Ian Hunter (impresario)

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Sir Ian Bruce Hope Hunter (2 April 1919 – 5 September 2003) was a British impresario of classical music. Known as 'Mr. Festival' to many in the arts world,[1][2] Hunter was one of the most important figures in a post-World War II cultural renaissance in the United Kingdom. From the mid-1950s, following the death of Harold Holt, he headed the music management agency Harold Holt Ltd,[3] which joined with Lies Askonas Ltd in the late 1990s to form Askonas Holt.[4][5]


Born in Hadley Wood, Middlesex, Hunter began his career in 1947, as assistant to artistic director Rudolf Bing at the very first Edinburgh Festival. He succeeded Bing as the festival's director in 1950, remaining in the position through 1955. He served as the director of numerous other festivals, including the Bath Festival from 1948 to 1968, the City of London Festival from 1962 to 1980, the Brighton Festival from 1967 to 1983, and festivals in Windsor and Hong Kong. "Festivals," he once said, "are like sudden fireworks in a dark sky."[6]

"Characteristic of Hunter's capacity for thinking big was the Commonwealth Arts Festival of 1965. In preparing it he visited 23 countries, and it was held simultaneously, over two weeks, in London, Glasgow, Cardiff and Liverpool. Dance was strongly featured: Caribbean, African and Indian groups rubbed friendly shoulders with classical companies from Australia and Canada. Jazz jostled with the classics. Menuhin shared a platform with Ravi Shankar. Balloons were released and fireworks rocketed."[7]

Hunter was also a talent manager, celebrated as chairman of Harold Holt Ltd. (now Askonas Holt Ltd.) from 1953 to 1988. He died in Balcombe, West Sussex at the age of 84.


  1. ^ Obituary (9 September 2003). "Sir Ian Hunter". The Daily Telegraph. Mr Festival, as Hunter was known to many in the arts world, was one of the shrewdest and most energetic managers and promoters of the arts in this country. Barenboim, Menuhin, Jacqueline du Pré, Zuckerman, Perlman, Perahia, Rattle and Gardiner were among the many musicians who benefited from his friendship and support.
  2. ^ Ruth Armstrong (10 September 2003). "Tributes for man dubbed 'Mr Festival'". Edinburgh Evening News.[permanent dead link]
  3. ^ Norman Lebrecht (17 September 2003). "Changing Hands". The Lebrecht Weekly, La Scena Musicale, Canada's Free Classical Music Magazine. Time was when most matters of musical significance in Britain passed through the hands of Ian Hunter, a shrewd backstager of Scots descent who founded multiple festivals – City of London, Bath, Brighton, Windsor, Malvern, Hong Kong and beyond. For 35 years Hunter was head of Harold Holt Ltd, the most prestigious classical agency in Britain.
  4. ^ "Administrative Panel Decision". WIPO Arbitration and Mediation Center. 3 July 2000.
  5. ^ "The History of Askonas Holt". Askonas Holt website. Archived from the original on 16 November 2007. Harold Holt Ltd was founded in 1876 by Alfred Schultz Curtius, who was the first impresario to bring Richard Wagner's music to the London public. The company became renowned for its presentations in the latter part of the 19th century and into the 20th century, with South African-born Harold Holt taking over in the 1930s… The arrival of Sir Ian Hunter in 1956 from the Edinburgh Festival brought a new dimension of artists and festival direction.
  6. ^ Tim Bullamore (15 September 2003). "Obituary: Sir Ian Hunter". The Independent.
  7. ^ "Sir Ian Hunter: Artistic Director of the Edinburgh Festival in the 1950s who established it as the greatest in the world". The Times. London. 10 September 2003. To describe Ian Hunter as the most successful impresario of his generation is to undervalue a large part of his achievement. He was surely unique in migrating from the promotional world of the performing arts – whether commercial or subsidised – to the sphere of disinterested charitable activity.