Ken Walton: All change at Edinburgh International Festival

DIRECTOR Fergus Linehan isn’t afraid to tinker with the status quo.
Festival Director Fergus Linehan. Picture: Lisa FergusonFestival Director Fergus Linehan. Picture: Lisa Ferguson
Festival Director Fergus Linehan. Picture: Lisa Ferguson

He was quick to realign the Edinburgh International Festival dates with the Fringe - a sensible move.

Now he’s letting the musical cat out of the bag by publishing his first orchestral and recital programme as a separate brochure a month in advance of the main March launch.

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Apart from the practical advantage that has in catching up with rival major music festivals, whose programmes are released as early as the previous November, it also reinforces Linehan’s belief that “what happens at the Usher Hall and the Queen’s Hall, that level of music making, is at the core of the EIF”.

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In that particular respect, he has left well alone, and festival regulars will be heartened to see that the daily run of morning chamber recitals and evening biggies follows the same format as ever, with an especial focus on the Edinburgh Festival Chorus, celebrating its 50th anniversary.

They will also feel at home with old friends - Donald Runnicles conducting the BBC SSO in “Ein Heldenleben” as a Festival opener, and Valery Gergiev bringing the curtain down three weeks later with the LSO in Stravinsky’s “The Rite of Spring”.

In between, Sir Andrew Davis, John Eliot Gardiner, Mitsuko Uschida, Nicola Benedetti and others are welcome returns to the Usher Hall, as are the Nash Ensemble, Leonidas Kavakos, Christine Brewer and Daniil Trifonov to the Queen’s Hall.

But there are interesting new faces for Linehan to cultivate, including virtuoso percussionist Colin Currie and pianists Lang Lang and Yuga Wang.

And Rudolf Buchbinder’s Beethoven Sonata Series at the Playfair Library signals Linehan’s willingness to explore new classical venues.

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It’s a healthy programme that nonetheless plots a safe course.

Not much sign of cutting edge contemporary and a healthy eclecticism at its core. And what should we make of Lineman programming Gilbert & Sullivan’s “HMS Pinafore”? Provocative or populist?

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For the meantime let’s just give three cheers, and reserve one cheer more till the staged opera programme is unveiled next month.

• Ken Walton is The Scotsman’s classical music critic