Home' Scoop : Scoop 53 Spring 2010 Contents “Another thing I feel that’s never been mentioned,
is that we lifted that festival, through a proactive
programme of private sponsorship, from a budget
of $6.8 million in 2000 to $10.8 million in 2003,
my last festival. That’s a 60 per cent increase in four
years. It was 11 per cent in the immediate four-year
tenure of my successor.
“So I don’t just see my tenure as an artistic
success, but I would argue, as a financial one, because
thanks to some of those initiatives we put into place,
like the Watershed music venue – forer unner of
Beck’s Music Box – and the Joondalup Cinema, the
festival is now reaping much more money.
“If we had got it wrong in ter ms of the financial
and staffing infrastructure, the festival would have
changed its course. It’s actually reaping from what
those four years were about.”
Helen Matthews, local jazz diva and Artistic
Director of the Perth Jazz Society, says Sean
“completely revolutionised what it is to be an
artistic director in this country”.
“His ideas and his symbolisms were incredible,
really resonating with our history and our
environment. The Gormley sculptures was just one
of the ways he did that... He was so far ahead of
his time that we never really saw the value of his
achievements at that time.”
Professor Ted Snell – artist, arts academic,
curator and Director of UWA’s Cultural Precinct
– says, “Some of the most exciting festivals I ever
saw were the ones that Sean directed. They gave us
an insight into what was happening internationally
at the very cutting edge, and they embraced the
entire state. But we also had it going into the
regions. You just can’t get better than that.”
But even Sean didn’t fully realise the extent of
his own commitment to regional WA until he was
headhunted back to London in 2003 to become
artistic director of the English National Opera, an
organisation financially in the red when he took
the reins, and well into the black when he left.
Born in Derry, Northern Ireland, Sean trained
in classical music at London’s Guildhall School
of Music. He began his career as a clarinettist
and conductor of a music theatre in London,
before becoming an artistic director “by accident”.
When he went to ENO, he says, “all my friends
were saying I’d come full circle, because of my
background in music, but all the while I was buying
books on the g eology of WA and reading anything
I could about it. It was quite simply that that was
where my new passion was.”
Five months before his stint at the ENO ended,
he met his second wife, Ruby Philogene, who was
then already renowned internationally as a mezzo-
soprano, singing with some of the world’s greatest
conductors in opera, oratorio and recital across
Britain, Europe and the US.
The pair wed in 2006 and were honeymooning
in WA when Ruby nearly died from a burst
appendix. In 2008, she was ag ain rushed to a
WA hospital for surgery on what turned out
to be a benign growth. “That made both of us
immediately think we needed to change our lives.
Like typical artists, we were g oing where the work
was, living in Brussels, Provence, London and so
on. This was the first time in my life to do it the
other way around, and Ruby had fallen in love
with WA and saw it as a sign. So we committed
ourselves to living in Mandurah in 2008.”
The couple now divide their time between Perth
and Margaret River, Sean manages Ruby’s WA singing
events, which occur intermittently throughout the year
in between the classes she conducts for local singers.
It was in Mandurah that he first conceived
an international opera event in the style of the
Glyndebourne Festival and other international
regional summer opera festivals.
“I took opera to the Mandurah Performing Arts
Centre during the Perth Festival. Here’s a beautiful
800-seat theatre sitting only 200 yards from the
Indian Ocean within an hour from Perth. You
even have a train line from the CBD.
“But there’s nothing that draws people to
Mandurah. People might think of it as just opera
or whatever, but we’re actually using opera to
re-imag e Mandurah, and place it on the global
map, which in turn will flow into investment.”
That idea soon spawned his groundbreaking
“Seven Sister Festivals Project”, a massive regional
suite of international-destination arts festivals
unique and specific to WA’s key regional areas.
The projects will utilise and resonate with local
lore, history and geography. Each of these festivals
focus on different aspects of the arts and each is in
a different stage of development.
The Abrolhos-Geraldton Song and Chamber
Music Festival is set to take place in September
next year in the glorious churches designed by the
architect priest Monsignor Hawes in Geraldton
and surrounding towns.
“Seeing those beautiful stone churches, those
beautiful human-sized spaces with a 19th century
feel, I saw immediately that these would be the
perfect, concentrated space to listen to classical
chamber music of the 18th and 19th century.
This will take place in the wildflower season with
musical direction by (acclaimed English pianist)
Julius Drake, and will really build for the long
term, east coast and Asian audiences who will start
coming to this within five years,” says Sean.
“I know that, just as I knew how the Gormley
statues would attract visitors.”
In Margaret River, Sean created the Music of
the Americas Festival, scheduled for June next year,
to meet the local desire to have a drawcard for
tourists in the winter season. It plays on the
“Commissioning the Gormley statues
was a way of breaking the taboo of where
world-class art can happen”
Antony Gormley’s Inside Australia
sculptures have become Sean’s
most famous commission.
48 scoop SPRING 2010
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