Australian conductor and author Paul Kildea has been announced as the new Artistic Director of Musica Viva Australia. He succeeds Carl Vine, whose 20-year tenure with the organisation comes to an end this year. Kildea’s appointment is the latest step in a succession strategy that began with CEO Mary Jo Capps’ departure at the end of 2018. He takes up a newly expanded role, which sees him responsible for establishing an artistic vision that encompasses all of the organisation’s activities, including programming, artist development and music education. Kildea assumes the role in mid-2019, with his first program for Musica Viva set for its 2021 season.

Paul Kildea. Photo © Penny Bradfield

“With Paul’s appointment, we complete the carefully planned leadership transition that began with the recruitment of Hywel Sims as CEO and Anne Frankenberg in the new position of Deputy CEO,” said Musica Viva Chairman Charles Graham. “In our complex world, the role of Artistic Director is pivotal, requiring a deep understanding of our musical heritage and a compelling vision for a diverse and vibrant future. Paul embodies this vision perfectly and we couldn’t be happier to welcome him to Musica Viva.”

“After a nationwide search involving conversations with many outstanding Australian artists, we’re delighted to welcome Paul to the Musica Viva community,” said Chief Executive Officer Hywel Sims. “An internationally renowned Canberran, Paul will oversee all artistic aspects of our work and we look forward to an exciting future in which we continue our long tradition of innovation. Paul – with his unique sensibilities and experience – will be the perfect steward of the wonderful, vibrant and flourishing organisation which Carl has helped to create.”

Kildea has held a number of artistic leadership positions over his varied musical career, among them Head of Music at the Aldeburgh Festival in Suffolk from 1999 to 2002 and director of the Chamber Music Series at Perth International Arts Festival from 2004 to 2007. He was the Artistic Director of London’s Wigmore Hall from 2003 to 2005, widely credited for enriching its musical offering by introducing contemporary music. Closer to home, Kildea was Artistic Director of the Four Winds Festival in Bermagui, New South Wales from 2012 to 2016.

Speaking to Limelight, Kildea described his appointment as “really amazing”. “This is the organisation [through which] I had great access to classical music as a boy in Canberra,” he said. “I’ve lived away from Australia for a very long time and came home only at the end of 2017 and thought ‘wouldn’t it be great to be involved in the industry and bring back some of the things I’ve done over there?’ Lo and behold this position comes up so I’m thrilled. It’s really, really exciting.”

Speaking about the impact of his predecessor’s tenure, Kildea says, “along with Mary Jo Capps, Carl Vine has really grown the organisation in such an amazing way and what I want to do is consolidate it [as] it has so many tentacles. I want all the different parts of the organisation to be speaking to each other and that affects programming. Carl has just done this astonishing job of building up an audience and delivering an incredible, if I’m speaking about commerce, I’d say a top end product so I obviously want to continue that. He and I have very different approaches to artistic direction in the way that any other two artistic directors do, but I love the fact that there is a voracious audience that just love the fact that this high end music and often quite difficult music and complex music is performed, so obviously there will be different artists and there will be different audiences that grow as a result of that. My aim is to keep our current audience and grow it through different types of music and different types of artists.”

Regarding his vision for Musica Viva, Kildea says that his past experience working with Wigmore and the Perth International Arts Festival has significantly informed his approach to artistic direction.

“It was really about getting an audience to trust entirely the taste and judgement of the organisation and in particular the artistic director so that you can say to them, ‘this is someone you’ve never heard of but I can promise you that this will give you an experience that is unrepeatable.’ That’s how I always approach artistic direction. How do you get audiences to trust what you’re programming to the extent that they’ll say ‘great, I want to be part of that, I want to experience it.’ And if you can give them an experience that is unrepeatable, so much the better.”

“I want the program and project and collaborations that we originate here to travel internationally,” he added. “I want them to be part of international collaborations which means we can rely on cross subsidy to develop really special projects that would be too expensive for us to develop on our own, but that we get to experience in Australia and watch our programming and ideas go throughout the world. So that’s how I view it, that it’s just this amazing laboratory of talented people and good ideas and that we actually change the way people actually think about the music that Musica Viva’s been doing for 70 years.”

Now based in Melbourne, Kildea received training as a conductor as part of Opera Australia’s Young Artist Program, subsequently assisting Simone Young. He has conducted throughout Australia and Europe, appearing with the Slovak Philharmonic Orchestra, Ensemble 2e2m (Paris), Nash Ensemble (London), West Australian Symphony Orchestra, Sydney Symphony Orchestra, Hamburg Philharmonic Orchestra, Opera Australia, Victorian Opera, Australian Youth Orchestra, BBC Symphony Orchestra and the Britten–Pears Orchestra.

An internationally recognised authority on Benjamin Britten, his biography of the composer Benjamin Britten: A Life in the Twentieth Century was published in 2013 to critical acclaim. His other publications include Selling Britten, Britten on Music and Chopin’s Piano: A Journey Through Romanticism. Kildea holds a doctorate from Oxford University as well as an Honours degree in piano performance and a Masters degree in musicology from The University of Melbourne, where he is now an Honorary Principal Fellow.

As well as announcing its new Artistic Director, Musica Viva has released its annual report for 2018, demonstrating an operating surplus of $362,754. Forty-eight percent of the surplus was generated through box office, with 25 percent coming from government support, and 27 percent through donors, foundations and corporations. In 2018, the organisation presented 2,798 events featuring 308 musicians to more than 388,000 people. This included over 290,000 students through Musica Viva In Schools, half of them in regional areas. Encouragingly, Musica Viva In Schools reached 291,063 students last year, representing a six percent increase on 2017.