THE new director of the Edinburgh International Festival has reported booming ticket sales running almost 25 per cent ahead of last year’s record-breaking event after he decided to go head to head with the Fringe.
Fergus Linehan, who has also introduced new music strands and children’s shows into the EIF programme, revealed business was booming as he made final preparations for a spectacular curtain-raiser.
The great thing is that it is genuinely across the boardFergus Linehan
The Scotsman can reveal more than £3 million has already been taken at the box office ahead of the EIF’s biggest ever opening event on Friday, with up to 10,000 people expected to gather outside the Usher Hall for a huge free celebration.
The 2014 event – which marked the departure of previous director Sir Jonathan Mills after an eight-year tenure – was the first time in the 68-year history of the capital’s showpiece cultural event that the landmark figure had been passed.
The Irishman said he suspected the whole city was in for a bumper year, due to his own event’s advance sales, the number of visitors flooding into the city, and increased audiences for Edinburgh’s jazz and film festivals earlier this year.
Among the sell-outs posted are American singer-songwriter Surfjan Stevens, Glasgow indie-rock favourites Franz Ferdinand, who are appearing with 1970s American rock outfit Sparks, and celebrated Fife singer-songwriter King Creosote, who is reviving his “From Scotland with Love” show. The festival is also turning The Hub, its gothic headquarters on the Royal Mile, into a new late-night cabaret club for the first time..
However, Mr Linehan said his core programme was also surpassing expectations, with opera productions The Magic Flute and The Marriage of Figaro among the shows heading for sell-outs. Other shows with limited availability include Greek tragedy Antigone, which will see Oscar-winning actress Juliette Binoche make her debut at the Edinburgh event, and a new stage adaptation of Alasdair Gray’s classic Scottish novel, Lanark.
Concerts by pianists Rudolf Buchbinder, Lang Lang and Angela Hewitt have been among the biggest draws in the classical music programme, which Mr Linehan insisted was of the highest “world-beating” quality.
The EIF’s box office has been on an upwards curve in recent years, with an additional 20,000 people attending its events in 2014 compared to 2012, with 80 per cent of all seats snapped up 12 months ago.
Mr Linehan told The Scotsman: “The great thing about how the ticket sales are going is that it is genuinely across the board. The sales for the big operas, The Magic Flute and The Marriage of Figaro, have been fantastic and they will be sold out very soon, the sales for the Usher Hall have been very strong, as is the case for Antigone, which was a real gamble for us, as there are 15 performances on sale.
“We just don’t really have a precedent for doing runs like that and extended runs for others like Lanark and Robert Lepage’s 887. That model seems to be working really well for us.
“Franz Ferdinand, Surfjan Stevens and From Scotland With Love have done amazingly well. If we were a commercial promoter we’d be trying to book another three or four shows.
“But the numbers these shows have sold are not so big that they would define things for us or otherwise. It’s not that one bit of the programme that’s driven this. There is literally no area in the programme that is not up.
“There’s a couple of other things going on. It just feels like a good year for Edinburgh. The film festival was up, the jazz festival was up. I don’t know about the others, but it feels like a good year. You can feel it in the street and when you go to the airport. Also, Jonathan put the festival on a trajectory of growth and in a sense we are following that. He left the ship in very good nick.”
Mr Linehan said he had “no idea” how many people would turn up to Friday’s “Harmonium Project” launch event, which will halt the traffic on Lothian Road around 10:30pm. It will see the Usher Hall transformed by spectacular digital animations celebrating 50 years of the Edinburgh Festival Chorus.
THE INTERNATIONAL FESTIVAL SHOWS THAT SHOULDN’T BE MISSED
Must-see shows at this year’s festival include:
• Franz Ferdinand and Sparks, Festival Theatre, 24 August: A decade on from triumphant Fringe shows in Princes Street Gardens, the Glasgow art-rockers have a plum EIF slot for a live recreation of the acclaimed album they made with the 1970s LA glam rock outfit.
• Antigone, King’s Theatre, 8-22 August: One of the most eagerly awaited theatre productions at the EIF will see Oscar-winner Juliette Binoche make her festival debut in director Iva Van Hove’s version of the Greek tragedy.
• Lanark, Royal Lyceum Theatre, 23-31 August: The world premiere of a new co-production between the EIF and Glasgow’s Citizens’ Theatre will reunite former Suspect Culture collaborators David Greig, the playwright, and Graham Eatough, the director, for a new stage adaptation of Alasdair Gray’s novel in the artist’s 80th year.
• The Magic Flute, Festival Theatre, 27-30 August: Australian director Barrie Kosky and British theatre company 1927 bring their Buster Keaton and Nosferatu-inspired version of Mozart’s opera to Edinburgh, complete with giant spiders, demons, butterflies and wolves.
• The Marriage of Figaro, Festival Theatre, 13-16 August: Ivan Fischer, of the Budapest Festival Orchestra, takes the helm with the players and conductor joining the singers on stage as action unfolds.
• From Scotland With Love, The Hub, 14-15 August: The collaboration between Kenny Anderson aka King Creosote and film-maker Virginia Heath premiered in Glasgow last year to coincide with the Commonwealth Games and now has a life of its own.