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Edinburgh International Festival 2010: Simon Thompson looks forward to an interesting season (SRT)

Jonathan Mills is a festival director who likes to organise his programmes around themes. This year, excitingly, he has chosen The New World and he has just revealed this year’s selection of treasures. As the introduction to the programme states, “Oceans apart” evokes a multitude of images: journeys, discoveries and excitement, but also colonisation and the pain of separation. It is against this background that Mills unveiled his fourth programme last Wednesday.


The international theme is evident immediately in the choice of John Adams’ El Niño as the opening concert, a take on the nativity set in the borderlands between Mexico and the USA. Carl Heinrich Graun’s Montezuma, a German opera about the conquest of Mexico, is performed by the Swiss Ensemble Elyma, and the Opéra de Lyon bring Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess. A more conventional European take on the USA, Puccini’s Fanciulla del West, appears in concert starring Susan Bullock, Marcus Haddock and Juha Uusitalo. Reminding us that the new world doesn’t just consist of the Americas, the festival also sees the European premiere of Brett Dean’s Bliss, performed by Opera Australia. A project more than ten years in the making, and starring the mesmerising Peter Coleman Wright, this promises to be one of the festival’s most exciting tickets. Festival favourites also bring opera in concert: Sir Charles Mackerras conduct the SCO in Idomeneo and The Sixteen sing Purcell’s Indian Queen.


The area of the programme that Mills has done most to revitalise during his tenure has been drama, and it is here that the international theme comes out strongest. There are two exciting American productions: Elevator Repair Services’s take on Hemmingway’s The Sun Also Rises and the Wooster Group’s version of Tennessee Williams’ Vieux Carré. Chilean companies, Teatro en el Blanco and Teatro Cinema, bring plays, while the National Theatre of Scotland give the world premiere of Alistair Beaton’s Caledonia, a treatment of the disastrous Darien Scheme of 1698. Most exciting for music lovers, however, is The Gospel at Colonus, a Classical Greek drama with a cast including Gospel and Soul legends like the Abyssinian Chancel Choir and the Blind Boys of Alabama.


The dance programme features artists from Samoa, New Zealand, Brazil and San Francisco (the UK debut of Alonzo King Lines Ballet), though most attention will probably go to the world premiere of a new work from the Paco Peña Flamenco Dance Company.


The musical programme boasts a fantastic selection of visiting orchestras. The Russian National Orchestra and Mikhail Pletnev play Shostakovich 15 and Tchaikovsky’s violin concerto with Vadim Repin. The Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra play Nielsen and Wagner with Petra Lang and Juha Uusitalo, conducted by Sakari Oramo, and Franz Welser-Möst conducts the Cleveland Orchestra in two programmes of American and German music. Vladimir Ashkenazy brings the Sydney Symphony Orchestra, Osmo Vänska visits with Minnesota and the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra play for two nights with Mariss Jansons. Our home-grown orchestras also play under their principal conductors: the RSNO with Denève, SCO with Ticciati and the BBC Scottish with Runnicles, providing a grand finale to the Usher Hall season with Mahler’s 8th Symphony.


Elsewhere on the musical front the recital programme features great singers like Joyce DiDonato, Susan Graham, Magdalena Kožena, Simon Keenlyside and Gerald Finley, while instrumentalists include pianists Jonathan Biss, Lŷr Williams and Steven Osborne, and the EIF debut of Japanese violinist Midori. Chamber standouts include the Pavel Haas Quartet and Simon Bolivar String Quartet, another product of Venezuela’s Sistema.


The Greyfriars Series, one of the most popular sequences of last year’s festival, returns with a sequence of music that would have featured in some way in Spain and Portugal and their South American colonies. Artists include the Tallis Scholars, Ex Cathedra and The Sixteen. For the first time Jazz and Contemporary Music has its own section, featuring artists like the Kronos Quartet, Scottish National Jazz Orchestra, John Etheridge and Sarah Connolly.


In view of all this (more than 150 shows) the EIF seems to be defying the downturn and, in particular, the problems with sponsorship. It is hugely encouraging that ticket prices remain amongst the very lowest for any of the major European festivals, and half-price concessions for students and the young are available from the very outset of public booking. On top of this the EIF are launching a special benefits programme for people in their 20s and 30s called IN (see here for more details).


So the future looks good, and this summer looks set to be as colourful and exciting a season as Edinburgh can make it.


The Edinburgh International Festival 2010 runs from Friday 13th August to Sunday 5th September. Public booking opens on Saturday 27th March. Full details of the programme can be found at


Simon Thompson

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