Andrew Comben - my cultural life

PUBLISHED: 00:00 22 July 2020

Andrew Comben (c) Carlotta Luke

Andrew Comben (c) Carlotta Luke

© 2019 Carlotta Luke

Andrew Comben is chief executive of Brighton Dome and Brighton Festival, which he joined in 2008 from the Wigmore Hall

What I’m watching

The Netflix series Unorthodox [about a young woman who leaves the Hasidic community in Williamsburg, Brooklyn]. I love its internationalism, the play between Yiddish, English and German, and the fact it feels like a real love song to Berlin, a city I love.

The music that’s got me through hard times

Mahler’s Rückert-Lieder. There is a song called Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen – I am lost to the world, alone in my own heaven, in my life and in my song – which was the first song I thought about when we went into lockdown.

The last film I watched

The Beginning of the And, a completely beautiful short film by Ali Smith and Sarah Wood which was part of Hay Festival Online. The film is 20-odd minutes long and it’s a meditation on our way of life in lockdown.

My favourite film of all time

It is impossible to choose, but the one that came first to mind was Lion. That’s a really personal one – we are adoptive parents and it is the first film I have seen that deals with adoption in a really truthful and complex way, and is prepared to, on the one hand, hold birth families and someone’s roots as incredibly important and central to identity, and, on the other hand, respect the adoptive parents’ ability to supply love. I do come back to that film in my head quite a lot. But I suppose for pure escapism, Singin’ in the Rain is one I hold a candle for.

My favourite radio station/podcast

Radio 3 – and more so now than ever. That’s a real joy, having a chance to listen more. My guilty pleasure is Fortunately, Fi Glover and Jane Garvey’s podcast, which is just hysterical.

My favourite experience in a theatre

I suppose the thing that really started it all off for me was when I was singing as part of Australian Opera as a kid in the children’s chorus and then later as a soloist. Standing in the wings of some great opera performances and listening to the likes of Yvonne Kenny, Margaret Haggart and Donald Shanks, great Australian singers of that generation, I knew then this was what I wanted to do.

The book I’m most likely to lend to a friend

Maaza Mengiste’s The Shadow King is an amazing book about Ethiopia in 1935 that Lemn [Sissay, 2020/2021 guest director] recommended. I would also recommend Samantha Power’s book, The Education of an Idealist. Both books are about brilliant female leaders and that’s interesting at the moment, as we all look around the world at which countries are doing well in managing the crisis. It seems the likes of Jacinda Ardern or Angela Merkel are some way ahead of some of our leaders. Maybe there’s a lesson there for us.

My favourite local arts organisation/venue

Of course I have to say Brighton Dome and Brighton Festival. What I love about both is the way they point to an incredibly rich arts and cultural scene in this place. It’s a network of partnerships that make both of those things possible, whether that’s between Charleston and Brighton Festival or The Old Market’s work with Brighton Dome, there’s an intricately woven network of organisations and independent artists. I’m more aware than ever at this moment how incredibly vulnerable that is, but also how supported it is by our local community.

Help for local arts

Brighton Dome and Brighton Festival’s income has decreased by around 70 per cent due to the cancellation of many events, particularly during the festival month of May. If you wish to make a donation to support the charity’s work, visit:

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