'An event that gets more ambitious by the year...' Sunday Times
In 1964 the first moves were made to hold a Festival in Brighton, and Ian Hunter, the eventual Artistic Director of the Festival, submitted a programme of ideas. This was followed by a weekend conference in 1965, and the Board of the Brighton Festival Society was born. The first Festival was held in 1967, and featured performances by Laurence Olivier, Anthony Hopkins and Yehudi Menuhin.
In the introduction to the 1968 Festival programme, Ian Hunter explained the original intentions of the Festival:
“The aim of the Brighton Festival is to stimulate townsfolk and visitors into taking a new look at the arts and to give them the opportunity to assess developments in the field of culture where the serious and the apparently flippant ride side by side.”
Brighton Festival, now the largest arts festival in England, is one of the major milestones in the international cultural calendar. It has a long tradition for attracting the most exciting performers from across the globe, as well as promoting local artists, and bringing fresh, challenging new work to Brighton.
Some past highlights include:
• 1967 – Performances by Laurence Olivier, Anthony Hopkins, Yehudi Menuhin, The Who, Pink Floyd, Concrete Poetry, ‘Kinetic art, discussions on the future of music, theatre and visual arts
• 1970 – Jacqueline du Pre, No Theatre of Japan
• 1971 – Count Basie and Ella Fitzgerald
• 1973 – Margot Fonteyn and the Royal Ballet
• 1975 – Festival of Japanese Films
• 1981 – Scottish Ballet, Moscow Philharmonic, Philharmonic Orchestra
• 1982 – (6 May) Ballet Rambert premiered Pribaoutki by Robert North, a dance based on the works of Pablo Picasso, who was the theme for the 1982 Brighton Festival
• 1984 – Sir Richard Attenborough was President of Brighton Festival Society, Warsaw Chamber Orchestra, Warsaw Sinfonietta, Trestle Theatre Co, The Cult. Ballet Rambert premiered ‘Wildlife’ on 17 May, at the Theatre Royal, Brighton
• 1985 – Ballet Rambert, Electric Phoenix Workshop & Discussion with the Society for the Promotion of New Music (explorations of live electronic music), Quentin Crisp
• 1986 – Pavilion Music Room returns to full use 10 years after arson attack
• 1987 – Yes/No Company (Stomp), Michael Clark and Company, George Melly, Suzanne Vega
• 1988 – Julian Clary as ‘The Joan Collins Fan Club’
• 1989 – Pianist Alfred Brendel, Corin Redgrave, Red Shift Theatre Co, Michael Foot
• 1990 – Bolshoi Ballet, Emo Phillips
• 1991 – Lily Savage, Eddie Izzard, Rory Bremner, Alan Bennett, Harry Connick Jr
• 1992 – Michael Clark, Stomp, Phoenix Dance Co, Dr Johnathan Miller, Mark Thomas
• 1993 – Steven Berkoff, Etta James, Elvis Costello & Brodsky Quartet, Stomp
• 1994 – Cheek by Jowl, V-Tol Dance Co
• 1995 – The Wrestling School, Will Self, David Lodge, Tony Benn, Adrian Mitchell
• 1996 – Trisha Brown Company, Spike Milligan, Roger McGough, Brian Patten
• 1997 – DV8, Siobhan Davies Dance Co, Beryl Bainbridge, Iain Banks, James Lovelock
• 1998 – Fiona Shaw, John Inman, CandoCo, Helen Fielding, Douglas Adams
• 1999 – RSC, Nederlands Dans Theatre, The Michael Nyman Band, Fay Weldon
• 2000 – Willard White, Michael Ondaatje, Michael Grade, Peter Hitchens
• 2001 –Courtney Pine, European Chamber Orchestra, dreamthinkspeak’s Who Goes There?
• 2002 – Hubbard Street Dance Chicago, Mo Mowlam, Hanif Kureshi, Groupe F
• 2003 – Ballet Theatre Munich, Kathy Lette with John Mortimer, Edward Said, dreamthinkspeak’s Don’t Look Back
• 2004 – Mark Haddon, Harold Pinter, Doris Lessing, Asian Dub Foundation – The Battle of Algiers, Hal Willner’s Come So Far Beauty (An Evening of Leonard Cohen Songs by the Sea: Martha & Rufus Wainwright, Linda & Teddy Thompson, Kate & Anna McGarrigel, The Handsome Family, Laurie Anderson, Nick Cave)
• 2005 – Martin Bell, George Galloway, The Brighton Book, David Starkey, The City Reads, Seymour Hersch, 26 Letters, Frantic Assembly’s Dirty Wonderland in Saltdean’s artdeco hotel, dreamthinkspeak’s Underground at Theatre Royal
• 2006 – Groupe F at Preston Park with audience of 50k, Wildworks’ Souterrain, Spymonkey’s Cooped, The Stomp Company’s Lost and Found Orchestra
• 2007 – Hydrocracker’s The New World Order in the Town Hall, The Maids with Neil Bartlett, Henry V with live orchestra, 41 Places, Run Lola Run with The Bays
• 2008- Fevered Sleep’s An Infinite Line, Rider Spoke and iconic figures: Miriam Makeba, Jarvis Cocker, Gore Vidal
• 2009 – Anish Kapoor –(first Guest Director); C Curve on the South Downs; Hofesh Shechter's The Art of Not Looking Back ; Hydrocracker's The Erpingham Camp
• 2010 – Brian Eno (Guest Director) dreamthinksleep's Before I Sleep (Old Co-op Building); Hofesh Shechter's Political Mother; Bodies in Urban Spaces
• 2011 – Aung San Suu Kyi (Guest Director) Kutlug Ataman’s Mesopotamian Dramaturgies; Janet Cardiff’s Forty Part Motet; Hydrocracker's The New World Order; Company Carbabosse's Jardin Flambeau
•2012 – Vanessa Redgrave (Guest Director) dreamthinkspeak The Rest is Silence; Tippett’s King Priam; Live_ Transmission
•2013 – Michael Rosen (Guest Director); The Great Enormo; Britten The Canticles; Kaarina Kaikkonen’s Blue Route
•2014 – Hofesh Shechter (Guest Director), William Forsythe’s Nowhere and Everywhere at the Same Time, no 2; Sir Harrison Birtwhistle’s Down by the Greenwood Side; Yinka Shonibare The British Library; Dmitry Krymov Opus No. 7
•2015 – Ali Smith (Guest Director); Richard Nelson’s Apple Family Plays; Laurie Anderson’s All the Animals; Kate Tempest; Agnès Varda’s Beaches Beaches
•2016 Brighton Festival celebrates its 50th Festival with Guest Director Laurie Anderson at the helm
•2017 – Kae Tempest (Guest Director) collaborated with Mica Levi for Let Them Eat Chaos; Richard Nelson's The Gabriels had its UK premiere; Depart by Circa; Collisions; For The Birds; Your Place; The Storytelling Army.
•2018 – David Shrigley, who is best known for his distinctive drawing style and works that make satirical comments on the absurdity of 21st-century society.
•2019 – Rokia Traoré Malian singer, songwriter and guitarist Rokia Traoré, who is regarded as one of Africa’s most inventive musicians, with her work rooted in the Malian musical tradition yet defying the confines of a single culture.
•2020 – Lemn Sissay MBE, acclaimed British and Ethiopian poet, playwright, broadcaster and speaker.