Edinburgh Festival 2021 Goes Live

In the wake of last year’s swiftly improvised online Edinburgh International Festival, director Fergus Linehan told VoxCarnyx that “2021 will only be the journey back; probably 2022 will be the great celebration.” The announcement of year’s programme, while still cautionary, goes much further than realistic hopes might have anticipated, even if Linehan’s predicted path remains the longer term likelihood.

Classical music fans will be pleased, as the continuing restrictions on social distancing and indoor performance mean that the overriding emphasis of the 2021 Festival programme – which runs from 7-29 August – is on live music performance, facilitated by three major bespoke outdoor venues.

These are to be located at Edinburgh Academy Junior School, Edinburgh Park and Edinburgh University’s Old College Quad, each prefabricated structure open-sided to allow ventilation, and capable of seating between 300 and 700 people. The music programme will be centred on two of these: 26 concerts featuring some of the UK’s top orchestras at the Edinburgh Academy site; 36 smaller-scale recitals at Old College, embracing what would normally have been the Queen’s Hall intimate chamber music series. Repeat shows will open up each programme to a wider audience.

The orchestral series, for obvious practical reasons, has stuck with UK orchestras, opening with the BBC Symphony Orchestra, under Dalia Stasevska, in the premiere of PIVOT by Edinburgh graduate and current associate composer with the Scottish Chamber Orchestra, Anna Clyne. Vassily Petrenko directs the RPO with guest pianist Isata Kanneh-Mason, Sir Simon Rattle returns with the LSO, and the idiosyncratic Chineke! Orchestra performs Judith Weir’s song cycle woman.life.song with Scots-based mezzo soprano Andrea Baker.

Predictably, Scotland’s own orchestras play a key role. The RSNO performs several programmes, under Thomas Søndergård, Valery Gergiev and Elim Chan respectively, The SCO teams up with Kazushi Ono, while former RSNO principal guest conductor Marin Alsop conducts the BBC SSO in Peter Maxwell Davies’ A Spell for Green Corn and Jessie Montgomery’s Strum.

If staged opera is inevitably limited, it has presented Linehan with one of the few opportunities this Festival has to go completely indoors. It means, of course, that only 370 people at a time (compared to the usual 1800 capacity) can attend Edinburgh Festival Theatre for any of the four performances of David McVicar’s production of Falstaff for Scottish Opera.

Otherwise opera is, says Linehan, “very much in concert form”. Further to its premiere in London this weekend (see latest features in VoxCarnyx), Dunedin Consort perform Errollyn Wallen’s Dido’s Ghost, an imagined continuation of the story in Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas and starring South African soprano Golda Schultz. Sir Andrew Davis conducts a brand new concert staging by Louisa Muller of Strauss’ Ariadne aux Naxos with the RSNO and a cast led by Dorothea Röshmann in the title role.

It will be hard to avoid the presence of Nicola Benedetti, whose Festival residency makes full use of the Scots virtuoso’s growing versatility. Besides a concert focusing on Vivaldi, in which she appears with her new Benedetti Baroque Ensemble, she teams up with another handpicked ensemble for a performance of Stravinsky’s The Soldier’s Tale, and goes solo in a presentation called The Story of the Violin.

It’s in the chamber recital series at Old College Quad that the Festival has preserved most its reputation for internationalism, given the lesser risk involved in flying single artists from around the   world as opposed to full orchestras. Thus a line-up that includes soloists Patricia Kopatchinskaja, Renée Fleming, Ronald Brautigam and the 20-year-old Anne-Sophie Mutter violin protege Noa Wildschut; notable ensembles such as the Zehetmair, Goldmund and Gringolts Quartets, alongside the Chineke! Chamber Ensemble; and a tribute to the 250th anniversary of Sir Walter Scott’s birth by soprano Elizabeth Watts and pianist Malcolm Martineau.

On a lighter musical vein, Thomas Quasthoff, as well as starring in Ariadne aux Naxos, joins fellow German jazz musicians in an evening of vocal classics, while opera director Barrie Kosky and singer  Katherine Mehrling go cabaret with lesser known songs by Kurt Weill. Pianist Wayne Marshall directs a handpicked cast in A Grand Night for Singing, celebrating the classical musicals of Rogers and Hammerstein.

While the key emphasis of this year’s Festival is on live audience performance, eight of the Classical concerts will be accessible online.

General booking for the 2021 EIF opens on Friday 11 June. Full details are available at www.eif.co.uk

Image: Dalia Stasevska conducts EIF opening concert