Mills signs off from EIF with emotional speech

SIR Jonathan Mills has bowed out as director of the Edinburgh International Festival with an emotional farewell speech at a concert where one of his own pieces of music was performed.

Sir Jonathan Mills is stepping down after eight years in charge of the Edinburgh International Festival. Picture: Jane Barlow

The Australian impresario, who has been at the helm of the flagship cultural event for the last eight years, paid tribute to the thousands of performers who had taken to the stage during his tenure.

Speaking from the stage of the Usher Hall, following the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra’s performance, he also offered his thanks to the audiences who had shared his “intense” time with the festival.

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Sir Jonathan, an accomplished composer, who is handing over the reigns of the 67-year-old event to Irishman Fergus Linehan next month, chose his very last concert in the historic venue to programme one of his own compositions for the first time.

The main theme for this year’s festival of centuries of global conflict and unrest was chosen to coincide with the 100th anniversary of the start of the First World War and return to the EIF’s roots in 1947, when it was instigated by the city in the wake of the Second World War to provide “a platform for the flowering of the human spirit”.

The oratario Sandakan Threnody was inspired by his late father Frank’s experiences of surviving Japanese prison camps in Borneo in the Second World War - and the death of almost 2500 British and Australian soldiers who lost their lives in the notorious “death marches” through the jungle.

Sir Jonathan said: “For the past eight years, it has been my enormous pleasure to address you from this stage at the opening night concert of your festival. Tonight, it is time to for me to say thank you and goodbye.

“Thank you for sharing 1,200 performances, with creative contributions of artists from 70 countries from Lewes to Samoa, Brazil to Namibia – 16,000 incredibly talented, dedicated, charming, irascible individuals, rather like the members of the BBC Scottish Symphony and Edinburgh Festival Chorus sharing this stage tonight, who are inspired to make the journey to Edinburgh each August.

“Inspired by the generosity and warmth of your welcome, expressed through an event founded for the very best of reasons, at the very worst of times. And encouraged by a request made on your behalf from this platform in 1947 by Sir John Falconer (the then Lord Provost), urging us all to ‘embrace the world.’

“Although the 2,300 hours of performances we have experienced together sounds like an impressive statistic – in terms of human history, it is a drop in the ocean, a blink of an eye, or a flicker of light, from an undoubtedly bright candle – no more than an inch of time.

“So, before I go home to bed, I offer my gratitude for sharing this intense ‘inch of time’, my heartfelt admiration and thanks to my many wonderful colleagues, and my sincere good wishes to Fergus Linehan for the future of our festival.”

Sir Jonathan, who was knighted last year, was a surprise choice when he was appointed in February 2006, taking the helm when Sir Brian McMaster stood down after 15 years as festival director.

Initially appointed for five years, he was offered extended contracts to first oversee a key element of Scotland’s contribution to the London 2012 cultural olympiad and later the 2014 festival.

This year’s Edinburgh International Festival will draw to a close with the traditional fireworks spectacular from the castle on Sunday evening.

More than 250,000 are expected to throng the streets of Edinburgh for the Virgin Money Fireworks Concert, which will see the Scottish Chamber Orchestra perform a programme including Wagner’s Ride of the Valkyries and Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture. Tickets for the event are still on sale at the box office at The Hub on the Royal Mile.