Petworth Festival was founded in September 1979 - the brainchild of local composer Robert Walker, with the support of Lord Egremont and a determined group of like-minded people. Lord Egremont is still very much involved, as the President of the Festival, and his business, The Leconfield Estates, is Principal Sponsor.
Robert Walker, and his successors the broadcaster and pianist, David Owen Norris, local composer and musician, Terence Allbright and Petworth resident Michael Follis, each spent seven years in the role of Artistic Director.
1979 saw a September weekend of English music staged in the wonderful acoustic of Petworth’s parish church, St. Mary’s. The Festival’s popularity grew, especially during Michael Follis’s tenure as Artistic Director, until it is now three weeks in July. It still retains its intimacy and style by using St. Mary’s church and other local, small, prestigious venues, so tickets are valued and highly sought after. The Festival audience comes from London, all areas of the south east and is strongly supported by local people.
The Festival has evolved to include all forms of smaller scale classical music, jazz, schools’ participation, world music, visual arts, theatre and comedy. The core of the Festival remains classical music, with some of the world’s finest recitalists, singers and chamber groups performing in Petworth each summer.
In 2011 the Festival added an autumn literary weekend to its roster of events. An immediate success this is flourishing five years later. The line-up of authors who have appeared include Michael Palin, AA Gill, Lady Antonia Fraser, David Starkey, children’s author Laruen Child, Terry Waite, Andy McNab, Jane Hawking, Alan Johnson and many other notables.
Stewart Collins is the current Artistic Director and it is through Stewart, who also directs the Holders Barbados Festival and the Henley Festival, that the Petworth Festival is maintaining its reputation for excellence and variety. Events include not only the core quartets and piano soloists, but comedy, choral works, cabaret and the biggest concert of all - Jazz in the Stables - an outdoor event staged in the grounds of Petworth House.