Monday 4 April 2022

The 2022 Edinburgh International Festival celebrates the festival's 75th birthday, the final programme by artistic director Fergus Linehan and a return to a full programme in indoor spaces

Edinburgh Festival Theatre
Edinburgh Festival Theatre (Photo Wikimedia)

The final concert of the 2019 Edinburgh International Festival was a performance of Wagner's Gotterdammerung. It could not have been more apt. The 2020 festival did not happen, and 2021 was in somewhat reduced format with the majority of events taking place in semi-outdoor spaces. This year, the festival's 75th anniversary year and Fergus Linehan's final year as artistic director (next year the Scottish violinist Nicola Benedetti takes over the role), things are back to normal with a full programme of events in indoor spaces. There is no overall theme, except perhaps one of joy and celebration and as if to emphasise that change from last year, the opening concert will feature 300 people on the stage of the Usher Hall. I spoke to Andrew Moore, the festival's Head of Music to find out more about what will be on offer.

Whilst the festival's venues this year return to normal, with the Festival Theatre, the Usher Hall and the Queen's Hall featuring heavily, they do not rule out bringing back one of the 2021 special venues for particular projects as they are able to fulfil a role that the regular festival venues cannot. 

For this year, the festival is trialling large-scale residencies, having visiting groups for longer rather than simply flying in and out. This was something that happened in the past, and has two advantages. In terms of climate responsibility, having visitors coming for longer makes sense, and in artistic terms there is the possibility of engaging more deeply with audiences. In 2017, the Teatro Regio Torino came for ten days which was a very special event. So this year, two orchestras will be having residencies, the Philharmonia Orchestra and the Philadelphia Orchestra.

The Philadelphia Orchestra will give four concerts with Yannick Nézet-Séguin, two orchestral concerts in the Usher Hall, a chamber concert at the Queen's Hall where Nézet-Séguin will make a rare appearance at the piano along with orchestra principals, and a celebratory concert in a larger venue. They will be performing Beethoven's Symphony No. 9, with the Edinburgh Festival Chorus, and music by Gabriela Frank (the orchestra's resident composer) and Florence Price, highlighting Nézet-Séguin's championing of underperformed composers.

The Philharmonia Orchestra will be joining with Garsington Opera to bring Jack Furness' production of Dvorak's Rusalka (from the 2022 Garsington season) with Douglas Boyd conducting and Natalya Romaniw in the title role. The reimagined production will be given in the Festival Theatre, and having the Philharmonia in the pit brings added artistic excitement. There will be three performances of Rusalka, and the orchestra will also be giving three concerts, including a chamber concert, and Santtu-Matias Rouvali directing Shostakovich's Symphony No. 10 (which had its Western premiere at the festival in 1962) and Beethoven's Violin Concerto. There will also be a concert performance of Beethoven's Fidelio, with the Scottish conductor Donald Runnicles working with the orchestra for the first time. The American tenor Clay Hilley is Florestan, and Jennifer Davis will sing her first Leonore (she has only sung the role in the original 1804 version of the opera) plus Günther Groissböck and Willard White.

The programme has a slightly retrospective air, as elements of it are events that had to be cancelled in 2020 or 2021. One of these is a concert performance (with the singers off copy) of Richard Strauss' Salome with Edward Gardner conducting the Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra with Malin Byström in the title role. The English Concert will be conducted by Bernard Labadie in Handel's Saul with a cast including Neal Davies and Iestyn Davies. Iestyn Davies sang Gluck's Orfeo ed Eurydice at the festival some years ago and they had been talking to him about possible future projects, and Saul came up. It is also a chance to hear Labadie in action. A leading period instrument conductor in the USA, he is not known enough in Europe. 

Semyon Bychkov will be conducting the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra. Bychkov conducted the BBC Symphony Orchestra at the festival in 2019 and amazingly that was his festival debut. With his Czech orchestra Bychkov will be exploring repertoire with Czech links, pairing Martinů's Concerto for two pianos (with the Labèque sisters) with Janacek's Glagolitic Mass, and also performing Mahler's Symphony No. 7, a work which the orchestra premiered in Prague (in 1908, with the composer conducting). Susanna Mälkki conducts the Helsinki Philharmonic, both conductor and orchestra making their festival debuts. Whilst the London Philharmonic Orchestra will be bringing a new Daniel Kidane piece. Zubin Mehta, making his first festival appearance since 1980, conducts the Australian World Orchestra in Berg, Debussy and Dvorak.

The festival had been talking to conductor Francois Xavier Roth for some time, and he is bringing his orchestra Les Siècles with what has become their signature work, Stravinsky's Rite of Spring, paired with Lili Boulanger's cantata Faust et Hélène. This latter, a work that Les Siècles has not performed before, was written the same year as the Stravinsky ballet but could not be more different!

That opening concert will feature the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, with Donald Runnicles conducting, plus the Festival Chorus and NYCOS National Girls Choir in Respighi's The Pines of Rome and Orff's Carmina Burana. The closing concert, bringing what conductor Andrew Davis describes as a message of ecstatic hope, will be Davis conducting the Royal Scottish National Orchestra in Elgar's The Dream of Gerontius, with Andrew Staples in the title role, and two Scottish singers, Karen Cargill and Iain Paterson

Jordi Savall will be bringing a travelogue programme which explores the journeys of 14th century Islamic scholar from Algeria to Mongolia with music from across the Islamic World, and he will also be giving a second concert exploring the Armenian and Sephardic traditions.

There will be the regular series of chamber concerts from the Queen's Hall, from Monday to Saturday each week of the festival with the Monday to Friday concerts being broadcast live on BBC Radio 3. The Takacs Quartet is making a return visit performing Ravel and Coleridge Taylor, the Pavel Haas Quartet is performing Schubert, whilst Brooklyn Rider is joining with mezzo-soprano Anne Sofie von Otter for a programme which mixes songs from Schubert's Winterreise with his Death and the Maiden Quartet plus music by Rufus Wainwright. Pianists appearing include Ronald Brautigam, Bruce Liu and Pierre Laurent Aimard. The Dunedin Consort will make a welcome appearance, whilst Richard Egarr and friends will conclude the Queen's Hall series with Bach's Brandenburg Concertos.

Singers at the festival include Magdalene Kozena, Florian Boesch (in Schubert's Winterreise with Malcolm Martineau), and Golda Schultz in her programme This be Her Verse, with songs by women composers from the 19th and 20th centuries. Malcolm Martineau will also be joining pianist Steven Osborne for music for piano duet, Ravel, Schubert and Brahms Liebeslieder Walzer with four young singers.

This is a year of artistic collaboration between the UK and Australia, so Chineke Chamber Ensemble will be appearing with didgeridoo player William Barton in a programme that includes a new work by Barton and music by Mendelssohn, whilst the Hebrides Ensemble will join forces with Brett Dean (composer and violist).

There have been some failures; quarantine requirements means that events involving artists coming from SE Asia have had to be postponed including work by Tan Dun.  But overall the festival feels back to operating at full power. They are looking forward to being back at the Usher Hall for the first time since 2019, and to having a full range of international visitors. 

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