Scotland

What made last year's Edinburgh festival successful?

Launch of Edinburgh International Festival Image copyright PA

What made last year's festival season so successful? It wasn't just the close crossover of festivals, the fact the dates coincided for the first time in decades and that all the events tumbled into one bustling, intense three week period.

It was the strength of the Edinburgh International Festival programme - a mix of scale and intimacy, formal and informal, grand events inside and out the Usher Hall, and community events along the waters of Leith.

So more of the same please. And that's what festival director Fergus Linehan, now in his second year in post, seems to have delivered this morning.

Classical music remains at its core - Orchestra dell'Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia, the Gewandhausorchester Lepizig, the Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra and the Russian National Orchestra along with Sir Andras Schiff, Maxim Vengerov and Sir John Eliot Gardner.

Image copyright RNO
Image caption The Russian National Orchestra is among classical acts performing at the festival

But there's a continued blurring of musical lines, started last August when FFS (Franz Ferdinand and Sparks) stormed the festival theatre with a big, old fashioned pop gig.

This time, we have Youssou N'Dour, Barry Humphries and Mogwai all making their first appearances. Like Humphries - who'll appear with Fringe veteran Meow Meow and the Australian Chamber Orchestra in an evening of music from the Weimar Republic - there's a mixing and merging of traditional festival territory with what's more commonly seen as the Fringe.

Image copyright David Edwards
Image caption Franz Ferdinand collaborated with Sparks at the festival in 2015
Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Barry Humphries (pictured with his wife, Lizzie Spender) will make his festival debut

Late night cabaret - a faithful staple of the fringe - features across the EIF programme, not least in the nightly show Alan Cumming plans to host from the Hub at the top of the Royal Mile.

Cumming last appeared at the EIF in 2007 in a high profile production of The Bacchae - but this late night three-week run of Alan Cumming Sings Sappy Songs is much closer to his debut on the Edinburgh Fringe as part of the double act Victor and Barry.

Some shows have been seen before - but if the restaging of Martyn Bennett's Grit, matches the sheer exhilaration of that first performance at last year's Celtic Connections festival, it's definitely worth a rerun.

Same for the two shows which Scottish theatre company Vanishing Point will bring to this year's festival. Scottish Ballet and the National Theatre of Scotland both have brand new works to offer. There are several new children's shows too, branching further into waters tested last year.

The tradition of an outdoor spectacular - established last year with the Harmonium Project - is continued, this time with Edinburgh Castle and its rock taking centre stage. The music is by Mogwai but Deep Time, which concerns the geological origins of the capital (deep on every level) will still officially mark the start of the festival - although two days later than last year to avoid clashing with the start of the Olympics.

Image caption A soundtrack compiled by Mogwai will accompany an outdoor spectacular which centres on Edinburgh Castle and its rock

And if you want big music - indoors - try Gurre-Lieder, Schoenberg's massive cantata for five vocal soloists, narrator, chorus and large orchestra. That's up to 300 people to be squeezed onto the stage of the Usher Hall. It's also Donald Runnicle's last concert with the Edinburgh Festival Chorus which he once belonged to, so likely to be an emotional concert whichever way you look at it.

The programme itself looks a bit like the Yellow Pages, which given the list of artists and organisations it contains, seems somehow apt.

Will it be enough to ensure another record breaking festival season this August? A lot depends on the other festivals, not least the fringe, who've yet to announce their programme. But if it secures the same buzz, the same excitement, the same cultural crossover, it could be an interesting summer ahead.

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