Christopher Hunt, colorful impresario and arts administrator who tried to shake up the classical music world – obituary


Christopher Hunt, who died aged 83, was a free impresario, arts administrator, music critic, promoter, manager and occasional snake charmer whose life and work demonstrated the truism that an education in school public, an English accent and a sense of dandy style. can still take a long way, especially in those foreign regions known as “foreign”.

His claims to fame include ruffling the feathers of London’s curators by presenting Pink Floyd’s “Games for May” show at the South Bank Center in 1967, defending the Kronos Quartet and the King’s Singers through his own agency, and twice organizing the Adelaide Festival in Australia. Along the way, he zigzagged between traditional and innovative musical projects, often leaving a trail of chaos and confusion.

Hunt could be an abrasive, autocratic, and controversial figure whose primary skill lay in burning bridges. He described himself as an “embrysario” – an impresario in an embryonic phase – and was a self-proclaimed “enemy of blandness”, insisting that in music he always sought “a mixture of interesting older works, rare or stimulating and important works. novelties ”.

Tall, lean, and leathery, with bushy eyebrows sticking out of his bifocals, the chain-smoker Hunt was the happiest of American and Australian festivals with his upper-middle-class manners. Yet even they were burned.

“He was expected to have flair, not flair,” one profile writer noted of his sulks and sarcasm, while a festival director said he had “l ‘artistic spirit of a madman “. Hunt once commissioned Peter Sellars to conduct Mozart’s Don Giovanni for PepsiCo Summerfare in New York, but the promotional material fell under the spell of the sponsor, who told him firmly, “There are no nipples or of pubic hair in Pepsiland.

Hunt’s greatest artistic and commercial successes were arguably his two stints at the helm of the Adelaide Festival in 1980 and 1994, where his innovative programming included the Australian premiere of Britten’s Death in Venice and a radical take on Swan Lake from the Ballet der Komische Oper Berlin which led to a couple of deserting dancers. Both appointments ended in resentment, not least because of Hunt’s antipathy towards the local culture. Adelaide, he said, was like Jane Austen: “nice enough, but not much to do with the 20th century.”

Christopher Ben MacMichael Hunt was born January 22, 1938, the second of three children to Brigadier Dr Thomas “Tommy” Hunt CBE, a consultant physician at St Mary’s Hospital in Paddington and a leading figure in gastroenterology, and his wife Barbara (née Todd), a former actress.

Tommy Hunt once refused to attend Winston Churchill because the Prime Minister demanded an appointment that ran into a time slot booked by another patient – an episode that thwarted his chances, according to his wife Barbara, of a peerage.

Christopher’s older sister, Marigold, married journalist Paul Johnson, and his younger sister, Sarah, an art restorer, married Tory MP George Walden.

He grew up in Great Kingshill, Buckinghamshire, and after the war he attended Westminster School, where he learned piano and oboe, including a lesson with Léon Goossens. He visited the Proms, attended piano recitals by Solomon and Shura Cherkassky, and in 1953 saw Don Giovanni in Salzburg conducted by Wilhelm Fürtwangler, his first festival experience.

On other occasions, he’s watched ladies of the night with their patrons in St James’s Park or sneaked into nude performances at the Windmill Theater in Soho. Eventually, he found the courage to visit a prostitute behind Piccadilly Circus and was disappointed, he recalls, when she removed the terry padding from her bra. Ashamed of himself, he “went back to school and fearfully retired to St Faith’s Chapel in the Abbey and spent most of the weekend on his knees.”

During national service with the Rifle Brigade Hunt participated in action in Malaysia; one memory was that the native barber at the camp had a pet monkey that clung to his neck. Between outings in the jungle, Hunt practiced his oboe, although during one session a cobra appeared on a pillow in the neighboring tent. “We shot it,” he said. “Charming Snake thus added to my CV.” “

In 1958, he undertook a “grand tour” in France and Italy, losing much of his money on the gaming tables in Nice, while at Trinity College in Cambridge, he pursued Anglo-Saxon studies, leading to more later his children around countless archaeological sites. During the holidays he worked in the records department at Harrods.

Around this time he received his first passionate kiss – from an older man, a violinist in a London orchestra: “I was shocked at how rough the skin on his face was. Since then, I wonder why either sex supports it.

He spent a few years with the Ibbs & Tillett concert agency, managing the first recitals at Wigmore Hall, forming friendships with pianists Stephen Bishop and Alfred Brendel and trying to shake up the frozen world of classical music.

Moving on to Lina Lalandi’s English Bach Festival in Oxford, he met Richard Gaddes, later of Santa Fe Opera. Together, they attacked Ibbs’ monopoly by introducing young British singers to lunchtime concerts while Gaddes, who had an apartment in Baker Street, introduced Hunt to gay life in London.

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