The Edinburgh International Festival
The Largest Arts Festival in the World

EIF Logo Here's a taste of things to come during this year's arts festival in August. Renowned as the largest cultural event on the planet, Edinburgh is the destination for those who enjoy music, opera, dance, theatre and the visual arts. Once again it promises a rich, hand-picked selection of international culture in "a celebration of the diversity of creative endeavour".

Vivien Devlin reports on the programme which runs from 5th to 31st August 2002.

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Festival SculptureArtistic Class, Quality, and Inspiration
With two Wagner operas, Britten's Turn of the Screw, innovative new productions of Swan Lake and Macbeth, premieres of European drama, Indian dance, as well as concerts by the Los Angeles Symphony Orchestra, Alfred Brendel, Joanna MacGregor, Ian Bostridge and Richard Goode amidst a plethora of performers, the programme simply oozes with artistic class, quality, and inspiration. Companies will travel to Edinburgh from France, Germany, Flanders, Holland, Italy, Canada, the United States, Russia, India and Japan: a mesmerising, eclectic mix of culture, language and creative style, in a broad sweep of performances, both classically conventional and cutting-edge contemporary.

Described as "one of the most ambitious projects the Festival has undertaken", will be three performances of Wagner's opera Parsifal, in a co-production with the Salzburg Easter Festival. This was an idea sparked by a conversation between Festival director, Brian McMaster and the Italian conductor Claudio Abbado following his outstanding concert of Mahler's 7th symphony during the 1999 Festival. Abbado then revealed his plans for Parsifal for Salzburg and McMaster immediately invited the production to Edinburgh. The collaboration was certainly an exciting proposal but equally daunting in terms of the sheer extent of the planning - not least the funding - to bring such a large scale opera to Edinburgh. No wonder it has taken three years in the creation, an event which promises to be a spectacular five hour epic performance. It is directed by Peter Stein, with Abbado in the pit and an eminent cast of singers including Thomas Moser in the leading role.

Not content with this, Scottish Opera will present Siegfried, the third part of their evolving production of the entire Ring Cycle. Last year they presented Die Walkure, described as " an outstanding triumph" and " penetrating, original and provocative". Wagner fans, eat your heart out!.

A Festival For All
Festival Sculpture While these two opera productions will certainly be highlights, one misnomer which the Festival wishes to eradicate is any concept of cultural elitism surrounding a programme widely associated for classical music, ballet and theatre. This year the International Festival is actively pursuing a wider, younger audience by presenting several experimental and radical dance, mixed-media, video and drama performances, scheduling late-night concerts which will begin prior to the official Festival opening date to coincide with the first week of the Fringe.

The series of twenty-five concerts will take place almost nightly at 10.30pm featuring composers from Bach to Adams, Schubert to Stockhausen, performed by both established orchestras and young talented musicians. To entice students and Fringe-goers, the most vital aspect of this innovative event is that the ticket price is just 5. This is due to valuable sponsorship by the Royal Bank of Scotland. Seats are unreserved and will only be available from mid-July as well as on the day of performance offering a flexible and casual method of attending a Festival event, at a very reasonable price.

The aim is to break down barriers between the official Festival and the Fringe with tickets available on the night, all part of today's philosophy.

McMaster is delighted with this innovative series which should open the door to more young people who may never have had the opportunity to attend concerts of this international range and standard.

"You risk 5. Less than a cinema ticket. You wander in on the day and you get Alfred Brendel playing the Diabelli Variations - that's about as god as it gets. An amazing experience".

And indeed many of the music, dance and drama performances have a starting ticket price of around 5, to encourage everyone to enjoy the Festival, whatever their budget.

Scotland On Stage
Festival Sculpture As already described, this is a multifarious feast of exotic international delights from every corner of the globe. However, home-grown talent has always been close to the Festival's creative heart and this year there is a particularly strong element focusing on Scottish themes and stories, performers and companies.

What about a new version of Shakespeare's Macbeth - performed in Dutch by the Ro Theatre of Rotterdam? Some years ago a major highlight of the Festival was a production of Macbeth in Japanese, which emerged as one of the most exhilarating and powerful interpretations of the Scottish play that I have ever seen. It should not be surprising that a fresh and "foreign" re-working of a classic is the best way to shed new light on a familiar work. Played without an interval and on a stark minimalist set, the aim is for the audience to follow Macbeth's journey towards darker cruelty and evil with "a great and frightening intensity".

According to the reviews of this production, festival-goers are in for a theatrical treat:

"The Scottish play is interpreted in a jet-black, crystal clear and horrifyingly restrained way .. strong acting, beautiful visual imagery".

Queen Elizabeth I of England and Mary Queen of Scots never actually met in real life. In Schiller's play, Maria Stuart, described as a romantic tragedy, these two powerful women do encounter one another as they individually try to come to terms with their own personal hostility towards one another and the political intrigue between Parliament and the two Royal Courts. The Burgtheatre of Vienna will present their German language production during the last week of the Festival.

In a neat piece of juxtaposition, Mary's story will also be dramatised musically in Donizetti's Maria Stuarda in a concert performance conducted by Sir Charles Mackerras with the Scottish Chamber Orchestra.

Festival Sculpture The selection of new theatre aims to attract a different audience with two new plays being commissioned from theatre companies normally associated with the Fringe. The Grid Iron company, acclaimed for challenging drama in unusual spaces, will present the premiere of a new play called Variety, by Douglas Maxwell. Set during the late 1920`s it relates the gradual demise of the old music hall show as audiences are attracted to the new Talkies as an alternative and exciting brand of entertainment.

To complement this play, Johnny Beattie, the great performer and comedian will present an autobiographical show about his life on the Scottish Variety stage, entitled "From Broadway to Cowdenbeath".

Another contemporary play is The Girl on the Sofa, a translation from the Norwegian playwright, Jon Fosse by the Scottish writer David Harrower as a commission through the Traverse Theatre in association with the Schaubuhne Theatre in Berlin. The plot revolves around the story of the Girl at different stages in her life as she approaches adulthood and years later in middle-age. Fosse's work has been critically well received across Europe:

"What he writes is so simple and so deep at the same time. He writes about situations everyone feels involved in, no matter where in the world they are."
     Bergens Tidende

As well as Scottish Opera, there will be performances by the Scottish Chamber Orchestra, the BBC Scottish Symphony orchestra, and the Royal Scottish National Orchestra. Rising young operatic star Lisa Milne will give a morning Queen's Hall recital and the work of composer Stuart MacRae will be highlighted with a performance of his violin concerto, previously heard to great acclaim at last year's BBC Proms.

Another series of concerts will chronicle the history of Scottish political song from the 17th century to the present day. The passion and anger, satire and wit are expressed in songs to represent a particular cause - Jacobites, Covenanters, and the great patriotic songs by such writers as Matt McGinn, Ewan MacColl and Hanish Henderson.

Funding the Festival
Fireworks The enormous bill and annually rising costs of staging the Festival - bringing hundreds of performers from all around the world to Edinburgh and hosting their visit - is paid for by a blend of public and private grants, donations, sponsorship and the box office income. Corporate sponsorship is imperative and this year, despite the financial climate over the past six months, the Festival has been extremely successful in raising around 2.4 million from around 55 companies, including banks, breweries, financial, insurance, oil, utility and IT companies. Certain key companies support selected events and productions at the Festival every year - such as the Bank of Scotland Firework concert on the closing night or this year's new Royal Bank of Scotland late night concert series. Arts and business create interesting bedfellows and such contributing companies realise only too well how their investment pays off with excellent public and media recognition. As sponsorship director, Nichola Pritchett-Brown views it:

"Edinburgh becomes the world's stage in August and companies take a great pride in seeing how their contribution results in major social and economic benefits for the city and the nation as a whole."

There is also the Edinburgh International Festival Endowment fund, established in 1989 as a charitable organisation. Private individuals as well as the business community have supported the project, often by the way of shares, to develop a capital fund for the financing of exceptional productions and events. This year's production of Parsifal is partly financed by this valuable Endowment Fund.

Children's Festival
Not overlooking the fact that today's school children are tomorrow's theatre and concert audience, a full education programme is planned to tie in with certain visiting performances. This year children can enjoy observing and taking part in Indian dance classes and a classical ballet project with the Swan Lake company. There are various music study days and a two-week residency involving drama masterclasses for secondary pupils led by Joan McIntosh from the New York theatre workshop.

There is certainly no space in this preview to mention the entire programme and nor would I wish to reveal all. This is just a selection of the highlights to whet your appetite. The next step is to Click on to and send away for a brochure.

Then plan your visit to the Edinburgh International Festival!

"With this year's programme we have a combination of events which is unique in the world, aimed equally at attracting people from as far away as Los Angeles and exciting our local audience. From Parsifal to our new series of 5 concerts, we hope that everything we do will offer a unique experience to the widest possible audience."
     Brian McMaster, Festival Director

Where else would you like to go in Scotland?

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