Tilford Bach Festival.
On March 17th 1955, the BBC broadcast live a concert comprising of two orchestral works and two cantatas, all by J.S.Bach.
In 1993 Denys at 72 years old decided it was time to share some of the responsibility for the festival and Paul Nicholson was welcomed as co-director. It was also in that year that another highly-talented young musician, Laurence Cummings, appeared at the festival for the first time. He was to prove a very significant figure in the history of the festival.
The 1998 Festival brought another significant debut; Adrian Burtterfield, who as the leader of the London Handel Festival Orchestra, brought his Revolutionary Drawing Room quartet to perform the opening concert.
In 2000 Paul Nicholson announced his decision to be ordained as a priest and handed over co-directorship of the festival to Laurence Cummings.
In 2002 Denys decided to finally hang up his baton, leaving Laurence in sole charge until 2005 when Adrian joined him as co-director.
Laurence bowed out as co-director in 2010 as he had an increasingly full diary of international engagements, recordings and broadcasts. Adrian Butterfield is now the Festival’s sole Director of Music.
Over the years many famous musicians have performed in Tilford including the singers Dame Emma Kirkby, Felicity Palmer, Ian Partridge, Charles Daniels and Joanne Lunn.
The Festival is now held over a long weekend in June and still maintains Denys’s wish to use professional musicians of the highest quality.
Tilford Bach Society and Tilford Bach Festival
Tilford Bach Society was originally focused solely on the festival with no external concerts or performances. Over the subsequent years the Society held additional concerts throughout the year in and around the Farnham area. In 2019 the committee of the Tilford Bach Society
decided that they wished to focus only on the Farnham concerts. This gave the committee of the Tilford Bach Festival the impetus to concentrate on continuing our legacy in holding the concerts at All Saints Church, Tilford. Both the Festival team and the Tilford Bach Society
work and support each other closely.
The Tilford Bach Society website can be found at the following link: www.tilbach.org.uk