Tributes to an English festival founder, dead at 61

Tributes to an English festival founder, dead at 61


norman lebrecht

December 30, 2018

The pianist Ivan Ilic has sent us this obituary:

The English journalist and festival director Robert Turnbull passed away on Christmas Day at his home in Lagrasse (France).
Robert was a warm, charismatic man who made friends easily. His deep knowledge and love of piano music inspired many pianists to travel to Lagrasse, a small French village near Carcassonne, to play a mixture of warhorses and eclectic repertoire in outdoors concerts. He insisted that the concerts remain free, so that a maximum number of unsuspecting passersby could experience great music, performed live.
The son of British automotive executive Sir George Turnbull, Robert studied piano at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music before pursuing a career as an opera critic. He wrote for a variety of publications including Opera Magazine, Opera Now, Daily Telegraph, Spectator, BBC Music, The New York Times, International Piano and Classical Music.
As the years went on, Robert spent more time at the piano and writing about pianists. In July 2013 he founded a festival, “En Blanc et Noir”, and spent much of his time researching and attending performances throughout Europe to find talented young pianists who deserved more attention. As a result he forged friendships with dozens of young musicians from the former Soviet Union, Italy, Spain, Sweden, Belgium, Hungary, and the UK, many of whom played in France for the first time at his festival.
The music world will be considerably poorer in his absence, but the festival will live on. He finished the 2019 programme before succumbing to lymphoma, and planned for the festival to continue in 2020 and beyond. Robert, if you can read this: you are missed by many.
Rupert Christiansen has posted a further tribute here.


  • rita says:

    “The music world will be considerably poorer in his absence”…and so will all of us fortunate enough to have counted ourselves as his friends over the years: Robert was an incredibly endearing person and never seemed to forget anyone, even in his hectic world wide activities.

  • Peter Coates says:

    A good guy gone.