When he was a little boy, Jonathan Mills, who is masterminding his first Edinburgh International Festival this year, knew that he was musical, but he had no aspirations to direct the worldâ€™s most famous Festival of music, theatre and dance. Even now he says â€œI am not a professional Festival Director,â€ but this only serves to underline his innate modesty. When he was appointed to the post in 2006 to follow the towering reputation of Sir Brian McMaster there were those who thought that his lack of â€˜track recordâ€™ would be a drawback. They are going to be proved wrong.
Jonathanâ€™s own musical compositions include an opera â€œThe Eternity Manâ€ which was staged in London in 2003. He is typically modest about this achievement and says, almost casually, â€œI think this is going to be revived for filmingâ€.
Deciding not to follow his father into medicine, Jonathan studied music at University and became involved in Festival direction in what he describes as a â€œhappy accidentâ€. His first Festival involved, as he put it, â€œheading for the hillsâ€ to the Blue Mountains west of Sydney for a long weekend. Innocent of basic facts, such as the fact that the amphitheatre overlooked a vast valley which meant that all the sound would be sucked off the stage was, as he later said, â€œa mere technical detailâ€. The inaugural Blue Mountains Festival in 1988, which had its origins in the first disastrous experiment, put on 76 separate events over eight venues and lasted for ten days. This was all done by Jonathan and four close friends. Somehow he pulled it off. And so he became, as he puts it â€œa festival junkieâ€.
Of course, his festival director credentials are of a much more solid nature than this implies. Until recently he was Professorial Fellow at the University of Melbourne, Director of the Alfred Deakin Lectures and an Artistic Advisor to the new Melbourne Recital Centre which is due to open in 2009. His previous posts have included that of Artistic Director of the Melbourne Federation Festival, the Melbourne Millennium Eve celebrations and the Brisbane Biennial International Music Festival. He is regularly commissioned as a composer and his work Sandakan Threnody for solo tenor, choir and orchestra won the Prix Italia in 2005.
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