Off Topic: Douglas Gautier

Adelaide Festival Centre CEO and Artistic Director Douglas Gautier lived in Hong Kong for 25 years and became immersed in Asia’s art scene before returning to Adelaide in 2006.

Adelaide Festival Centre CEO and Artistic Director Douglas Gautier lived in Hong Kong for 25 years and became immersed in Asia’s art scene before returning to Adelaide in 2006. Gautier’s interest in the art from Asia was piqued while studying drama at Flinders University. “At one stage there was a Japanese guy who was teaching direction up there [Flinders] whose name was Yutaka Wada, who was an interesting guy. He ultimately became Peter Brook’s assistant in Paris and he’d been at the Moscow State Arts Theatre as a Training Director for six years. He was very interested in Japanese work, obviously because he was Japanese, and he was here chasing a girlfriend but ended up at Flinders University as a drama teacher, essentially teaching a Stanislavski Method. But what was much more interesting to me, I think, was the kind of Japanese sensibility and aesthetic especially when it came to literature and performing arts. I was very interested in that and I think it was one of the big legacies, other than Australian History, that I took away from university. “I ended up at BBC in London and when somebody was there recruiting for a music and arts producer to go to Hong Kong for a six-month attachment, I was very keen to do that. I didn’t know where it would lead and I ended up staying 25 years. During my time in London with the BBC, I had met a number of other enthusiasts who were very interested in Asian music and so I started to see things in London that I’d never seen before in terms of Chinese opera, Gamelan bands and other things that I hadn’t seen here so much, but my interest had been piqued. “Hong Kong was just extraordinary because I was sent out to look after this music and arts channel, which was radio initially and it was all in English. They were primarily broadcasting western classical music of which there is a great interest in China. But on the request program, people who couldn’t speak English would call up and hum the first few bars of Beethoven’s 5th or something similar.” Gautier suggested to make the channel bilingual and print the program in English and Cantonese. “Suddenly there was a huge interest from across the border in Guangdong Province and within a short period I was invited to meet colleagues who were running the arts radio station in Guangzhou. We’re talking about a time with blue tunics and bicycles and it was just an extraordinary time for me in terms of realising the depth of cultural interest in China. If you think right back to the 19th century there was an interest in western classical music in China. There were lots of Russian teachers, so the conservatories were full of Russian teachers who taught the Chinese how to play piano, how to sing opera, how to play in orchestras, all of that. Those people were still there and some of them had been purged during the cultural revolution but they were beginning to come back. “I became fascinated by this and alongside that appetite for western music was, of course, these extraordinary traditions in Beijing opera, Cantonese opera and a literary opera called Kunju opera and, of course, the delicate and wonderful qualities of Chinese Chamber Music. After six months out there I just knew I couldn’t leave because it was just so fascinating to me. About two years in a fellow producer and I made this series on Asian contemporary music – not pop music but music that kind of blended western classical music, fine music and traditional Asian music. We looked in places like the Philippines, Korea, Japan, China and it was just fascinating to see what was going on and how people in Asia had said, ‘Okay, here’s the western technique and here’s the wonderful things that they’ve done with orchestras and compositions and so forth, that’s good to know and we’ll master that but let’s use our traditions’. I think a very good example of somebody like that is Tan Dun, the Oscar winner, who we work with quite regularly through OzAsia, but there are many other composers as well. So we did this series and we won the first prize for cultural programs across Asia that year and it’s something that really stuck with me.” Gautier couldn’t leave Hong Kong after six months. “I felt that not only was western classical music fully embraced by young people in Hong Kong obviously, and in China, Korea, Japan, but that there was so much to learn in terms of the home cultures of Asia because they were going through an extraordinary period.”  

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