Thursday 3 June 2021

High ambitions: Edinburgh International Festival's classical music programme for 2021

Jenna Reid (fiddle), Su-a Lee (cello) and Iain Sandilnds (percussion) perform in the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh to celebrate the launch of the 2021 Edinburgh International Festival programme (Photo Ryan Buchanan)
Jenna Reid (fiddle), Su-a Lee (cello) and Iain Sandilands (percussion) perform in the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh to celebrate the launch of the 2021 Edinburgh International Festival programme (Photo Ryan Buchanan)

How do you plan a festival when even the idea of a concert is uncertain? The Edinburgh International Festival has announced its plans for the Summer festival running from 7 to 29 August 2021. I spoke last week to Andrew Moore, the festival's Head of Music, about the festival's classical music programme for 2021 and he admits that the planning process has been a rollercoaster, going through various phases of planning over the Winter. However, despite the limits and restrictions, this year's festival features over 170 classical and contemporary music, theatre, opera, dance and spoken word performance, including 15 new commissions and premieres.

Early last year, there was hope that we might be back inside for concerts in Autumn 2020 but then reality dawned. The festival's director Fergus Linehan proposed the idea of outdoor performances for 2021. In September 2020 it seemed cautious indeed to consider we would not be back indoors until Autumn 2021, but now Linehan's ideas seem prescient. So the festival's classical music programme for 2021 will be taking place largely in the festival's new indoor/outdoor pavilions (at Old College Quad, Edinburgh Park and Edinburgh Academy Junior School).

In terms of programming, Andrew says that it has been a challenge but exciting as they had to unpick a lot of last year's cancelled programme, do some shuffling and re-work the original plans for 2021. The negotiating with artists about dates and programmes felt more like a normal year, but the repertoire had to be looked at from a different perspective. Social distancing on stage means that they had to consider smaller numbers of musicians, with no significant chorus (a maximum of 12), an orchestra of 45 maximum, and works with no interval. But for all the restrictions, Andrew says their ambition was high. 

Fergus Linehan wanted to include one opera done well, and there were not many which fitted the criteria. Richard Strauss' Ariadne auf Naxos was chosen. The festival has a history with this opera, with many people remembering the 1997 performances of Strauss' rarely performed original version. This Summer the festival will perform the more familiar revised version and many of the singers are people who were due to be singing at the festival whilst conductor Sir Andrew Davis is well-loved in Edinburgh and is known for his ability to pull together an opera in concert (he conducted Wagner's Die Walküre at the 2017 festival). 

Ariadne auf Naxos will be performed without an interval. It is a work that Andrew Davis loves, and when it was suggested to him that they do it without an interval, he thought about it and decided it could make dramatic sense. They have a strong cast, with three of the leading singers making their role debuts, Dorothea Röschmann as Ariadne and David Butt Philip as Bacchus. Röschmann was due to make her debut in the role at Hamburg State Opera part of the singer's careful move into bigger repertoire, but the Hamburg production was cancelled and similarly, David Butt Philip is gradually moving into heavier roles. Scottish mezzo-soprano Catriona Morison will be the Composer, again singing a role she was supposed to debut at a cancelled production (at Stuttgart this time). Zerbinetta is Brenda Rae, singing one of her signature roles, whilst  Thomas Quasthoff, who has been looking to add more speaking roles to his repertoire, will be the Major Domo.

Importantly, the performance will be off-copy and there will be some staging (by Louisa Muller who made her UK debut directing Britten's The Turn of the Screw at Garsington in 2019) and interaction between the characters, though how much depends on how much space they will have, which in turn depends on the amount of social distancing required for the orchestra. The performance will be at the festival's pavilion at Edinburgh Academy Junior School, which is near the Usher Hall and the pavilion's stage is about the size of that of the Usher Hall.

Another opera is Errollyn Wallen's Dido's Ghost of which the festival is a co-commissioner. Wallen's opera incorporates Purcell's Dido and Aeneas and was written for John Butt and the Dunedin Consort who perform it at the festival with Golda Schultz as Dido. Rather aptly Errollyn Wallen lives in the North of Scotland and the Dunedin Consort is, of course, based in the country too (John Butt is Gardner Professor of Music at Glasgow University), so Andrew sees the event as being one that is of an international standard and made in Scotland.

On a lighter note, there will be six performances of a 90 minute Rogers and Hammerstein review A Grand Night for Singing, which was created for Off-Broadway in the 1990s. Wayne Marshall will be directing the performances from the piano with a cast including Kim Criswell, Danielle de Niese, Anna-Jane Casey, Damian Humbley and Richard Morrison. The idea is to have a fun night out, and whilst it does include songs people know there were some which Andrew didn't know or didn't know what musicals they were from.

All these musical theatre works will be in the same venue, one event per week. Andrew describes it as a lovely setting in the school playing fields, pretty central in Edinburgh but the noise is just birdsong. The festival's temporary pavilions are beautifully designed and the audience will be under cover (pace the Edinburgh weather even in Summer), but with open sides.

The festival this year will include more film and audio recording projects including live-streaming, with the technical team looking forward to the challenge of working in these rather different type of venues.

As with the BBC Proms [see my article], Andrew says that early on the festival took the decision not to use visiting orchestras, as this was too complex and too much of a risk. Instead, the visitors will be conductors and soloists.  The festival has programmed in a way that they think is viable and possible, but they will have to respond to last-minute changes and Andrew adds that this is the world we live in at the moment. During the planning for 2021, they were also able to have conversations with performers who they had not had space for previously.

The opening concert will be given by the BBC Symphony Orchestra, conductor Dalia Stasevska with a programme which includes a new work by Anna Clyne named PIVOT after a well-known Edinburgh folk-music pub (now gone, alas) where Clyne used to listen to music. The companion piece will be Stravinsky's complete Pulcinella.

Vasily Petrenko and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, who were originally slated to appear in 2022, will be appearing this year in a programme with Isata Kanneh-Mason in music by Schubert and Beethoven. Sir Simon Rattle and the London Symphony Orchestra are bringing a bespoke programme of Ibert, Martinu and Richard Strauss' Le bourgeois gentilhomme (which ties in with the festival's performances of Ariadne auf Naxos).

Marin Alsop will be making her debut with the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra in a programme that includes a work by Jessie Montgomery, Peter Maxwell Davies' A Spell of Green Corn, which Andrew describes as a fun set of Scots dances, and Beethoven's Symphony No. 5 (at Alsop's request). And there will be three programmes from the Royal Scottish National Orchestra (RSNO) including Thomas Søndergård conducting Mendelssohn's incidental music to A Midsummer Night's Dream performed almost complete with linking narration from Dame Harriet Walter. Elim Chan will be making her festival debut with her concert with the RSNO whilst Valery Gergiev will be returning to the orchestra which was one of the first he conducted at the festival.

The Scottish Chamber Orchestra will be performing with the Japanese conductor, Kazushi Ono. He was sue to come with his orchestra in 2020, and now this year they are unable to travel so he will be conducting the Scottish Chamber Orchestra in a programme of Ravel, Prokofiev and two evocative Japanese pieces inspired by the beauty of the natural world

One of the things which fed into their planning was the performers were likely to be in Edinburgh for longer, so that as well as performing the Major Domo in Ariadne auf Naxos, Thomas Quasthoff will be Artist in Residence, giving a masterclass and performing with his jazz quartet. Another Artist in Residence is violinist Nicola Benedetti, who wanted to show audiences the different sides to her performing personality so there will be her unaccompanied violin programme, The Story of the Violin, where she talks about the history of the instrument, an appearance with her Benedetti Baroque Orchestra and a dramatic performance of Stravinsky's The Soldier's Tale which will be unconducted, performed as large-scale chamber music.

Chineke! will also be resident at the festival and they will be performing Judith Weir's song-cycle which was written for Jessye Norman and has never been performed in Scotland. The soloist will be Scotland-based mezzo-soprano Andrea Baker who was looking for a work that spoke about women's journey through life and career. The conductor will be William Eddins, who conducted Gershwin's Porgy and Bess at the festival a few years ago, and there will be a new piece by Ayanna Witter-Johnson in the programme too.

Explore the full range of classical and contemporary music, traditional music, opera, theatre, dance and more at the festival's website, and details of the festival's digital programme will be announced in late June.

The blog is free, but I'd be delighted if you were to show your appreciation by buying me a coffee.

Elsewhere on this blog
  • Innovative drama: Georg Benda's melodrama Medea in its rarely-performed revised version  - record review
  • What they did next: music from L'Album des Six alongside song cycles written after the six composers went their separate ways - record review
  • Handel the young Italian: Ensemble Marsyas in chamber music and duets from the composer's early years - concert review
  • Full of contrasts and dramatic cogency - Beginnings: New and Early Opera at the Guildhall School - opera review
  • Returning to Brahms: pianist Anna Tsybuleva won the Leeds International Piano Competition in 2015 with Brahms' Piano Concerto No. 2 and returned to the work for her debut concerto disc - interview
  • Six weeks of live music involving 2000 musicians with live audiences: the BBC Proms 2021 - feature
  • Exploring the Jistebnice kancionál: Barbora Kabátková chats about the Tiburtina Ensemble's exploration of this Czech manuscript - interview
  • Romanticism with bite: Daniele Gatti conducts Schumann's symphonies with Dresden Festival Orchestra at opening of the festival  - concert review
  • The spaces in between: José Luis Hurtado's music explores the relationships between complexity and freedom  - record review
  • Riveting drama: La Clemenza di Tito returns to Covent Garden after a near 20-year gap  - opera review
  • Sheer joy: Carolyn Sampson and Joseph Middleton's Elysium at Wigmore Hall - concert review
  • Fiendish, but fantastic: after a long relationship with the composer, percussionist Colin Currie has recorded both of HK Gruber's percussion concertos - interview
  • Unashamedly delicious: Nostalgic Russia, music for violin and piano from Hideko Udagawa and Petr Limonov - record review
  • Home


No comments:

Post a Comment

Popular Posts this month