Edinburgh International Festival: 5 classical music highlights

Scotsman music critic David Kettle picks his must-see shows from this year’s Edinburgh International Festival programme

Labeque Sisters PIC: Umberto Nicoletti
Labeque Sisters PIC: Umberto Nicoletti

Philharmonia Orchestra, Usher Hall, 7 & 10 August and Queen’s Hall, 6 August

Alongside the Philadelphia Orchestra, the International Festival’s other big orchestral residency this year comes courtesy of London’s Philharmonia Orchestra, playing two Usher Hall concerts plus a chamber recital to kick off the Queen’s Hall concerts on 6 August. (They’re also in the pit for Garsington Opera’s Rusalka in the Festival Theatre from 6-9 August, see feature p.6). Young Finnish conductor Santtu-Matias Rouvali has just finished his first year as the Philharmonia’s Principal Conductor, and he’s one of the most astute – and downright entertaining – figures on the podium today. Catch what will no doubt be a high-energy, high-powered Beethoven ‘Emperor’ Concerto and Shostakovich Tenth Symphony from the Philharmonia and Rouvali on 7 August. Meanwhile, the themes of oppression, freedom and resilience in Beethoven’s Fidelio (10 August) will no doubt take on additional resonance in the context of this year’s global events.

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Scottish Chamber Orchestra, Usher Hall, 13 & 22 August

Sir Simon Rattle PIC: Mark Allan

If anyone can capture and convey an authentic sense of swing, it’s Wayne Marshall. After directing a brilliantly entertaining A Grand Night for Singing last year, he returns to front the SCO in four iconic US works blending jazz, pop and classical, from Gershwin’s sultry Rhapsody in Blue to Copland’s fiery El Salón México. The SCO will also perform Bruch’s G minor Concerto at the Usher Hall on Monday 22 August, with incoming EIF director Nicola Benedetti .

Les Siècles, Usher Hall, 16 August

The period performance movement might have begun its mission by casting bracing new light on early music, but it got its claws into the works of the 20th century some time back. Conductor François-Xavier Roth’s Paris-based Les Siècles orchestra has made Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring something of a calling card, restoring the piece to all its vivid, unblended glory with instruments that would have been heard at its tumultuous 1913 premiere. Get new insights into The Rite, alongside a remarkable discovery from the same year: the dreamy, languid, rarely heard cantata Faust et Hélène by the 19-year-old Lili Boulanger.

London Symphony Orchestra, Usher Hall, 18 August

Eclectic doesn’t even begin to describe the LSO and Sir Simon Rattle’s cherry-picking International Festival programme this year, from Berlioz’s colourful Le corsaire to Mahler’s sentimental Blumine by way of the austere power Sibelius’s boiled-down Seventh Symphony. In among the mayhem sits a brand new piece, Sun Poem, from Daniel Kidane, former RSNO Composers’ Hub winner who opened the 2019 Last Night of the Proms with his piece Woke. And Rattle’s take on Bartók’s cacophonous, sexually charged ballet score The Miraculous Mandarin will surely be something to savour.

Czech Philharmonic, Usher Hall, 20 & 21 August

The first of the Czech Philharmonic’s two International Festival concerts is very much a family affair, with Music Director Semyon Bychkov joined by his wife Marielle Labèque and her sister Katia for Martinů’s hectic, roof-raising Concerto for Two Pianos – seldom heard, but never forgotten when it is. Janáček’s brightly coloured tribute to the spiritual joys of nature, the Glagolitic Mass, makes an appropriately visionary counterweight. The following day, Bychkov and his band look likely to bring a perceptive authenticity to Mahler’s thorny Seventh Symphony – it was the Czech Phil that first unveiled the piece, under Mahler, back in 1908.