EIF music review: Edinburgh International Festival opening concert

The BBC Symphony Orchestra provided a stirring, energetic opener to this year’s EIF, writes David Kettle

Dalia Stasevska conducts th BBC Symphony Orchestra at Edinburgh Academy
Dalia Stasevska conducts th BBC Symphony Orchestra at Edinburgh Academy

And so it begins, with so many hopes, expectations, no doubt worries too. In these unusual times, the Edinburgh International Festival’s opening concert (*****) was so much more than simply a concert, of course. It was the first chance to experience the open-air venue for orchestral concerts specially erected at Edinburgh Academy Junior School: vast and impressively constructed, airy and, most importantly, entirely capable of conjuring that sense of focus and intimacy so crucial for live music.

The occasional distant calls of gulls and oystercatchers – hardly disturbances – only served to make the experience even more extraordinary. The slimmed-down, socially distanced BBC Symphony Orchestra (gently amplified, but you’d hardly notice) sounded rich, detailed and thoroughly convincing in the immense space, nowhere more so than in Anna Clyne’s PIVOT, the concert’s exuberant, sometimes raucous opener, which felt like a fittingly joyful explosion of energy at the return to live events. Conductor Dalia Stasevska kept Clyne’s frenetic creation under tight control, however, and was equally precise in her beautifully nuanced account of Respighi’s Trittico Botticelliano that followed.

If you had to pick music to test a new venue’s acoustics, Respighi’s intricately detailed work would be an exacting choice, but it sounded immaculate. There’s probably a little more work to do, however, with voices: vocalists Rosie Aldridge, Felipe Manu and Michael Mofidian gave fine performances in the closing work, Stravinsky’s Pulcinella, but balance and blend with the orchestra wasn’t always convincing. Nonetheless, Stasevska directed a stirring account, full of bounding energy, and set an appropriately jubilant tone for a return to live orchestral music in this remarkable new space.

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