London 2012 Festival: Pop and pyrotechnics mark launch
Pop stars, fireworks and orchestral premieres have marked the launch of the London 2012 Festival.
Events kicked off in Derry, Northern Ireland, where Imelda May and Pixie Lott played the Peace One Day concert.
A spectacular display of pyrotechnics lit up the stormy skies above Windermere; and there were further events in Scotland and Wales.
The London 2012 Festival is a 12-week, nationwide programme of arts events running alongside the Olympics.
Organiser Ruth Mackenzie has billed the programme, which involves more than 25,000 artists, as "a once-in-a-lifetime cultural event".
In Scotland, the Bolivar Symphony Orchestra of Venezuela performed in front of Stirling Castle.
The world-renowned musicians were joined by 450 children from the nearby estate of Raploch, formerly one of the most deprived areas in the UK.
The youngsters, some of whom were as young as six, received a standing ovation following their performance.
They have been learning orchestral instruments and playing music together in the Big Noise Orchestra since 2008, as part of a project led by charity Sistema Scotland.
Sistema's chairman, Richard Holloway, said: "This wee housing estate in Stirling has joined the ranks of the Royal Albert Hall, Usher Hall and Royal Festival Hall. Who could ever have predicted that?"
"This is beautiful," said conductor Gustav Dudamel. "How music has changed this community, with the commitment of the children, the passion that they have, the discipline.
"We are so proud to be here, so happy and so honoured. It's really something big."
The concert in Northern Ireland was part of a wider campaign for World Peace Day on 21 September.
Hosted by actor Jude Law, it was held at a former military barracks which has been transformed into a shared arts space.
Speaking before the show, Law said: "If you go back to the origins of the Olympics, it was always about truce as well and that's why it seems so apt that Peace One Day, as an organisation, is working alongside the 2012 Cultural Olympiad.
"For the two to combine, and for there to be a heart, and a good reason for people to celebrate is only a good thing. I'm all for that."
Pixie Lott, Newton Faulkner and an eight-month pregnant Imelda May were among the acts taking to the stage.
Meanwhile, the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra performed the UK premiere of Jonathan Harvey's choral work Weltethos, which was broadcast on BBC Radio 3.
In Carmarthen, Wales, artist Jeremy Deller's inflatable Stonehenge sculpture was unveiled. It will travel around the UK for the next 12 weeks.
Most of the outdoor events were hampered by rain and wind but audiences braved the elements, equipped with umbrellas and raincoats.
However, in Birmingham a free outdoor show involving a 50ft replica of a ship had to be called off because of the poor weather.
An extravagant display of fire, percussion and pyrotechnics at Windermere suffered some delays due to heavy rain but proved spectacular despite the stormy skies.
The Cumbrian night was illuminated by French street art company Les Commandos Percu whose show, Lakes Alive: On the Night Shift, coincided with the arrival of the Olympic Torch in the region.
"Historically, the Olympics was as much about the arts and poetry as it was about sport, so this is about bringing a flavour of that back," Jan Shorrock from arts company Lakes Alive told the BBC.'Value for money'
The London 2012 Festival involves artists from all 204 Olympic nations, and will spread to every corner of the UK.
But the current economic climate means the 2012 festival's £55m price tag has attracted plenty of criticism. Ruth Mackenzie maintains it is "pretty good value for money".
"I assure you, for a 12-week festival over the entire United Kingdom, compared to the budget for just three weeks in Edinburgh or the two weeks in Manchester, frankly it's a pretty small investment," she said.
More than 130 events take place in the festival's opening weekend alone, including the Radio 1 Hackney Weekend, headlined by Jay-Z and Rihanna.
Around 100,000 people are expected at the free London gig, which takes place over Saturday and Sunday.
Other highlights include comedian and musician Tim Minchin performing at The Eden Project in Cornwall and an exhibition of Olympic and Paralympic posters at London's Tate Britain in London.
Scottish artist Martin Creed will mark the opening day of the Games on 27 July by encouraging people to ring a bell for three minutes from 8:12 am.
He said: "The sound of bells to herald a big event is what bells were made for which is why I thought it would be good for the Games."'Uniting the country'
Yorkshire poet Ian McMillan and composer Tim Sutton have written Cycle Song, a brand new opera celebrating Scunthorpe's rich cycling history.
London 2012 - One extraordinary year
Next month's show will feature a community cast of 1,700 performing alongside professional opera singers and aerial artists.
McMillan admits he is gripped by Olympic fever and even has tickets for the basketball and hockey, but he says it is hard for people around the UK not to write the event off as a "London thing".
"We know it is a London thing but I think the whole country's involved in the cultural bit of it and that should be the excitement," said McMillan.
"But isn't it a shame that they call it the London 2012 Festival?" he added.
"Surely it would be better to call it the 2012 Festival? We don't need the word London, we know where it is!"