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Edinburgh International Festival: Creative sparks burn bright in My Light Shines On
- Deborah Chu
- 7 August 2020
It's safe to say this wasn't what any of us expected our August to look like. What should have been a month of creative discovery, of boundary-pushing performance and international exchange in this most incredible of cities, has been dramatically altered by the COVID-19 pandemic. While much remains unknown, the creative spirit of the arts – which have been a sustaining force during the bleakest moments of lockdown – burns as brightly as ever. The Edinburgh International Festival now celebrates these artists, venues and organisations that make August in Edinburgh such a special time with a world-class series of artistic interventions, titled My Light Shines On.
The programme officially kicks off on Sat 8 Aug at 9.30pm, marking the start of what would have been the 2020 festival season, with a one-hour gala film hosted by broadcaster Kirsty Wark and cellist Su-a Lee, premiering on BBC Scotland and the EIF's YouTube channel. The film will feature previews from across the My Light Shines On programme, as well as familiar faces from festivals across the years – including the likes of Alan Cumming, Fiona Shaw and Akram Khan – and collaborations with fellow August festivals the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, the Edinburgh International Book Festival and the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo.
The evening will then culminate with a spectacular outdoor light installation, running from Sat 8 to Mon 10 Aug, which will see key festival venues such as Usher Hall, Edinburgh Festival Theatre, Bristo Square and the Edinburgh Castle esplanade illuminated by hundreds of beams of light. The stunning display, designed by Scottish designers Kate Bonney and Simon Hayes, will symbolise the creative force that endures within the city, as well as paying tribute to the artists and organisers that've made Edinburgh's festivals into the vibrant and vital creative forces that they've become. Edinburgh residents are encouraged to view the spectacle from their windows or a high vantage point, staying within government distancing guidelines and without gathering in crowds.
The digital pieces that've been commissioned for My Light Shines On will feature some of the most dynamic and innovative work seen at the EIF yet, featuring works which have been adapted and created during a truly unprecedented moment in our history. Drawn from the worlds of dance, theatre and music, and performed in venues such as Usher Hall, the Festival Theatre, Leith Theatre and the Queen's Hall, the films will be broadcast on the Edinburgh International Festival's YouTube channel, beginning at 9.30pm on Sat 8 Aug.
The National Theatre of Scotland will stage a love letter to Scottish theatre past and present in Ghost Light, directed by filmmaker Hope Dickson Leach and co-conceived by Jackie Wylie and Philip Howard. The Scottish Opera take over the empty bar at King's Theatre to stage a modern interpretation of Gian Carlo Monetti's The Telephone, with Soraya Mafi and Jonathan McGovern as the unlucky lovers, while the Royal Scottish National Orchestra's Music Director Thomas Søndergård makes his EIF debut in a recorded performance of Mahler's hopeful, uplifting Seventh Symphony, alongside mezzo-soprano Karen Cargill.
The Scottish Chamber Orchestra will be tipping their hat to the great man Beethoven himself in celebration of the 250th anniversary of his birth, with Paul Lewis and the SCO offering a lively interpretation of his Piano Concerto No. 2. Meanwhile, the Scottish Ballet present a mix of new and existing work, showcasing their expansive repertoire with pieces by Helen Pickett, Sophie Laplane, Alexander Whitley and Zachary Eastwood-Bloom. Emerging choreographer Nicholas Shoesmith will also be debuting his work Catalyst, a special commission from the EIF which examines themes of creative resilience.
Filmed in an empty Leith Theatre, viewers will also get a chance to watch an intimate performance by Glasgow indie rocker Honeyblood; an energetic set by contemporary folk ensemble Breabach; and new collaborations from folk and jazz musicians with strong roots in the city, including the likes of Aidan O'Rourke, Skye piper Brìghde Chaimbeul, ney player Bashir Saade, guitarist Graeme Stephen and singer-songwriter Rachel Sermanni.
Meanwhile, the 120-strong Edinburgh Festival Chorus will perform Carl Orff's iconic work Carmina Burana from their respective homes, their separate voices mixing together into two films that highlight the hope and grandeur of Orff's masterpiece. Also on the programme will be the world premiere of violist Laurence Power performing a new composition by Esa-Pekka Salonen; a live virtual performance by West African supergroup Les Amazones D'Afrique; and a re-imagined version of Kieran Hurley's award-winning play Mouthpiece, titled Declan.
Beyond the screen, Princes Street Gardens will reverberate with the sound of iconic works of classical music, performed by the likes of Mark Padmore, Angela Hewitt, Dunedin Consort and the Hebrides Ensemble, every Monday to Friday at lunchtime from Mon 10 to Fri 28 Aug. Videos of the full concert series, recorded at the Hub, will also be available via the EIF's YouTube channel, alongside several deep-dives into the EIF's archives, including filmed performances from festivals past.
The EIF will also be extending vital support to the artistic community through a range of digital conversations, titled Artists in the Age of Covid, between Sat 8 to Sat 15 August. These talks, hosted in partnership with The Edinburgh International Culture Summit, will facilitate conversations about the challenges and opportunities in post-COVID art-making, and how the future of the industry can be re-imagined. Homage will also be paid to the many people that help transform Edinburgh into the Festival City every year – from business owners and taxi drivers to performers and technical staff – through the project Faces of Edinburgh Festivals, which will see interviews and portraits of these notable folk on display throughout the city and on the EIF website.
Though this will be a summer for the history books in more ways than one, the Edinburgh International Festival reminds us that hope continues to burn bright, even in the midst of some truly dark days – so long as we still have ways to connect, to celebrate all that we've accomplished, and to look ahead towards what awaits us in the future.