Judith Serota

Image: Melvyn Tan and Judith Serota at the recording session at Yehudi Menuhin School 21 May 2012. (Photo by Andy Newbold.)

Judith is a trustee of the Britten Sinfonia, NMC Recordings and the Riot Ensemble. She has been an External Assessor of National Performing Companies for the Scottish Government since 2007. She ran the Spitalfields Festival in London’s East End from 1988 until 2007. For nearly twenty years she developed the organisation, commissioning over 40 new works, launching the award-winning Education & Community Programme in 1989 and Spitalfields Winter Festival in 1996. Spitalfields Festival won Royal Philharmonic Society Awards for work in 2005 and 2006. In 2007 she was given the first BAFA Award for outstanding contribution to British Arts Festivals and awarded the OBE in 2009 for services to Spitalfields Festival.

Judith has been a member of Cheltenham Music Festival Advisory Group, an honorary advisor to the Gabrieli Trust and an Assessor for Arts Council England. For many years Judith was a school governor in Inner London schools and Chair of Schools Specialism at Mulberry School for Girls in Tower Hamlets. She was involved in improving various aspects of cancer services, a member of Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Trust’s Arts & Heritage Committee and a member of City University’s Advisory Board on Public Health and Return to Practice. She is now a Volunteer Ambassador for Maggie’s Barts.

Trained as a clarinettist at the Royal Manchester College of Music, Judith started learning the piano far too late in life. So, on leaving the Spitalfields Festival, her surprise farewell gift was Variations for Judith by composers associated with the Spitalfields Festival including Richard Rodney Bennett, Michael Berkeley, Diana Burrell, Peter Maxwell Davies, Jonathan Dove, Thea Musgrave, Tarik O’Regan, Anthony Payne and Judith Weir. A variation by Rolf Hind, commissioned by Spitalfields Music, ‘Zum Sterben, zu Ruh’ was premiered in December 2016 for Judith. She has also had music dedicated to her by Natalie Bleicher, Aaron Holloway-Nahum, Terry Mann and Francis Pott. Judith avoided learning to play the piano at the RMCM, but she had lessons with Hedwig Stein who taught her a great deal about how the piano can be played, and as Peter Maxwell Davies’s former piano teacher, inspired her to listen to his music and meet him while she was still a student. She has studied with Thalia Myers, who briefed the composers of the variations on Judith’s standard of playing, and is now studying with Mary Dullea, as well as attending a range of piano courses.

March 2021

A brief summary of when Judith Serota first met and heard music by the contributors to Variations for Judith

Judith Serota

1959 – Discovered J S Bach at a young age while learning the clarinet with Pamela Weston. The Young Clarinettist, Volume II, edited by Sydney M Lawton (OUP), included Bist du bei mir (then attributed to Bach), in which I learnt to play above and below the ‘break’.

Peter Maxwell Davies

Early 1960s – First heard of Peter Maxwell Davies (Max), a really exciting music teacher, who was teaching family friends at Cirencester Grammar School.

1966–1971 – Studied clarinet at Royal Manchester College of Music and wrote for the Manchester University student newspaper, Manchester Independent.

1969 – Hedwig Stein, my second study piano teacher at Royal Manchester College of Music, had taught Max and was full of admiration for him. In late 1969 I interviewed Max and Harrison Birtwistle (Harry), both former Manchester students, for the Manchester University magazine, Solem, published the interview under a pseudonym.

1970–1971 and 1971–1972 seasons – Invited the Pierrot Players, directed by Max and Harry, to perform in the RMCM Student Union concerts. This went down badly with the college authorities, but very well with Manchester audiences. Planned 1972-1973 season which included Manchester debut of London Sinfonietta playing Max, Harry, Alexander Goehr and Elgar Howarth.

1971–1976 – Worked for, among others, the Welsh Arts Council and Arnolfini Music, curated concerts for Chapter Arts Centre and the National Museum of Wales and promoted international pianists, including Vladimir Ashkenazy and Radu Lupu, in British venues.

1973 – Max gave a harpsichord recital at the Arnolfini, where I was music organiser.

Anthony Payne Joint Artistic Director of Spitalfields Festival, 1995–1997

1966 – I met Tony, then best known as a journalist, on the beach at Aldeburgh during the festival, the day he was engaged to Jane Manning, later a regular Spitalfields performer, who also performed at the Arnolfini in the early 1970s.

1991 – Premiere of Aspects of Love and Contentment, an arrangement of songs by Peter Warlock, for Jane Manning and Jane’s Minstrels, at Spitalfields Festival.

1996 – Premiere of Break, break, break for Trinity Choir and Richard Marlowe, jointly commissioned by Spitalfields and Cheltenham Music festivals.

Richard Rodney Bennett

1971 – I attended a rehearsal in the Jubilee Hall in Aldeburgh for the world premiere of his Oboe Concerto, with Heinz Holliger and the English Chamber Orchestra. This was the first occasion I had heard a composer work with performers at a pre-premiere rehearsal.

2003 – Met Richard when he appeared in cabaret with Jonathan Lemalu at a Spitalfields Festival event at Wilton’s Music Hall, London.

Anthony Burton Guest Artistic Director of Spitalfields Festival, Summer 2001

1973 – Tony rang me from a public phone box from Manchester, as well prepared as ever with a stack of coins, to ask if a friend of his should apply to run Arnolfini Music, the post I was about to leave. His friend, Jane Wells, applied for and got the job. We didn’t meet until 1975, when we both attended a Tippett concert at the Arnolfini.

1977–1986 – I managed the Taverner Choir, Consort and Players, directed by Andrew Parrott, learning much about authentic performance.

Diana Burrell Artistic Director of Spitalfields Festival, 2006–2009

Mid-1980s – Richard Fallas, Diana’s partner, taught both my children at the Centre for Young Musicians, which their children also attended. Diana’s involvement at Spitalfields Festival went back many years: as a viola player she performed in the first concerts with the City of London Sinfonia and Richard Hickox, a fellow student at Cambridge. Richard commissioned her first major work, Missa Sancte Endeliente (1980), which was performed at the 1983 Spitalfields Festival.

1991 – Barrow was premiered by Jane’s Minstrels at Spitalfields Festival.

Melvyn Tan

Early 1980s –before mobiles and emails, I spoke to Melvyn when phoning a landline to book his partner Paul Boucher, a violinist, to play with the Taverner Players.

1985 – I first met Melvyn when I booked him in 1985 for a BBC concert in Edinburgh for European Music Year with the Taverner Players. The BBC chartered a plane to fly us to Edinburgh and put up a chamber orchestra in the Waverley Hotel.

2005 – Over the years, Melvyn performed several times at Spitalfields Festival, including a widely acclaimed performance of Messiaen’s Vingt Regards in 2005.

Chris Sayers Guest Artistic Director of Spitalfields Festival, 1994

1985 – Chris was at BBC Radio 3 and involved when the Taverner Players made the first UK recording on period instruments of the Brandenburg Concertos.

1987–1988 – Worked mainly freelance, including work for Richard Hickox. I asked Richard who ran Spitalfields Festival, and he said ‘You can’.

Judith Weir Artistic Director of Spitalfields Festival, 1995–2000

1987 – I first heard Night at the Chinese Opera, performed by Kent Opera and conducted by Andrew Parrott at the Queen Elizabeth Hall, London.

1991 – Don’t let that Horse received its London premiere by Jane Manning and Roger Montgomery of Jane’s Minstrels at Spitalfields Festival.

1994 – Richard Hickox had left the post of artistic director, and during one of the highly enjoyable artistic committee meetings, on this occasion held in Michael Berkeley’s spacious top floor studio in West London, it was suggested that the festival needed three joint artistic directors. Anthony Payne and Michael agreed to this, and suggested Judith as the third. This was when I first met Judith. She later became sole artistic director for three years.

1988–2007 – Manager and then executive director of the Spitalfields Festival.

Sheila MacCrindle

1988 – The late Sheila MacCrindle of Chester Music was the first music publisher I met. Richard Hickox invited her to join the Spitalfields Festival council when I joined the festival that year. She was a mine of invaluable advice and would have been amused and proud of Variations for Judith, published by Chester Music.

Michael Berkeley Joint Artistic Director of Spitalfields Festival, 1995–1997

1989 – I first met Michael when organising the London premiere of The Red Macula at Spitalfields Festival and then worked closely with him during his period as joint artistic director.

Stephen Johns Guest Artistic Director of Spitalfields Festival, Winter 2000

1996 – Invited to join the artistic committee as a record producer who was always listening to collegiate choirs, a core part of festival planning.

Jonathan Dove Artistic Director of Spitalfields Festival, 2001–2006

1998 – City Chamber Choir performed Seek him that maketh the seven stars. Met Jonathan when he was spotted on the steps of Christ Church, Spitalfields, waiting for the rehearsal to start.

1994 – Figures in the Garden performed in Christ Church, when Chris Sayers was guest artistic director.

1995 – I attended New Mozart Ensemble premiering their commission from Jonathan, An Airmail Letter from Mozart, at the Cheltenham Festival. The pianist was Melvyn Tan, who is premiering Variations for Judith.

Tarik O’Regan

2000 – I first met Tarik when Tim Brown conducted the choir of Clare College, Cambridge in his Magnificat at Spitalfields Festival.

2005 – Spitalfields Festival commission of Scattered Rhymes.

Thea Musgrave

2003 – Spitalfields Festival co-promoted spnm’s 60th birthday for Thea at Wilton’s Music Hall, which included the London premiere of Lamenting with Ariadne.

David Titterington

2003 – Gave the first Spitalfields Festival organ recital in the Dutch Church, City of London.