Q and A with Luminato Festival CEO Anthony Sargent

Luminato Festival CEO Anthony Sargent took time out of his busy schedule to do a Q and A by email with Tafelmusik Managing Director William Norris.

Anthony Sargent credit Mark Savage Image
Luminato Festival CEO Anthony Sargent, CBE (Photo credit: Mark Savage)

William Norris: What are three things about Toronto that make you want to live here?

Anthony Sargent: Though in some ways it’s a quintessentially modern urban environment, I love the endless green of Toronto – with over 1,500 parks in all conceivable shapes and sizes. I also love living in a city boasting such a teemingly plural cultural mix – a happily shared, friendly home to so many different people from so many different backgrounds. I’m also dazzled by Toronto’s range of arts and cultural activities and organizations – I could very easily be out 3 times every night of the year!

WN: Name one thing Toronto can learn from Britain.

AS: You can’t be a born Brit and not value British pragmatism just a little bit! I’ve been intrigued how much some things agitate my new friends and neighbours – things which don’t get as far as raising my blood pressure even by 1%!

WN: Name one thing Britain can learn from Toronto.

AS: Everything in life, everything, becomes easier and more pleasant, even the most irritating and frustrating things, if handled with patience and courtesy, kindness and charm!

WN: Luminato is a world-renowned event. How do you intend to take it to the next level?

AS: The core will remain (as at our birth in 2007) bringing the world’s most exciting artists to Toronto, commissioning and presenting new work (the essential lifeblood of the arts), offering a platform to the most exciting Canadian artists, and as far as possible seeking to do the things other people are not doing, so coming to Luminato is always an adventure. I think our Hearn residency alone ticks that last box! Beyond that I want Luminato and the work it does to win more international recognition for Toronto and Canada; I want Luminato to contribute in the most active city-building ways to our home city, and I want June to be a month in the calendars of everyone curious about where the arts are going next when they focus on what we are doing in and for the city of Toronto.

WN: What concepts are you bringing to Luminato from Sage Gateshead?

AS: As a leader I’m obsessed with the importance of reacting to all the inevitable things in life that don’t go as planned as precious learning opportunities, not as a hook to which to attach blame or reproach. Every day of my 15 years in Gateshead I lived by that creed, and I am determined to develop that culture wherever I work, here and in the future.

WN: Sage Gateshead is a music venue and education centre. What challenges have you faced now working with an unfinished/abandoned venue space that will stage a variety of art practices?

AS: Artistic Director Jörn Weisbrodt has defined his artistic credo as ‘adventurous arts and ideas in adventurous places,’ remembering that where people have a creative or cultural experience can be as important as the experience itself. I’m enormously excited (as the festival is just opening) to see how it feels to experience Bach, Beethoven and 15thC Scottish history in the funky majesty of a colossal, ruined and abandoned 1950s industrial cathedral, expecting it to feel fresh in a very special way. Some things are harder in the Hearn, a few are impossible, but much is incredibly exciting – even if not without risk!

WN: We’re excited to return to Luminato this year. How do you see groups like Tafelmusik in your plans for Luminato in the upcoming years?

AS: Our new Artistic Director has only been here for 3 days so a detailed answer is a bit premature, but I am very keen that we combine two things in Luminato – being a showcase and a platform for the most exciting creative talents in Toronto and throughout Canada (in proportions appropriate to a global arts festival), while always encouraging those creative talents to see Luminato as a unique partner and an opportunity to do something new, different, startling. Simply recycling their normal programming within Luminato would make no sense for any of us.

WN: The festival starts with Unsound Toronto. Its mix of dance, trance, electronic, metal, and ambient music could be seen as far removed from the music of Tafelmusik. What would you say to an Unsound attender to persuade them to try the Tafelmusik concert (and indeed, vice versa)?  

AS: Meals that begin with highly spiced starters and sturdy main courses are often most perfectly complemented by a glacially pure, seraphically simple sorbet. We’re living in an exciting age now when many people are much more catholic and inclusive in their interests, in all the arts, and in previous jobs some of the biggest programming mistakes I have made have been to underestimate people’s curiosity and to assume they only like one thing. However much you enjoy sea trout, imagine eating nothing else for the rest of your days! Every now and then you’ll be dying for a Boeuf en Croûte or a Scotch Egg!

WN: People are more used to seeing Tafelmusik in more conventional venues like Koerner Hall and Trinity St Paul’s. What can they expect from the surroundings of the Hearn, and what else will there be for them to do and see on the day?

AS: Of course the wonderful Tafelmusik programme on Sunday 19th sits between #2 and #3 of the 3 magnificent James Plays (9 hours of a searingly dramatic 21stC view of 15th Scottish History from the National Theatre of Scotland), so people could enjoy those as a contrasting frame for Bach! Also there is the Trove exhibition (a portrait of Toronto in 50 objects), the AGO’s amazing concrete + living bees sculpture by Pierre Huyghe outside in the adjacent wilderness, a range of installations by other Toronto artists and arts groups – and a German Biergarten with wonderful view of downtown Toronto.

WN: Where do you see Luminato in the next 10 years?

AS: The completion of our first decade has seen Luminato come of age, and our 10th birthday Hearn residency affirms our intention each year to do things, or inhabit spaces, that are as startling as they are exciting. After our next ten teenage years I want Luminato to have become a more essential and unmissable calendar highlight for everyone living in our city, while arts lovers around the world connect Toronto immediately and instinctively with a teemingly exciting arts festival, as they already do our longer established cousins in Edinburgh, Sydney and Hong Kong, and the international film world does of the wonderful 40-year-old TIFF.

Tickets are only $25 for our relaxed and laid-back performance at the Hearn Generating Station June 19th at 7:20pm – click here for tickets.

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