Jonathan Mills had better fasten his seatbelt. The Melbourne composer and former director of the Melbourne International Arts Festival was recently named as the new artistic director of the Edinburgh International Festival – or as some call it, the “greatest arts fest in the world.”
London critic Norman Lebrecht last week attacked the appointment as “so fantastical in its disproportionality, the sheer disparity of peg and hole, that, when apprised of it by phone, I had to lie down for several minutes and practise the Alexander Technique (another Aussie imposition) to restore the harmonies of the universe.” He continued:
Just how Edinburgh, the city of Hume and Mill, the home along one main street of three latterday Walter Scotts – Rowling, Rankin, McCall Smith – the Venice of the North, the greatest arts festival between Aix-en-Provence and Santa Fe, just how Edinburgh got itself into such a selection muddle that it had to hire a minnow from the other side of the world is almost beyond comprehension … Little on [Mills’s] Melbourne card was of the quality that Edinburgh expects.
This is not the first time Lebrecht has railed against Australian appointments, but Lebrecht assures Crikey that it “makes no difference to me if he’s from Austria, Australia or from Bishop Auckland (that’s in England, by the way). I’ve said all I have to say about Australian arts administrators abroad. The point here is that Mills has no record of achievement that bears any kind of comparison to Edinburgh standards, or to the previous track records of any of his Edinburgh predecessors. It’s an absurd appointment.”
Lebrecht is not the only Mills detractor – Lorna Martin writes in The Guardian: “In a revelation that will strike fear into traditionalists, [Mills] said he thought there was room for more contemporary and modern art.” Most other arts critics appear to be withholding their judgment of Mills, but The Sunday Times‘s Adrian Turpin was happy to judge him on at least one criterion, first appearances:
“Pixieish” and “perky” are words that have been used to describe [Mills] … But neither word quite does justice to the reality: the gangly limbs that seem to want to run away by themselves (a bit like some of his sentences), the unfeasibly long pianist’s fingers, big banana feet and a litany of gestures – frantically chewed lips, flapping hands – that is positively operatic.
The hair is sculpted, almost Tintinesque. His suit is pinstripe, exquisitely tailored. A pink gingham shirt and a flowery tie complete the ensemble. There is some serious grooming action going on here: he is clearly not a man who just chucks on a few clothes and runs out of the house.