JOYCE MCMILLAN on FERGUS LINEHAN APPOINTED NEW DIRECTOR OF EDINBURGH INTERNATIONAL FESTIVAL for The Scotsman, 23.4.13.
THERE WAS delight in Dublin, celebration mixed with sadness in Sydney, and a plenty of quiet satisfaction in Edinburgh, as the announcement of the appointment of the new director of Edinburgh International Festival flashed around the planet, yesterday morning. For Fergus Linehan – who will take over the top job in October 2014, after Jonathan Mills’s final festival – is that rarest of things in the world of top-level arts programming, a man with few enemies, and almost no serious critics. Born in Dublin in 1969 into an Irish family studded with creative talent – his father arts editor of the Irish Times, his brother Conor a respected composer and pianist, and his mother, Rosaleen Linehan, one of Ireland’s leading actresses – Fergus Linehan comes from a culture in which theatre famously plays a leading role. He was appointed director of the great Dublin International Theatre Festival at only 29, back in 1999; and his Edinburgh appointment is certainly good news for theatre fans, given his intense network of connection and knowledge in that art -form.
What’s striking, though, is the extent to which Linehan has emerged as an outstanding programmer across all arts forms, since he left Dublin in 2004 to become director of the Sydney Festival – presiding over a huge expansion in its programme and budget – and then became Head of Music at Sydney Opera House, where he masterminded a hugely successful and wide-ranging programme.
In Edinburgh, we can expect Linehan to strike a careful balance between art-forms, to innovate at a pace that is steady rather than disruptive, and to aim for a substantial increase in the size and range of audiences; he is also likely to pursue closer relationships between the EIF and Edinburgh’s other August festivals, including the Fringe which he knows so well – in recent years, he has chaired the judging panel for the Edinburgh Festival’s Fringe Award. We can also expect a sharp-eyed reassessment of the EIF team, and how it can best be reshaped for the coming decade; Linehan is famous for his good taste not only in programming, but in the people he works with. And the consensus of those who know him seems to be that while he can be charm itself, those who are negotiating with him should never underestimate his strategic sense, or his skill. It seems the new EIF director is a poker-player who always keeps a card in reserve; and up to now, in his remarkable career, he has rarely if ever played a losing hand.