Edinburgh Festival promise ‘bigger’ opening night

The Edinburgh International Festival has vowed to stage an even bigger opening celebration in future years after the success of a new signature event which brought thousands of people on to the streets of the city.

The Edinburgh International Festival opens with the spectacular Harmonium Project, which attracted almost 20,000 people. Picture: Contributed
The Edinburgh International Festival opens with the spectacular Harmonium Project, which attracted almost 20,000 people. Picture: Contributed

Organisers say they may have to cater for as many as 50,000 people next year under plans to broaden the appeal of the event and secure global media coverage for the curtain-raiser.

Festival director Fergus Linehan admitted he had created “a rod for my own back” with the success of The Harmonium Project - but said the response to the opening event had surpassed all his expectations.

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He has suggested that future events may even be staged across the city due to the positive response to the opening night event, which saw a series of dramatic artworks project on to the front of the Usher Hall after dark.

The Irishman, who has just overseen his first festival, has warned the opening night ambitions will only be realised if they can attract a major sponsor.

However Mr Linehan said that task will be easier due to the success of The Harmonium Project, which was more than a year in the planning and saw traffic on one of the city’s busiest thoroughfares brought to a standstill.

The Harmonium Project signalled the opening of both the EIF and the Fringe after Mr Linehan decided to move the dates of his event for his debut programme - bringing the two into line for the first time in 18 years.

Around 19,000 people - double the numbers anticipated - gathered in Festival Square, Lothian Road, and in front of the Usher Hall for the free sound and animation event, staged to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the chorus which sings in the event every year. The Harmonium Project was hailed by a number of Fringe figures for raising the profile of the capital’s festivals season, which saw record box office numbers across the board.

Mr Linehan said: “It seemed to resonate quite deeply with people in some way, as if to say, ‘Yes, we really should mark the beginning of the festival’. It wasn’t just the people that turned up, it was the general reaction. People felt it was really important.

“The images from that event kind of defined a bit about what the world might think about this city. To have something very high-tech and highly produced was very helpful as well.

“We will have to build a constituency of support, as there is obviously no box office in an event like that, which cost more than £200,000.

“The thing with these kind of events is you don’t want to get too repetitive with them. You’ve got to think of something else. If you do something that is really successful, your capacity needs to leap up the following year.

“You’ve got to start thinking about where you could do it with 50,000 or 60,000 people. Maybe there is a cross-city thing you could do as opposed to everyone gathering in the one place.

“We’d have to get someone to pay for it, and not just the usual sources. But when you do something like that, and people see the impact, it makes it easier to get a commercial partner.”