Mr Jonathan Mills AO (BMus ’84)

Jonathan Mills

Jonathan Mills learnt one of his most important life lessons in the unlikely setting of a class for first-year students on how to use Fisher Library.

“The class was taken by this rather wonderful middle-aged lady who told us she had seen thousands of students, studying everything from engineering to eschatology,” he recalls. “She said her responsibility was to teach us to regard the library as a companion on our journey through life, so no piece of knowledge would be strange or unusual to us.”

The librarian’s encouragement not to fear new ideas – but also to be appropriately critical of them – continues to guide Mills (BMus ’84) today. Indeed, it is part of his job description as director of the Edinburgh International Festival, for which he curates some of the world’s most exuberant forms of artistic expression.

His appointment in 2006 to one of Europe’s top arts posts surprised many onlookers. Up to that point, Mills had held two major appointments in Australia, as artistic adviser to the Brisbane Biennial International Music Festival and as director of the Melbourne International Arts Festival.

Yet despite his high-profile achievements, Mills still regards festival directing as a “fascinating adjunct” to his true vocation. “I see myself as a composer who has, from time to time, run festivals,” he says.

His passion for composing was kindled during his Bachelor of Music studies at the University by memorable faculty staff such as composer Peter Sculthorpe and Associate Professor Winsome Evans, whose lessons wove together traditional Japanese music with The Eagles.

He collaborated with poet Dorothy Porter on his chamber opera The Eternity Man, and also has other operas to his credit, including Sandakan Threnody, about the World War Two death march of Australian and British POWs. He continues to compose today and intends to return to the art form in earnest once his term at Edinburgh ends in 2014.