Page last updated at 22:38 GMT, Thursday, 13 August 2009 23:38 UK

Talking shop: Jonathan Mills

The opening concert for the Edinburgh International Festival has been seen by some as controversial.

It celebrates the defeat of the Jacobites at the Battle of Culloden in 1746.

Jonathan Mills, director of the Edinburgh International Festival, explains the reasoning behind this and other choices in this year's programme.


"The opening concert of Judas Maccabeus has been construed as being very provocative.

"It wasn't my intention, although I knew exactly what I was getting myself into.

"Judas Maccabaeus is offered, not so much as a provocation, to people who quite properly think that the Battle of Culloden was an horrendous piece of butchery but to actually say that in the year of Homecoming - when we are dealing with a number of issues to do with Scottish history - let's deal with the good and the bad.

jonathan mills
Jonathan Mills is the director of the EIF

"Let's deal with the things that make us proud, as with the things that revolt us; the things that make us thrilled as well as the things we are ashamed of; let's actually deal with the complexity of our history because it is a really interesting story.

"It will be beautifully performed, the Scottish Chamber Orchestra with the Edinburgh Festival Chorus and William Christie, performing a fantastic piece of Handel.

"But let's also remember that every piece of music, however classical, however long ago it was written, does often have a political connotation and let's think about what that means, because 250 years ago a piece of art stirred the imagination and it is still causing controversy to this day.

"I think that is a good thing because it shows the power of ideas, the power of creativity, that's what I think the festival should be about."


"I decided that the Enlightenment and Edinburgh's role in the Enlightenment would be an inspiration for this year's festival rather than Robert Burns, for two reasons.

"One very practical reason was by the time August arrives everyone else in Scotland has done Robert Burns proud.

"The other was that the Enlightenment was one of the great achievements of Scotland: exporting extraordinary scientists, inventing and creating a set of ideas which form the foundations of the modern world - from Adam Smith and his study of economics to David Hume and his moral philosophy.

"To reflect that in music and dance and theatre and visual arts and opera is an important thing to do."


"We are not just focussing on the Enlightenment, we are also focussing on a number of unsung heroes and unsung ideas that reflect Scottish culture.

"For instance this weekend you can go and see St Kilda: Island of the Birdmen, an opera about an island that was so environmentally depleted that it would no longer have human habitation, the island of St Kilda, the most westerly part of Scotland.

"And as we think about our lives in to the future, the question of environmental stability is a really important thing for a festival of the arts to be dealing with."


"Ong Keng Sen's terrific docu-drama about what it means to be from another culture.

"I think this is a fundamental question that we can ask in Singapore, where he is from, about Chinese culture that is his background - and we can equally ask it of ourselves - of Scottish culture.

"I am of Scottish origins, I was born in Australia.

"My diaspora started here but ended up 17,000km away in Sydney. These are stories, these are images which are powerful enough for everyone to share them and be connected by them."


"Two of the most important ways we are reflecting the values of the Enlightenment are through our theatre programme.

"This huge production of Silviu Purcarete's Faust has 120 people on stage.

"It is a story about a man whose thirst for knowledge is so insatiable he will make a pact with anyone just to get knowledge, including the devil.

"And that is a great enlightenment conversation. It is a conversation that starts in the 18th century and it is a conversation about a world that is no longer about belief but about knowledge.

"No longer about what you feel to be the case but what you can prove to be the case.

"It is a conversation about science, of rational being and it is very much a conversation about the Enlightenment.


"Where there is an enlightenment there is often what I would call an "endarkenment".

"So Rona Munro's play the Last Witch is a story of deep tragedy about the last woman to burnt as witch in Scotland.

"That particular and dubious honour befell Janet Horne in 1727 in Dornoch, a suspicious community who had a vendetta against someone who was more feisty, more up for a conversation about her own existence, her own sense of purpose.

"So Janet Horne, the witch as portrayed by Rona Munro is not a victim but rather a kind of prequel to Suffragettes or women's liberation.

"So it is a really interesting take on the idea of a witch and the way women were not only victimised because people had a vendetta against them, they were victimised because they were strong people.

"How wonderful it is to be able to represent that today and to show how far Scotland has come in the feistiness and robustness of all parts of Scottish society and particularly some of our leading women."


"Talking about wonderful and fantastic singular views of the world. Let's not forget about Brian Friel - that wonderful Irish playwright, well-known in Scotland.

"We have got three plays, a residency if you like, from the Gate Theatre of Dublin, one of the theatre companies most associated with Brian Friel.

"He turned 80 this year. Come and see Faith Healer, the Yalta Game and Afterplay.

"Come and see a great master playwright in some of the most moving and beautiful poetic staging you will see in a long time."

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