Posts Tagged ‘Jonathan Mills’

Jonathan Mills

Jonathan Mills is an Aesthete.  An international one, at that.  [Noun: A person who has or affects to have a special appreciation of art and beauty].  You know the type: lofty vowels, airy arms and wafting sibilants.

Their buzzword bingos are ‘exquisite’, ‘engagement’ and ‘occupying spaces’.

I haven’t met one of those in a long time.  There aren’t many down Leith.

If you spot one, they’re normally being bundled into a cab outside one of our 5* restaurants, inhaling a lung-full of harbour before they fly off.

They are such a rare species I get twitchy frissons every time I encounter one.  How do they get like that? Is it years of training or do they breed them just so?

So I asked him.  I had the opportunity to interview Jonathan Mills at the launch of the Edinburgh International Festival‘s 2011 programme at The Hub. The large hall was full of international arts press and festooned with giant dahlias and chrysanthemums on enormous plinths.

The exotic flowers were obviously in keeping with the front cover of the programme, although it did look a lot like an international drug dealer’s funeral.

Jonathan Mills delivered a brilliant presentation on the up-coming programme for this year, took questions deftly from the press then took individual interviews with a select few.  Obviously an accomplished media conductor.

The Programme 2011

He reminded us that opera was not simply a western genre and enthused about experiencing ‘The Revenge of Prince Zi Dan‘ – a Chinese opera based on Shakespeare’s Hamlet which is a sweeping, symbolic dance, graceful singing, subtle mime and compelling marital arts. (No jokes about Zennadine, the prince of football, please)

Wu Hsing-Kuo's King Lear

King Lear is also a must-see. Written, directed and performed by Wu Hsing-Kuo, with a cast of one, Mr Mills described it as “a very solitary play and a tour de force” where Wu Hsing-kuo depicts all the characters, including his own identity as the actor.

Shen Wei was the principle choreographer behind the opening ceremonies for the 2008 Beijing Olympics and is now based in New York.  His ‘Re-Triptych‘ is a ballet which takes a “distinguished look at life lived at a distance” using inspiration from Tibet, Cambodia and China’s Silk Road.

Another piece that looks pretty darn stunning is ‘One Thousand and One Nights‘ in two parts, performed by actors, musicians and a creative team from Egypt, Tunisia, Syria, Lebanon, Algeria, Morocco, Paris and London.  It’s a new erotic, brutal, witty and poetic production which is not suitable for kids.  That’s my type of art, that is.

I’ve only mentioned four pieces out of the 95 you can choose from.  Do have a look at the programme and expand your eyes and ears for 2011.  High art may seem irrelevant when remortgages, repossessions and reactionaries can be one’s sole preoccupation (see, these ‘ones’ are infectious) but there’s a very good reason to go.

Experiencing great art is like eating at a 5* restaurant.  You may not like individual flavours and concoctions but the process and challenges of savouring the exquisite professionalism and skill that have gone into presenting the fare explodes your senses in a way that fish and chips art can’t.

The Interview

I had to wait hours but it was worth it.  Up close and personal, he’s a likeable kinda guy but I was very nervous and very, very star-struck.  After all, the Edinburgh International Festival has always played a large part in my life.  Whether just the fireworks, the crowds, the congestion, the packed jolly bars or just the crazy eccentric people you can sometimes loathe and sometimes adore.

Here, in the flesh, was the impressario behind all the summer madness.  The curator of Edinburgh‘s cultural capital. The capo di capo of the international arts scene.

At what age does one decide one’s ambition is to be an international festival director? (Do excuse my language, there are a lot of ‘ones’ in Aesthetia. Trust me, I talk Aesthetish).

Never.  I am first and foremost a composer.  I was a composer before embarking on this.  When I finish, I will go back to composing and conducting.  I happened to start a little festival while at University and it just grew from there.  I was invited to do this as an artist, not as a project manager.

Mr Mills demurs though. He also holds a degree in architecture and is an authority on acoustic design.  Mr Mills began his artistic career studying composition in Australia and then piano and composition in Italy before becoming Melbourne’s Festival Director.

What is the significance of the Shamrock Chrysanthemum you have chosen to front your programme?

When working with our designers, we wanted something exotic and exquisite, which symbolised the Far East and the cross-over.  We wanted gorgeous flowers that are unfolding and poignant. We wanted fragrance, particularly in the atmosphere, where the audience can be enveloped and cherished, loved, and loved too briefly, before they are lost.

When somebody makes statements like that, for me, unfortunately, there are only two options.  Either I come over all jaiksey and say:

“likes-eh, you nevuh thocht aboot usin the thistle, likes? Cos it’s wur ain, and I’m sure they’ve goat sum doon yon Silk Road too, aye?”

Or, I get swept along by the pungent prose and exquisite enthusiasm.  Thankfully, I got with the latter.

When making the selection for the programme, you are basically reading the artistic runes of the international community? What influences those decisions?  Is it other arts festivals?  Funding?  Politics?  Or is it all pure art?

I am an artist. I choose what’s good, exciting, challenging and sublime. I travel around the world and experience much art.  If it’s brilliant, I select and bring it to the Edinburgh and international audience here.

So, how do you measure your success?

I don’t. I want an engagement with the audience. The ideas should reflect and challenge themselves.  Artists are given the opportunity to occupy space reflective of our and their ambitions.

What’s been your greatest failure, and how did you learn from it?

I’ve never had failure.  The Edinburgh International Festival is a roller coaster where there’s no getting off.  Of course there are a myriad of small things that go wrong, and likewise an infinite variety of things that go unexpectedly well.  There are surprises both ways.

But ultimately it’s never about MY success.  It’s the artists’ success.  I’ve passed them the envelope, they’ve stepped onto the international stage and allowed their art to thrive.  When that happens, that’s what I call success.

Shamrock chrysanthemum

The Edinburgh International Festival runs from 12th August till 4th September 2011.  Tickets start at around £10 but with discounts can be even cheaper and booking starts on 2nd April 2011.

© Fin Wycherley

You can also read this post, with some ever so dainty edits, on the Guardian Edinburgh site here or go to


@ James Christie

The Edinburgh International Festival has finished, boo.  Viva EIF 2011, yay!

The monocyclers have pedaled off to the train station; the hoardings, venues and posters are being pulled down, and the restaurants, hotels and cafés have tumbleweed whistling through their corridors.

“If we had the Festival all year round, I’d be able to retire to Ibiza in a few year” said one taxi driver.

With the help of Leith FM’s sparkly new arts and culture blog, the Edinburgh International Festival has smashed box-office records (he he).

A record 50% of buyers came from Edinburgh post codes, and more than half the entire city shared the fireworks experience (250,000), from under- to over-privileged Edinburgensians, to al flagrante breast-feeding mums and al fragrante zimmer-toting aulds.

The blog is an offshoot of the arts and culture radio show on Edinburgh’s local community radio station, Leith FM 98.8.  It has been praised by the likes of Lesley Riddoch (“excellent”), the Guardian (“inspired”) and EIF (“brilliant”).

“I definitely think we should continue,” said Annabel Cooper, presenter.  “There is a real gap in the market for some down-to-earth reporting.”

The Edinburgh International Festival tickets is such good value for money.

“Once you get your student, unemployed, YoungScot or OAP concessions, you can score a ticket for as little as £6,” said Andrew Moir, presenter.  “That’s a far better deal than the Fringe can offer, except for Free Fringe events of course.”

Commentators have questioned the professionalism and abilities of the huge upsurge in amateur bloggers.  “Who is reviewing the reviewers”, asked the Guardian theatre blogger Bella Todd.

“The vast majority of the audience don’t have PHds in the Arts and neither do we,” said Jonathan Hartley, presenter.  “We are grassroots, up-and-coming journalists who know how difficult it is to part with cash.  The professionals might say it’s a great play for its artistic merits or because they are embedded with the luvvies.  But is it actually enjoyable?  That’s what we go for.”

With the threatened cuts coming upstream for the Festivals, the Leith Tonight team decided to take a stand.

“The International Festival is like international football,” said Fin, guru and visionary behind the arts and culture radio show and blog.

“Every other day, you watch local teams battling it out on the pitch.  Once in a blue moon, you get to see  international teams like AC Milan or Barcelona play on your own home turf.”

“The International Festival director, Jonathan Mills, scours the entire globe for the cutting-edge excellence in dance, theatre, opera and  music and brings them home to Edinburgh for us to savour.

“And you can still get change from a tenner.”

The EIF achieved the highest ticket sales income in its 62-year history, with more than £2.67 million taken at the box office, representing 3% more than last year.

“We’ve had a successful year financially, which is fantastic, but what is more important, I believe, is that we have more than measured up to our name,” said director Jonathan Mills.

Economic & Social Impact

Edinburgh’s population is over 450,000, but that figure swells to well over 1 million during its famous festivals in August.  The Edinburgh Festivals 2004-5 Economic Impact Survey estimates that the Edinburgh summer festivals generate £126.5m for Edinburgh, support 2,500 jobs, and contribute £134.7m for Scotland as a whole.

Edinburgh was voted 10th in the world’s top cities; 13th in the list of the cities with the most vibrant culture, and 19th in a list of cities with the best quality of life.  Edinburgh International Festival came third in the Best Festival Cities, pipped to the post for first place by the Rio Carnival and Womad music festival.

For every £1 the public purse invests in the Festivals, they deliver a £60 return to Scotland.

That’s the cheapest way to make Edinburgh the fun and international place it is.  And what’s more, you get to feed your soul.  That’s more than straight tourism investment could ever achieve.

Leith Tonight Awards

In time-honoured fashion, Leith Tonight is handing out the LeithTonight Awards for the top experiences  during the Festivals.


Hottest Male Artist Award goes to falsetto singer and mass murderer, Adrian George Popescu who played the role of Cortes in the critic-slated but LeithTonight-adored opera, Montezuma.  Popescu flashed the first operatic male penis ever witnessed by the Leith team during a particularly debauched love scene and fond memories have been regularly revived ever since.

Hottest Female Artist Award goes to No Fit State‘s high-heeled tight-rope walker who rolled a joint and showered while performing some spectacular balancing activities.

Friendliest Audience Award goes to all the lovely greys at Purcell’s Indian Queen for their enthusiastic chat and inquisitive nature.

We will be back regularly throughout the year.

© Fin Wycherley

El Nino

Aghh, I’m too excited! The last time I saw an Edinburgh International Festival show was as a promising, precocious auburn-haired teen: hooked on high culture, the suavely political Jacques Brel and becoming Britain’s first female orchestra conductor.

Aye, it was a lonely path.  Not many mates on that wee trajectory.

The path ended in Leith, as most roads do.  Five bairns later and a career up in Superkings, I’m giving my moribund high art veins a shot of the real stuff to find out what happens. Will I be swamped in nostalgia and regret; cast a sneering lip over the whole high art venture or be inspired to take butterfly steps towards more enlightenment?

The first piece of Jonathan Mill’s fourth reign at the head of Europe’s most prestigious arts festival is John Adams‘ El Nino.  I’m listening to it now.  You can hear snippets here or there are copies in the Edinburgh Library.

I’m hearing lashings of Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana, ladle-fulls of  Leonard Bernstein and light sprinklings of Stravinsky. Check it out for yourself on youtube.

“The piece is my way of trying to understand what is meant by a miracle,” said John Adams who incorporated nativity texts from the New Testament, Latin American poets and gnostic sources.

“A scene from the Gnostic sources provided me with an image that is unforgettable. It is the moment before the birth, and Joseph suddenly realizes that the entire earth has stopped and is frozen in a state of suspended animation.

The birds have stopped singing, the water ceases to flow, people are frozen in the middle of a simple gesture like eating or tending to an animal.

It’s like one of those infinitely detailed landscapes from the Middle Ages where a whole community of people, peasants, lords, children, animals and their surroundings are caught in lovingly depicted precision.”

Festival 2010 is called Oceans Apart.  “Its a sexy sensual programme that explores the new worlds of south, central and northern america”, says Jonathan Mills.

The Festival  closes with the annual spectacular Bank of Scotland Fireworks Concert this year celebrating music from the movies.

World premieres include political writer Alistair Beaton’s exploration of Scotland’s futile attempt at establishing Branding 2010a colony in Panama, in Caledonia, directed by Anthony Neilson and co-produced by the Festival and the National Theatre of Scotland, and flamenco dance work Quimeras from Paco Peña Flamenco Dance Company.

I can’t wait!