Perth Festival of the Arts 2019

May 10, 2019 by Perthshire Creates

ALL the Arts. TEN Days. ONE Amazing Festival.

The city of Perth is ready to welcome both big international names and the hottest emerging Scottish talent from the world of music, arts and culture this May for the 48th Perth Festival of the Arts.

As one of Scotland’s leading independent arts festivals, Perth Festival of the Arts continues to diversify around its long-standing classical core.  From international orchestras, opera and pop artists, to contemporary art, comedy and stage shows, the Festival is working creatively to appeal to different tastes and to encourage as many people as possible to enjoy new arts experiences.

The 2019 programme has been shaped and developed by the Festival’s new administrator Helen MacKinnon, who took over the reins from Sandra Ralston in the autumn of last year.  As an established composer and musician herself, we were interested to chat with Helen and find out more about how her creative career influences and supports her new role.

Helen MacKinnon, Perth Festival of Arts Administrator. Picture by Fraser Band

Prior to taking on this role what has your involvement been with Perth Festival of the Arts?

Being local, my first involvement with the Festival was as a young person while learning music. I attended Festival of the Arts children’s concerts back in the 80s in the City Hall and played in the youth orchestra in St John’s Kirk during events. As an adult, I would go to the Festival most years – particularly for the orchestral concerts. Seeing the John Wilson Orchestra was a brilliant highlight. Then in 2016, the Festival commissioned me as a composer to write a new choral work for the Festival’s annual Service, which was a wonderful opportunity and the catalyst for my involvement in recent years.

What attracted you to this post?

I once said to Sandra Ralston, the previous Festival Administrator, that she was a ‘walking advert’ for the post. Sandra lived and breathed the Festival with so much knowledge and enthusiasm, for over twenty years. Her love of the role was infectious and the more I learned about the post, the more I could see a natural fit with my skills, interests and background.

As a well-established event what have been your main and new priorities for the 2019 programme?

The Festival has a 5-year plan which takes us through to our 50th anniversary in 2021. In recent years, the Festival has been further diversifying its arts offering so we were already moving through a new phase when I became involved. Our key priorities for this year were diversifying our offering around our strong classical core, ensuring high quality acts, developing a programme that would offer something for all ages and different tastes, and attracting greater numbers of younger people to the Festival.

How do you juggle your work as a composer with your role as Festival Administrator?

Although there’s work to be done all year round on the Festival, the peaks are seasonal, with much of the full-time work between January and May. I’ve been in post for 8 months and there’s been space to keep working on new music in between the busy moments. I think that most people who are self-employed are very used to balancing and managing different work commitments. I’ve completed some new choral compositions this year and have just released a recording this month so it’s been a busy time! I’m enjoying the variety and being a bit more fully immersed in the arts again.

How far in advance are you working on future programmes?

We start intensively programming for each Festival from the summer of the previous year, but we always have an eye at least two years ahead of this. Different types of artists work to different schedules. Our orchestral, choral and opera events tend to be programmed much earlier, whereas our rock and pop concerts can come into place in the final few months or weeks before the programme closes. There are lots of logistics and both creative and financial aspects that need to align before we can programme something.

What other/new elements would you like to see included in future Perth Festival of the Arts?

I think the Festival is on an exciting journey. It has such wonderful and important local support from audiences, partners and funders, and an incredibly dedicated Committee who have a strong vision for where they want to take the Festival. We are testing the water this year with an increasing number of events for a younger audience and we hope to grow on this. We introduced literature into the programme in recent years, and are delighted to be presenting journalist and author John Simpson this year – he’s one of our fastest selling events this year. And of course, with Perth Theatre being open again, it’s given us lots of scope to use its different performance spaces for smaller plays or recitals, as well as larger theatre productions.

What is your favourite cultural festival you’ve ever been to and what made it special/different?

Like most Scots, I always love the Edinburgh International Festival and Fringe. I look forward to the EIF programme being announced and already have some tickets sorted for this year. The Fringe is great fun as well, you never quite know what you’re going to end up seeing, and take some chances. I think that’s the joy of a ‘festival’ – to push your own boundaries in terms of new arts experiences and take a chance on something new that you wouldn’t otherwise have access to. It’s been a slightly different experience going to Festivals and concerts since I’ve started this role. I now always have an eye on reviewing artists or ideas that could work for us – never quite switching off!

Which cultural festival would you most like to visit? (if not already done so)

I would love to visit Perth International Arts Festival in Australia. It’s not a festival that’s been on my radar, being so far away, but we receive daily ‘google alerts’ on any digital content that includes ‘Perth Festival’ so for the month of February, I was receiving some interesting daily updates on the work and programming of our namesake’s festival! I admire its vision that fuses local and global and its roots with contemporary Australia to present art that ‘speaks to everyone’.

If you could programme any ‘wild card’ event for the Perth Festival of the Arts, what would it be?

I have a few of these in mind, but couldn’t give away any artists or ideas at this stage, just in case the wild card idea comes to fruition! Watch this space…

In addition to the Festival what is your favourite cultural/creative event or venue in Perth & Kinross to attend/visit?

I don’t think I could name just one! We’re really fortunate in Perth & Kinross to have a vibrant creative scene, particularly around live music. Between Horsecross’ Perth Concert Series and their ‘Monday Night Thing’ to the incredible range of gigs up in Comrie presented by Chris’s Gigs and not to mention the high quality amateur productions in Perth, there is so much on offer. For a small city and diverse region, I think we do well in attracting big names in music to our area, as well as nurturing home-grown talent.

The 2019 Perth Festival of the Arts promises to be one of the Festival’s largest arts-packed programmes, featuring no less than 35 concerts and events in six venues around the city. With Perth Concert Hall hosting larger events, the Festival is also making the most of having the newly-restored Perth Theatre back in play for more intimate performances.  St John’s Kirk of Perth will host renowned choral ensemble The Sixteen, as well as the Festival’s popular Schools Lunchtime Concert Series, while Perth Cathedral St Ninian’s will showcase its newly restored organ.  Events will also take place in St Matthew’s Church, Loft Nightclub and the Festival’s ever-popular contemporary Scottish art exhibition arTay, in a large tented gallery.

Full details of the 2019 Festival can be found on the Perth Festival of the Arts website, and followed on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram for regular daily updates.