Iain Grandage has been named as the new Artistic Director of Perth Festival. The acclaimed composer, musician, collaborative artist and programmer will succeed Wendy Martin, taking up the position for festivals between 2020 and 2023.

Iain Grandage. Photograph © Pia Johnson

Born in Western Australia, Grandage recently returned to live there after a decade in Melbourne and said it was a thrill to be chosen to lead the Festival in the State where he grew up. “It has been a long-held dream of mine to run this particular Festival. I have no urge to run any other large Festival either here or overseas, but to be able be deeply involved in the evolution of my home town’s cultural landscape is a great privilege, and one I can’t wait to get started on,” he told Limelight.

“Perth Festival inspired my journey into the performing arts when I first experienced it in the early 1990s. I hope to similarly energise local artists and audiences by extending the Festival’s foundation mission as a Festival for all people,” he said in a press statement. “It’s a privilege to lead a Festival that has such a rich history, and to play a part in shaping its future on Noongar Boodja by presenting wondrous art made with intelligence and heart that places international artists cheek-by-jowl with locals.”

Grandage has some festival experience, having been Artistic Director of the Port Fairy Spring Festival in Victoria since 2016. He has also curated the chamber music program for the Adelaide Festival.

He has worked across performance genres as his seven Helpmann Awards attest, winning for his compositions for theatre (Cloudstreet and The Secret River), for dance (When Time Stops), for opera (The Rabbits, with Kate Miller-Heidke), for silent film (Satan Jawa, with Rahayu Suppangah) and as a Music Director for The Secret River and Meow Meow’s Little Match Girl. He received the prestigious Sidney Myer Performing Arts Award for an Individual, and the APRA/AMC award for Vocal Work of the Year for his 2014 opera, written with librettist Alison Croggon, based on Tim Winton’s novel The Riders.

A graduate from the University of Western Australia, Grandage has also been Composer-in-Residence with the West Australian Symphony Orchestra and has an extensive track record of collaboration with Indigenous artists across the country.

Asked how much his work at Port Fairy and the Adelaide Festival has helped lay the groundwork for what he would like to achieve in Perth, he says: “Whilst Perth Festival is obviously a scale of magnitude larger, there are principles which are very similar when programming festivals – synthesising different elements into a coherent and satisfying whole, programming offerings which will appeal to different tastes, delivering presentations within budget restrictions. I feel that both Port Fairy and Adelaide have given me great preparation for this larger task, and there’s also a strong and experienced team here in Perth to help me through any growing pains.”

Asked about experiences he remembers from the Perth Festival that had a particular impact, he nominates: “Dancing until 3am to Salif Keita in the Undercroft of UWA’s Winthrop Hall, the then Festival Club; meeting Arvo Pärt, who was composer-in-residence one year in 1993 – he even went wave-skiing at the beach; seeing Seven Streams of the River Ota by Robert Lepage – a truly transformative marathon theatre work; and playing music for another work of epic theatre, Belvoir/BlackSwan’s Cloudstreet – a show that captured the essence of this town and this country.”

Over the years, he has made a point of travelling back to Perth in the summertime and catching the Festival, often as a performer himself in productions such as The Secret River in 2013, The Rabbits in 2015, and Home in 2016. “Once there with those events, I have tried to see as much as possible of the rest of the Festival,” he says.

As for ideas that he’d like to bring to the Festival, he is “brimming with them”, he tells Limelight. “Now is, of course, the most free and blue-sky dreaming time of my entire tenure – budgets and availabilities of performers are but distant issues – but I have many avenues I’d like to pursue, including having a strong indigenous presence in the Festival, and a very strong music program,” he says.

Grandage will start work with Perth Festival later this year and will watch how Martin handles her final Festival in February 2019. “It’ll be a joy to watch her weave her magic in her final Festival, to learn from her as she prepares for it and sews the various strands together, and then to experience it as a highly-invested punter,” he says. “I’ll be there throughout.”