Nicola Benedetti to lead Edinburgh International Festival into new era as first female director

Scottish violinist superstar Nicola Benedetti will be the next director of the Edinburgh International Festival (EIF) – the first woman and the first Scot to take on the role in the event’s 75-year history.

The 34-year-old was appointed after a worldwide search for a successor to Irishman Fergus Linehan.

A regular performer at the festival during Mr Linehan’s eight-year tenure, Benedetti has been appointed months after her tenure as an artist-in-residence at the festival, when it returned in scaled-back form last year.

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    Benedetti said she was “deeply honoured” at being tasked with taking the festival, which traditionally stages music, theatre opera and dance, into a new era.

    The Ayrshire-born musician’s appointment as the first ever female director of the festival, which was formed in the aftermath of the Second World War to "provide a platform for the flowering of the human spirit", was welcomed by First Minister Nicola Sturgeon.

    Benedetti, who shot to fame when she was crowned BBC Young Musician of the Year at the age of 16, has combined performing with orchestras all the world with extensive involvement in music education projects and initiatives.

    She has worked with the charity Sistema Scotland for years, set up her own foundation three years ago and instigated mass tutorials offering free online music lessons when the Covid pandemic brought her touring commitments to a halt.

    Nicola Benedetti recording with The Benedetti Baroque Orchestra.

    The violinist has been heavily involved in The Cumnock Tryst, the annual festival created by composer Sir James MacMillan for his home town in Ayrshire in 2014, and has been one of the most high-profile campaigners against cutbacks in music tuition in schools in recent years. She more recently spoke out about the impact of Covid restrictions on the cultural sector.

    Benedetti said: “I am deeply honoured to contribute to the long and rich history of the Edinburgh International Festival and the cultural landscape of Scotland.

    “This festival was founded on principles of reconciliation and the ideals of art transcending political and cultural fracture.

    "Following in the footsteps of the wonderful achievements of Fergus Linehan and his predecessors, I will uphold these values and greatly look forward to serving this festival, its mission of cultural exchanges, and the people of Scotland."

    Scottish violinist Nicola Benedetti made her Edinburgh International Festival debut at the Usher Hall, with the London Symphony Orchestra, in 2012. Picture: Jane Barlow

    The festival’s announcement on her appointment said Benedetti would continue to perform internationally while in her new role, but would “naturally be more selective with her engagements in order to ensure she fulfils each of her commitments”.

    Speaking ahead of last summer’s EIF, Benedetti insisted she had “not been desperate to do a lot of travel for work".

    She said at the time: “I have to remember I have a personal life, which is the part of the jigsaw that’s hard to maintain. In many ways I’m getting better at that, but I’ve done what most people did coming out of lockdown, which is to say yes to most stuff and get excited about the chance to do things again. But the pendulum can swing too far in the other direction.”

    Benedetti has been one of the most high-profile backers of plans to create Edinburgh’s first new concert hall for a century in the city’s New Town.

    Nicola Benedetti will be the next director of the Edinburgh International Festival.

    Last year it emerged her foundation was one of the key players in plans to transform the historic former Royal High School on Calton Hill in Edinburgh into a new National Centre for Music.

    She said at the time: “Music, when created, played and listened to with integrity, allows us to strip away all that separates us and urges us to see and feel what unites us.

    "The centre presents us with an unprecedented opportunity to enrich the cultural life of Scotland and to serve as a beacon of true 21st-century music education for the world to see.

    "We are entering a rare and beautiful moment in Scotland’s history, where a phenomenal combination of individuals and organisations are tirelessly working together to achieve the highest possible inclusivity and excellence in music, all equally committed to enriching our national story and legacy.”

    First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said: “The Edinburgh International Festival has a worldwide reputation for its excellent work in bringing world-leading artists together, celebrating the performing arts, and promoting Scotland’s rich culture and heritage to an international audience.

    “I’m sure that people across the country are looking forward to supporting the festival’s full in-person return after two years, and welcoming visitors and artists from around the world to Scotland.

    Nicola Benedetti will be the next director of the Edinburgh International Festival. Picture: Jessica Shurte

    “I welcome Nicola Benedetti’s appointment as director, especially as she becomes the first woman to ever hold the role.

    "Her experience in promoting Scotland’s cultural scene to audiences around the world will be invaluable and I wish her every success.”

    V&A Dundee director Leonie Bell, chair of the EIF’s nominations committee, which led the recruitment process for the new director, said: “This is a hugely exciting appointment for the Edinburgh International Festival.

    “Nicola is a world-renowned, and world-class, musician and performer, as well as being a dedicated and passionate ambassador for the arts and its transformative power to change lives.

    “Nicola will also become the first woman and Scottish person to lead the festival in its 75-year history.

    "I know everyone who holds the Edinburgh International Festival close to their hearts will eagerly anticipate the vision and energy that Nicola will bring to the festival's future.”

    The Scotsman’s theatre critic Joyce McMillan said: “This is a really thrilling appointment and it’s wonderful to see a woman who has contributed so much to Scotland’s creative and cultural life stepping up to this vital job, at a time of such challenges and possibilities.

    "It will also be fascinating to see what kind of team she will build around her, to take the Edinburgh International Festival forward into new times.”Ken Walton, music critic at The Scotsman, said: “It’s a bolt out of the blue. I look forward to hearing what plans Nicola Benedetti has in mind for the future of the festival.”

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