Festival veteran at concert marking 70 years of festival

Jock Dewar and Pauline McLean

An arts lover in his 90s who has been to every Edinburgh International Festival since 1947 was in the audience for a special concert to mark the 70th anniversary of the cultural showcase. BBC Scotland arts correspondent Pauline McLean spoke to him afterwards.

In 1947, Jock Dewar, newly demobbed from the army, returned home to Inverkeithing.

It was August, and family and friends were keen to tell the 21-year-old, a huge fan of classical music, about a brand new festival which was about to begin just across the Forth in Edinburgh.

"After four years in the army, I'd been more or less starved of live music," he recalled, "So to come home to so much music was a double delight."

Among the concerts he attended, the reunion of the Vienna Philharmonic with their Jewish conductor Bruno Walter, for the first time since 1938.

The first Edinburgh International Festival of Music and Drama also featured The Glyndebourne Opera which presented The Marriage of Figaro and Macbeth as well as Margot Fonteyn dancing in Sleeping Beauty with the Sadler's Wells Ballet and a 33-year-old Alec Guinness in an Old Vic production of Richard II.

Image copyright Pauline Grierson
Image caption The Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Bruno Walter in 1947

Mr Dewar has been to every festival since, going to an average of 15 concerts.

And on Sunday, he attended a special anniversary concert at the Usher Hall, marking the 70th anniversary of that first festival, which has grown to become one of the biggest and best known in the world.

The programme recalled many of the key moments of the festival over the years. Performed by the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Martyn Brabbins, that included Three Interludes from The Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk District by Dmitry Shostakovich, which was premiered at the festival in 1962.

Patricia Lascelles, Countess of Harewood - the widow of the Earl of Harewood, the festival's director in 1962 - recalled in a filmed interview during the concert that she'd been distracted by someone kicking the back of her chair. She turned round to tell him off, only to discover it was Shostakovich himself.

Memorable voice

"He was always moving nervously," she recalled, "tapping and kicking his legs."

Mr Dewar recalled the premiere too, and the bad reviews the piece was given.

Easier on the ear was Fantastia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis - which he recalled had been played at that very first concert featuring the Vienna Philharmonic and Bruno Walter in September 1947.

One of the many stars the festival showcased was Kathleen Ferrier. Although the contralto's connection with the festival was short-lived (she died of cancer in 1953) for Mr Dewar, she was a memorable voice in those early festivals and a huge loss to subsequent ones. Three Mahler lieder performed by Scots mezzo soprano Karen Cargill provided a moving tribute to her contribution.

Image copyright Norward Inglis
Image caption Bruno Walter and Kathleen Ferrier at the first festival in 1947

Ravel's Daphnis et Chloe was also performed in the 1947 festival. Mr Dewar wasn't keen on it then, and he doesn't like it, 70 years later.

But he admits that the joy of the festival, like tonight's concert, is that it has its ups and downs. Great works and lesser liked pieces all have their place here.

And as the concert draws to a close, Director Fergus Linehan takes to the stage to pay tribute, not just to the performers who have made this festival, but to the audience, among them, a handful of patrons from that first festival of '47.

Many, like Mr Dewar, a retired Latin teacher, now 91, come every year to the festival.

Mr Dewar is suitably modest about his contribution. He just loves the festival, and is happy to continue his attachment, as long as he is able.

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