Highlights include the new You Are Here strand, LA Phil at Tynecastle Park and a packed programme of contemporary music at Leith Theatre
The idea of internationalism and focus on global conversations has always been a key element of the Edinburgh International Festival's ethos. But as uncertainty looms around the world, the 2019 programme is very much reflective of a need to engage with and critique wider systems of oppression.
'There's an urgency to what we do and a relevance about what we do,' says Festival Director Fergus Linehan. 'I think anyone who's just trying to run anything is worried about uncertainty at the moment. And worried about the poisonous rhetoric that exists, that emboldens people who stand against the whole idea of global conversations. Even though it's miles away, we've been thinking a lot about the 75th anniversary of the festival in 2022 because one of the questions that came out of the 70th anniversary was, when we say international, what do we mean?'
A particularly exciting and inspiring addition to this year's programme, You Are Here is a strand of theatre, dance, music, readings and discussions that take audiences further afield, offering unique perspectives on issues that affect communities around the world. Artists from Scotland, the rest of the UK, Nigeria, Canada, Mali, Lebanon and beyond are given voice to ask vital questions and consider what identity and citizenship means in the 21st century.
Hear Word! / credit: Gretjen Helene
'So many artists around the world are saying we can't just do this for aesthetics, there are really pressing questions that we've got to address,' notes Linehan. 'I think at a big festival like this, your natural focus in a sense is to create these big signature moments. But in fact, a lot of the really important and complex work both geographically and artistically exists at a different level. So it's about trying to provide space to make sure that we're having that conversation.'
Highlights of the programme include: Hear Word!, in which ten of Nigeria's biggest stars come together on stage to tell multi-generational stories; Milo Rau's unflinching piece of investigative theatre La Reprise; the world premiere of the National Theatre of Scotland's Red Dust Road, adapted from the memoir by Jackie Kay; Kalakuta Republic, Serge Aimé Coulibaly's fusion of dance, music and revolution, inspired by the life of Fela Kuti; and Hard to be Soft: A Belfast Prayer, a piece created by Belfast-based choreographer and dancer Oona Doherty, with music by DJ David Holmes.
Gustavo Dudamel / credit: Adam Latham
'I think geographically our spread is just better this year,' explains Linehan when asked for his thoughts on the 2019 programme. 'We've got really significant work from China, we've got quite a lot of work from Africa and our reach is a lot further. If we're talking about internationalism, so many of the questions of the moment are not just domestic. You can only begin to grab hold of them when you start to look a little bit further afield. I mean it's funny, because in a sense, the festival is also a party. It's also really good fun but you don't want to be fiddling while Rome burns. And I do think that there's a lot of creativity being channeled at the moment into not just protest, but actually trying to ask what the next stages are and where we go from here.'
Throughout the programme, there are artists responding to urgent questions, but there's also an emphasis on unconventional ideas and new strategies. Following a series of successful opening events, starting with 2015's Harmonium at the Usher Hall, the International Festival are taking on a fresh approach to this year's opening, extending the event out of the city centre for the first time with LA Phil at Tynecastle Park stadium (2 Aug). 'To tie together what we do at the Usher Hall with something really big and easily accessible should be really interesting,' Linehan says. 'We've never done anything in a football stadium before! Also, we haven't really done anything up around that part of the city before, so I'm really looking forward to that.'
Ian McKellen / credit: Oliver Rosser Feast Creative
In this grand family friendly concert, Gustavo Dudamel and his orchestra will perform classic movie scores from the Golden Age of Hollywood, including music from Star Wars, Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, E.T. and many more. Elsewhere on the classical lineup, there are a range of brand new productions, returning companies and anniversary celebrations. Eugene Onegin marks the return of Komische Oper Berlin and its Artistic Director Barrie Kosky to the International Festival, while Sir Andrew Davis and the Royal Scottish National Orchestra reunite with an international cast of soloists for Götterdämmerung (25 Aug), the epic conclusion to Wagner's Ring cycle. The International Festival will also be celebrating Sir James MacMillan's 60th birthday with a series of concerts that draw attention to his varied repertoire, including the world premiere of his Symphony No 5, Le grand inconnu (17 Aug).
Created by David Hare and directed by Jonathan Kent, Peter Gynt sees Scottish star James McArdle take on the challenging title role in a major co-production with National Theatre of Great Britain. The International Festival will play host to the world premiere of Scottish Ballet's The Crucible, a major highlight in the company's 50th anniversary year; the European premiere of Sydney Theatre Company's The Secret River, based on Kate Grenville's moving novel; and the European premiere of Breaking the Waves, US composer Missy Mazzoli's opera based on Lars von Trier's controversial film. Peacock Contemporary Dance Company and choreographer Yang Liping take inspiration from Chinese and Tibetan symbols of nature for a provocative reinterpretation of Stravinsky's The Rite of Spring, while British director Robert Icke joins Internationaal Theater Amsterdam for a chilling version of Oedipus.
Yang Liping's The Rite of Spring
Over at the Leith Theatre, the International Festival once again presents a cracking line-up of contemporary music, including Neneh Cherry (10 Aug), Anna Calvi (11 Aug), Teenage Fanclub (16 Aug), Connan Mockasin (20 Aug), Sharon Van Etten (21 Aug), Jarvis Cocker presents JARV IS (22 Aug) and Efterklang (23 Aug). Other major highlights across the programme include Stephen Fry's Mythos: A Trilogy Gods. Heroes. Men., in which Fry brings to brilliant life the gods, monsters and mortals of ancient Greece, translating their stories into the language of the 21st century; Sir Ian McKellen performing extracts from his best-loved roles; and a production of West Side Story, conducted by Sir John Eliot Gardiner, with a hand-picked cast from Scotland and America and special guest instrumentalists from the worlds of jazz and musical theatre.
'I do think we need to redefine what international means on two fronts, both straight up geographically but also culturally,' Linehan adds. 'On the one hand, we need to think a lot more about what's happening internationally but also, the connectivity of the festival to the city becomes really important as well. A lot of these questions have an international relevance but they also have a relevance to the people who live in Edinburgh. So I hope that by the time we look at the 75th festival, people in the city will feel even more connected to what we're doing and that we find ways of doing that, while at the same time, enjoying this worldview.'
Edinburgh International Festival, Fri 2–Mon 26 Aug. Public booking opens on Sat 6 Apr. Full programme at eif.co.uk.