Edinburgh International Festival's return heralds a bright future for Scottish arts and culture – Fran Hegyi

A dress rehearsal of the show Macro, ahead of the opening night of the Edinburgh International Festival at Murrayfield stadium (Picture: Andrew Perry)A dress rehearsal of the show Macro, ahead of the opening night of the Edinburgh International Festival at Murrayfield stadium (Picture: Andrew Perry)
A dress rehearsal of the show Macro, ahead of the opening night of the Edinburgh International Festival at Murrayfield stadium (Picture: Andrew Perry)
After months of planning – and three years in the making – it feels surreal that the 2022 Edinburgh International Festival draws to a close this weekend.

The support that the event has received from the city has always been remarkable.

From the very first one held in 1947 – when local people opened their homes to visiting artists, cooked hundreds of meals and gave up their coal rations so Edinburgh Castle could illuminate the night sky – the Edinburgh International Festival has always flourished thanks to the city’s support.

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This year, despite some challenges, we have felt the benefit of that support more strongly than ever before.

We launched a free programme dedicated to those who have helped us to welcome the world to Scotland’s capital for the last 75 years. The appetite for these free events was truly heart-warming, with the majority of the 35,000 free tickets snapped up within hours.

Around 15,000 people joined us in BT Murrayfield to launch the Festival with Macro – an awe-inspiring performance that featured Australian contemporary circus company Gravity & Other Myths, First Nations dance company Djuki Mala, the National Youth Choir of Scotland and a band of Scottish traditional musicians.

Today, more than 3,000 people will attend ‘Thank You, Edinburgh’ at the Edinburgh Playhouse. This free concert from the Philadelphia Orchestra, led by conductor Yannick Nézet-Séguin, is given as a big thank you to the city.

The concert will also be relayed live to the Ross Bandstand in Princes Street Gardens today, so we hope to see more people dropping into the Gardens to experience a world-class orchestra for free.

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One of the most powerful moments of this year’s Festival was the concert given by the Ukrainian Freedom Orchestra.

In a gesture of solidarity with the victims of the war in Ukraine – particularly poignant as Edinburgh is twinned with Kyiv – we partnered with the Scottish Government to welcome the Ukrainian Freedom Orchestra for a historic free concert at the Usher Hall.

This special performance saw invitations extended to the Ukrainian community in Scotland and organisations leading efforts towards the resettlement of Ukrainian refugees, as well as those supporting people impacted by the conflict.

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This year’s Festival has also highlighted the enduring cultural legacy that migration and displacement has had upon Edinburgh – inspired by Rudolph Bing who co-founded the Festival in 1947 and was a refugee himself.

Refuge, a season of theatre, dance, visual art, film and conversation, was created in collaboration with the Scottish Refugee Council and featured artists from countries including Palestine, Iran, Zimbabwe, Jamaica and Taiwan.

As well as the huge waves of support we have received from the city’s audiences enjoying the Festival for the first time since 2019, this year’s Festival has also cemented the fact that, creatively and artistically, Edinburgh has a very bright future.

The 2022 International Festival was a remarkable edition for Scottish artists, including our national performing companies.

Highlights included: the world premiere of Scottish Ballet’s technology-inspired version of Coppélia; the National Theatre of Scotland with Liz Lochhead’s Medea; and Alan Cumming with a new take on Scotland’s Bard in Burn; the Scottish Chamber Orchestra with a stunning solo appearance from incoming Festival director Nicola Benedetti; and, tomorrow evening, the Royal Scottish National Orchestra will bring the Festival to a close at the Usher Hall with Elgar’s The Dream of Gerontius.

Leith Theatre became the hub of Edinburgh’s music scene once again, bringing a line-up of pioneering musicians to one of the most creative neighbourhoods in our city. It was particularly exciting to see Falkirk indie rock duo Arab Strap make their International Festival debut as part of the line-up.

It was also a thrill to work with some of the brightest artists in Edinburgh, including multi-award-winning company Grid Iron.

Based in Leith themselves, Grid Iron was commissioned to create a performance to mark the culmination of our four-year residency with Leith Academy that would take place in the school itself. Muster Station: Leith has taken audiences on a highly immersive journey through the school, from the staff room to the gym and even in the swimming pool.

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Students from Leith Academy also contributed to the production, both creatively in the form of a beautiful quilt unveiled in the final scene and in the form of paid, front of house positions, supported by our learning and engagement partner, Baillie Gifford Investment Managers.

The return of Edinburgh’s summer festivals after three years prompted questions for many. What would they be like? Would audiences and artists return? Could the city support and welcome the scale of the festivals once more?

While some questions remain, and the road to recovery is not without uncertainty, I believe the extraordinary support we’ve received from the city of Edinburgh this year speaks volumes and the strong return of the Festival heralds a bright future for Scottish arts and culture.

All that is left for me to say is “Thank You, Edinburgh” – we look forward to celebrating with you again in 2023.

Fran Hegyi is the executive director of the Edinburgh International Festival



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