THE new director of the Edinburgh International Festival has brought its dates back into line with the Fringe as part of a major shake-up of the event.
Fergus Linehan, the Irishman who will officially take over the running of the event in October, revealed both events would start on the same day from 2015 and remain in sync for the foreseeable future.
He also disclosed that a major public celebration was being planned to launch his inaugural festival, with the traditional fireworks finale possibly moving to a Monday night, when both events will now wind up. The free opening event, which may take place in an outdoor location in the city centre, would be built around the 50th anniversary of the Edinburgh Festival Chorus.
The Edinburgh Mela, Scotland’s biggest multi-cultural celebration, which has traditional coincided with the end of the EIF, last night said it would also be moving its dates from next year so it is also staged on the last weekend in August from now on.
The EIF has had the roughly the same dates since 1983, but the Fringe sparked a bitter row in 1998 when it decided to move a week earlier in the calendar to try to attract bigger audiences. The two events had been running together since they were both launched in 1947. Both will be staged from 7-31 August next year.
The move to realign the two events, which effectively chops a week off the city’s main festivals season, has always been resisted since then over fears that major opera companies and orchestras would be reluctant to travel to Edinburgh in early August during traditional holiday periods.
Mr Linehan, who said he wanted to challenge “preconceptions” about the way the festival is organised, insisted there was now no evidence to support that “rationale”. He added that the date change was designed to protect and bolster the city’s reputation for its unique cultural offering in August, as well as ensure audiences were not left “short-changed.”
Linehen, who admitted he had been urged by a number of individuals and artistic companies to address the issue, said: “I come at this as an audience member, as someone who’s had the festival very much in my heart for a very long time.
“During the week when it’s just the Fringe or the international festival, I’ve felt a bit short-changed. When both are running, it’s electric, it’s like nothing else on earth.
“The truth is, in its composite parts, Edinburgh’s individual festivals are replicated elsewhere in the world. What’s unique is that they all happen at the same time. That’s what makes it not just the greatest arts festival in the world, but the greatest event in the world.
“The real power of it is that you have the entire spectrum at your disposal. If this is the most potent part of the offering that Edinburgh makes to the world, the question is should we limit it to two weeks when the possibility is there for us to have it for three.
“There is now a real opportunity for us to play a major role in the way the festivals season is opened and there are possibilities of doing that in a very public way. The presence of the international festival at the beginning and end of that season will be very potent.”
Linehan said other festival directors, major stakeholders in the event and business leaders in the city had been extensively consulted over the move, which comes five years after both the EIF and Fringe both moved their opening dates from a Sunday to a Friday night. Most Fringe previews start on the Wednesday night.
Kath Mainland, chief executive of the Fringe since 2009, said: “The dates for the Edinburgh International Festival are a matter for the EIF to decide, but it is undoubtedly the case that Edinburgh in August, and indeed throughout the year, provides a blend of world class festivals unrivalled anywhere else.
“We know that it is this combination of distinct festivals that sets Edinburgh apart. We work together, but our success is dependent on each festival retaining its independence whilst continuing to collaborate in the interests of audiences and the wider city.”
Chris Purnell, director of the Edinburgh Mela, added: “We were aware of this decision from the EIF and it is absolutely fine with us. We be running alongside the final weekend of the Fringe and the EIF from next year. We can only see it being beneficial for us.”
Steve Cardownie, Edinburgh City Council’s festivals and events champion, said: “I can recall was a lot of doom and gloom from Brian McMaster, the then director of the Edinburgh International Festival, when the Fringe moved its dates, but the thinking was that by having the final weekend on the English bank holiday it would encourage more people to come to Edinburgh for the weekend.
“Sir Jonathan Mills has done a tremendous job with the festival since took over, but there is definitely a marked difference with the atmosphere in the city when the Fringe ends. You actually have to keep reminding people the international festival is on.
“I’m sure the festival has done its homework on moving the dates, but it should ensure that there is a better visitor experience and that people have a much greater choice of shows when they are here.”