It is usually the first real indicator of how August in Edinburgh will shape up, with the rest of the festival pack still pinning down their programmes. The level of expectation for the 2023 EIF has been higher than for any other I can recall over the 20-odd years I’ve been covering them.
That is down to what I’ve called “the Nicola Benedetti factor”, which has generated huge amounts of publicity for the festival on her appointment in March last year and when she discussed her vision for the event’s future in October.
That was when Benedetti officially started work, giving the first female and first Scottish director, and her team, just a few months to put together a programme fitting for the festival’s new era. It was intriguing to read the verdicts of The Scotsman’s team of critics who pored over Benedetti’s first programme and found plenty to get excited about across all genres and art forms.
Looking at the overall picture, my overriding impression is of a programme brimming with international flavours and must-see overseas productions from overseas, with an incredible 48 nations represented, eight more than in the 2019 festival.
There seems more than enough to satisfy the festival’s core audiences, whom Benedetti is probably more familiar with than any other performer in Scotland. But it is the “experiments” that will be rolled out under Benedetti’s drive to attract a “new, more diverse and younger audience” that have really caught the eye.
The reinvention of The Hub as an “open to all” green room hosting free events every afternoon, the prospect of watching Usher Hall concerts on beanbags, testing out shorter running times for some shows, and an opening weekend celebration in Princes Street Gardens are important declarations of intent.
It was striking to hear Benedetti express some frustration at being unable to deliver everything she hoped to a programme put together against a background of funding uncertainties. But as she herself told me: “This is just the beginning of a new chapter.”