Opera + Classical Music Features

Preview: Edinburgh International Festival 2014

Edinburgh Castle

Edinburgh Castle (Photo: Marc Eskenazi)

“Can there anywhere be a more beautiful and beguiling city…?” asked Bill Bryson – and if you have yet to sample it, then this could be the ideal year to experience Edinburgh’s unique character and atmosphere. Jonathan Mills, the outgoing Director, has just revealed the full programme for his final Edinburgh Festival after eight years at the helm. Inspired by Albert Camus’ view that “It is the destiny of the artist not to serve those who make history, but to serve those who are its victims” the 2014 Festival emphasizes the transformational power of culture. The very first Edinburgh Festival in 1947 was created to foster the flowering of the human spirit through the beauty of art as an alternative to the forces of destruction, and Festival 2014 continues this in the centenary year of the outbreak of the First World War.

Over 2,400 artists from 43 nations will be coming to Edinburgh from August 8th-31st, presenting theatre, dance and music reflecting the work of artists who have created works of beauty and optimism in uncertain circumstances. There is something for everyone, but classical music lovers in particular will find riches in every day’s scheduling; it’s a bit like having the Royal Opera, the Barbican, the SBC and the Wigmore Hall all presenting their best programmes over a three-week period, in a city as spectacularly beautiful as London, yet one that is captivating in a totally different way.

Highlights of the Usher Hall concerts include Donald Runnicles conducting The Planets with the BBC SSO, Paul Lewis in an all-Beethoven recital, a performance of Britten’s War Requiem conducted by Andrew Davis, with Toby Spence and Matthias Goerne as the tenor and baritone soloists; the LPO under Jurowski in Beethoven’s 3rd Symphony, and two concerts each by the Royal Concertgebouw under Maris Jansons, and the Czech Philharmonic under Jiří Bělohlávek.

Recitals at the Queen’s Hall include Ian Bostridge and Julius Drake with a programme of Mahler, Weill and Britten, Simon Keenlyside and Malcolm Martineau with English song, and Anna Prohaska and Eric Schneider with soldiers’ songs from across the repertoire. The wonderful Greyfriars Kirk is the setting for concerts by, amongst others, Philippe Herreweghe and the Collegium Vocale Gent, the Hilliard Ensemble, the Tallis Scholars the Arditti Quartet.

Opera performances this year are strikingly un-traditional: Les Troyens will be presented by the Mariinsky Opera, conducted by Valery Gergiev, the Teatro Regio Torino brings a concert performance of William Tell to the Usher Hall, and Britten’s rarely performed Owen Wingrave comes to Edinburgh in a new co- production between the Aldeburgh Festival and Edinburgh, directed by Neil Bartlett and conducted by the ENO’s Music Director Designate, Mark Wigglesworth.

There is so much to look forward to in the areas of Theatre, Dance and works embracing features of both that it’s almost impossible to choose from the riches on offer, but personal ‘first choices’ include Rona Munro’s The James Plays, a trilogy exploring Scotland’s Kings and its turbulent past; Thalia Theater with Front, a polyphonic performance exploring the First World War from four different perspectives and in four languages; and the world premiere of Inala, a blend of South African and Western cultures choreographed by Mark Baldwin and with music by Ladysmith Black Mambazo.

Public booking opens on March 29th, with students and young people able to buy tickets at half price from opening day, as well as £8 on-the-day tickets available to those under 26. If you can’t make it to Edinburgh, BBC Radio 3 will be broadcasting 14 concerts ‘live’ from the Queen’s Hall, and four from the Usher Hall will be recorded for future broadcast. You can get all the details of the 2014 Festival at eif.co.uk – as well as information on travel and accommodation, to help you plan your trip to what the Festival Director describes as “the unique intensity offered by Edinburgh in August.”

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