Composer tipped for top NGA job

WHILE the daily press in Australia is busy speculating on who will replace Ron Radford as director of the National Gallery of Australia, London art insiders are convinced that the job at our top collecting institution will go to a visual arts outsider.

Sir Jonathan Mills, photo Mark Hamilton

Sir Jonathan Mills, photo Mark Hamilton

Sir Jonathan Mills, the Australian composer, director of the Melbourne and Federation festivals and director since 2006 of the Edinburgh Festival in Scotland, is quite likely to be announced as NGA director, “CityNews” has been told.

Sir Jonathan’s name has certainly been mentioned, along with that of Getty Museum chief, Timothy Potts, as an outsider, but most speculations to date have fallen on art experts, including director of the Art Gallery of NSW, Michael Brand; director of the Art Gallery of SA, Nick Mitzevich, and director of the Art Gallery of WA Stefano Carboni, although his candidacy is understood to have been rejected.

Mills has been a familiar figure in Canberra during recent years as the guest of the Canberra International Music Festival, at the 2012 festival performing his own work “The Ethereal Eye”, which looks at the Burley Griffins and the architecture of Canberra and during the 2013 Centenary Festival giving a studious but spirited keynote address in support of the Burley Griffins.

A leading intellectual who founded Melbourne’s Alfred Deakin Lectures, Mills was best known, before leaving for Scotland, primarily as a composer of works such as “Sandakan Threnody”, based on the Borneo Death March and the chamber operas, “The Ghost Wife” and “The Eternity Man”.

Although initially greeted with hostility on arriving in the UK, it is widely believed that his reign at the Edinburgh Festival, the world’s most celebrated such event, has been successful without precedent. His recent decision not to seek a further extension in Edinburgh has compounded speculation that his interest lies elsewhere.

While curators and art historians here may be astonished, art commentators in London believe that in the present financial and political climate, a seasoned yet adventurous and imaginative administrator such as Mills could be the right person for the gallery job.

As Radford leaves the position on October 1, the naming by Federal Arts Minister George Brandis of the new NGA director is considered imminent.

UPDATE: Former director of the Canberra International Music Festival, Christopher Latham, today told “CityNews” that he gave the story no credence. Latham, who was responsible for bringing Mills to Canberra for two of his music festivals, said that while there was no doubt that Sir Jonathan’s administrative skills would make him an outstanding director, he was committed to writing a work for Opera Australia.

“If Jonathan wants to be a composer, and I believe he does, he would not want such an appointment,” Latham said, adding that as the retiring director of the Edinburgh Festival he could have his pick of any European job he wanted.

A close personal friend of Mills who preferred not to be named, agrees, commenting, “he says he is wanting to live in Edinburgh and wanting to compose.”

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