Edinburgh International Festival: The Scotsman critics on landmark programme

SCOTSMAN arts critics Fiona Shepherd, Kelly Apter, Ken Walton and Joyce McMillan give their verdicts on the Edinburgh International Festival's 70th anniversary programme

Fergus Linehan launches The Edinburgh International Festival's programme. Picture: Steve Scott Taylor
Fergus Linehan launches The Edinburgh International Festival's programme. Picture: Steve Scott Taylor

‘It’s a full-blown and committed relationship’

Last year’s confident charm offensive, bringing popular music into the fold more comprehensively than any previous EIF programme, has led to a full-blown and (hopefully) committed relationship with this most wide-ranging of art forms.

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The electronica, noise rock, folk and world music, indie pop and hip-hop artists in this year’s programme have been corralled under the umbrella term “contemporary music” in their own section of the brochure.

There will be straight concert presentations from Senegalese superstar Youssou N’Dour and the contrasting sound worlds of Iceland’s Sigur Ros and Montreal’s camera-shy Godspeed You! Black Emperor - the former the stuff of your most beatific dreams, the latter of your most disturbed nightmares.

But for something novel, look to a couple of intriguing collaborations. Anohni, the transgendered artist formerly known as Antony Hegarty, takes a left-turn from the chamber pop of The Johnsons into electronica territory by collaborating with EIF returnee Oneohtrix Point Never and Hudson Mohawke, one of Glasgow’s most successful musical exports.

Acclaimed noisemongers Mogwai perform their soundtrack to the Mark Cousins’ documentary Atomic, and the band’s bassist Dominic Aitchison keeps himself busy as part of Flit, the brainchild of Lau accordionist Martin Green in partnership with Portishead studio whizz Adrian Utley, and folk singers Becky Unthank and Adam Holmes.

The Hub Sessions concert series returns, encompassing domestic acts, including Edinburgh’s dazzling Young Fathers, while there is a welcome reprise of Nae Regrets, the audacious orchestration of Martyn Bennett’s final album Grit, first commissioned for Celtic ­Connections. Fiona Shepherd

‘Dance works bring people of all ages together’

The dance works do exactly what a festival should – bring people of all ages together, explore new territories and get audiences talking.

One of Russia’s finest classical ballet dancers, Natalia Osipova, ventures into the world of contemporary dance, with choreographers Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui, Russell Maliphant and Arthur Pita all creating bespoke works for her.

It’s great to see Scottish Ballet back at the Festival, especially with a large-scale work. Choreographed for 38 dancers, Crystal Pite’s Emergence likens a corps de ballet to a swarm of bees. It’s coupled with Angelin Preljocaj’s MC 14/22, a work solely for male dancers.

Akram Khan’s blend of Indian Kathak and contemporary produces intelligent, dynamic works with broad appeal. Chotto Desh, a blend of choreography and animation, is a new departure.

Raw from Belgium’s Kabinet K goes even further by featuring children themselves on stage in a post-apocalyptic tale of hope and resilience.

I suspect we’ll all need a lie down after watching Monumental. Bringing together two uncompromising Canadian companies, The Holy Body Tattoo (contemporary dance) and Godspeed You! Black Emperor (music), this multi-media work is a very exciting prospect. Kelly Apter

‘There are obvious spectaculars’

A year ago, when Fergus Linehan introduced the classical music programme, it was, on paper, a strangely innocuous mishmash. Quality, however, was its salvation.

There are obvious “spectaculars” this year - Salzburg Festival’s critically-acclaimed production of Bellini’s Norma, featuring Cecilia Bartoli, and a closing performance of Schoenberg’s post-Romantic epic Gurrelieder, with the BBC SSO and Edinburgh Festival Chorus under Donald Runnicles. Plenty anticipation, too, for the Orchestra del’Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecile (two opening concerts under Sir Antonio Pappano, including Rossini’s glorious Stabat Mater), Marin Alsop’s Sao Paulo Symphony, Osmo Vänskä’s Minnesota Orchestra, John Eliot Gardiner’s Monteverdi Choir (Bach’s St Matthew Passion), Herbert Blomstedt and the Leipzig Gewandhous, and the return after its 2014 Mahler sensation of the Rotterdam Philharmonic under Yannick Nézet-Séguin.

Add to that French writer and filmmaker Christophe Honoré’s production of Così fan tutte, Mariinsky Opera’s concert performance of Wagner’s Das Rheingold, and a no-doubt gritty and humorous exploration of 1930s German cabaret songs by Barry Humphries and the Australian Chamber Orchestra, and maybe there’s just enough to turn a seemingly mixed bag into an uplifting and cohesive festival experience.

There are many familiar faces, from pianists Andras Schiff and Danil Trifanov, to conductor Kiril Karibits and the Emerson String Quartet. But should we worry about a noticeable erosion in the number of events? Staged opera is down by one production, as are Usher Hall classical concerts. Ken Walton

‘The theatricality knows no bounds’

Although it focuses fairly tightly on Europe and North America, this second theatre season from director Fergus Linehan achieves what promises to be a satisfying combination of world-class quality and quiet innovation.

There’s quality, certainly, in the centrepiece production at the King’s Theatre; Tennessee Williams’s Glass Menagerie, directed by former National Theatre of Scotland associate John Tiffany (of Black Watch fame), and starring the wonderful Cherry Jones, has its European premiere.

To mark the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death, Linehan offers Thomas Ostermeier’s current Berlin production of Richard III, alongside Declan Donnellan’s brazenly political 2015 staging of Measure For Measure for the Pushkin Theatre, Moscow, and the latest version of Shake, a playful and poetic end-of-the-pier take on Twelfth Night by French theatre artist Dan Jemmett.

The National Theatre of Scotland combines with multiple Fringe award winners TEAM, of New York, to explore Scottish and American ideas of identity in a fierce new show called Anything That Gives Off Light.

The festival seizes the chance to showcase two key pieces of work by Matthew Lenton and his Glasgow-based Vanishing Point


And the presence of Alan Cumming in cabaret at The Hub comes as a reminder that there’s also plenty of theatre around in the other artforms represented, from Norma in the opera programme, to Karine Polwart’s music show Wind Resistance, directed by another NTS star, Wils Wilson.

Boundaries blur, but the theatricality knows no bounds. Joyce McMillan