Comment: emotional charge to Ukrainian orchestra

EDINBURGH INTERNATIONAL FESTIVAL: IT WAS clearly never intended, but if one performance in this year’s impressive EIF music programme is destined to hit a raw nerve, it is surely Shostakovich’s Leningrad Symphony.

Written during the Nazi siege of the Russian city, it is conducted, through a cruel twist of irony, by the Ukrainian Kirill Karabits with I, Culture, an orchestra of young musicians from Ukraine and other former Soviet states.

Such is the delicate nature of international arts programming – the type of coincidence that can so easily set culture and politics on a collision course. It could be one of this festival’s most emotionally charged performances, and possibly the most chilling contemporary manifestation of Jonathan Mills’s overall thematic exploration of war, unrest and “circumstances dictated by the powerful few”.

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It’s a theme already packed with rich pickings: a production of Berlioz’s epic opera The Trojans by the Mariinsky Opera of St Petersburg under Putin-supporter Valery Gergiev; the brilliant Kronos Quartet in film and music commemorating the years of the First World War; the subversive collision of texts in Britten’s War Requiem and powerful anti-militarism of his opera Owen Wingrave; Bernstein’s Kaddish symphony, with narration written by Auschwitz and Dachau survivor Samuel Pisar; and a closing concert featuring Mills’s own Sandakan Threnody, an oratorio written in honour of the 2,500 British and Australian prisoners of war who died in the death marches of Borneo.

All that, in conjunction with pianist Paul Lewis’s solo Beethoven recital, the Rotterdam Philharmonic’s Mahler 6, two appearances by Mariss 
Jansons and the Royal Concertgebouw, a festival opener featuring Debussy’s Le Martyre de St Sébastien, a teatime Greyfriars Kirk series opening with Messiaen’s Quartet for the End of Time, and so much more, adds up to a challenging, possibly provocative, musical feast.