Obituary: Ivan Sutton
Friday 28 June 1996
His father was a tea and coffee merchant in the City and Ivan left Sevenoaks School early to join the family firm, Sutton and Home. He started as a tea taster, an occupation interrupted by tuberculosis that led to a year in hospital and sanatorium. During this period of enforced rest he discovered classical music, through the medium of a wind-up gramophone.
He returned to the tea firm but now with an insatiable appetite to discover the riches of the musical repertoire. In the early part of the Second World War he attended Dame Myra Hess's lunchtime concerts in the National Gallery and similar ones in the Royal Exchange in the City. It was these that inspired him to form a music club to promote lunchtime concerts all the year round.
In 1943 he started the City Music Society, engaging distinguished performers from the very beginning. Three years later he persuaded the Goldsmiths' Company to allow their fine hall to be used for a series of evening concerts. The first featured the Philharmonia String Quartet, Denis Matthews and the Zorian Quartet. By 1947 the lunchtime recitals found a permanent home at the Bishopsgate Institute. Fifty years on the society still presents series in these two splendid halls, Ivan Sutton in that time having organised 1,745 concerts.
By the early 1960s Sutton found that music was taking an ever-increasing part in his life. He recalled that one Monday morning his secretary said "she thought I was much more interested in music than tea, and I told her she was probably right!" He decided to abandon tea and take up music full-time. His sale of the family firm left him comfortably well-off and free to develop his ideas. He suggested to Lord Crowther, then chairman of Trust House Hotels, that he could promote concerts in the group's hotels. The scheme began in the Swan at Lavenham in Suffolk in 1966 and was taken up elsewhere.
The weekends of fine food, excellent concerts and comfortable accommodation in superb surroundings served a dual purpose of boosting the income of both the artists and the hotels. Perhaps his greatest coup was to persuade Sviatoslav Richter to play for one weekend at the Swan, before an audience of 120 rather than the usual 3,000.
For three years, 1981-83, Sutton was Artistic Director of the City of London Festival, attracting higher-calibre artists and larger audiences than ever before. He also advised the London Symphony Orchestra and served in different capacities with the Park Lane Group, the Nash Ensemble and the London International String Quartet Competition. He travelled widely and was a frequent visitor to Hungary where he "discovered" the young Takacs Quartet, encouraging them to visit England, where they won the first Portsmouth International String Quartet Competition.
This was typical of Sutton's approach. He established a pattern of engaging a mixture of established artists and young players at the start of their careers for the City Music Society's concerts. He gave engagements to many - such as Jacqueline Du Pre (at 16), Julian Bream (at 17) and Stephen Bishop - who later become household names. He also encouraged new music, establishing a tradition of commissioning works from British composers with financial contributions from the society's members. There have been 17 so far - the first in 1964 from Richard Rodney Bennett, the most recent in 1993 from Diana Burrell.
Ivan Sutton was a man of great charm, sincerity and wide-ranging but discriminating taste. His self-effacing modesty hid a formidable knowledge and wisdom. He was held in regard for his courtesy and integrity in dealing with artistic and business matters and will be remembered for the warmth of his greeting, his friendliness and genuine interest in others. Many people "discovered" music because of Ivan Sutton's concerts - audiences, as much as artists and composers, have good reason to remember a remarkable man.
Ivan James Sutton, music impresario and businessman: born Purley, Surrey 27 December 1914; chairman, Sutton and Home Ltd 1944-66; founder and Chairman, City Music Society 1943-93, President 1993- 96; MBE 1964; Hon GSM 1977; married 1940 Dorothy Johnson (died 1981; one son, two daughters); died London 27 May 1996.
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