The Edinburgh International Festival's music programme becomes ever groovier

This article is from 2016

Image of Godspeed You! Black Emperor

Godspeed You! Black Emperor

It's walls of sound and bags of cabaret at the EIF this August

Ever since Fergus Linehan took over as director of the Edinburgh International Festival, what have they been up to with that music programme? It's almost as if they think that people are able to like more than one kind of music at a time. It's not that there hadn't been quirky programming before: Jonathan Mills' penultimate festival in 2013 had a notable high point in Ensemble MusikFabrik's celebration of the music of Frank Zappa. But the overriding principle had always been impeccable good taste, reflecting Sir Jonathan's own background as an opera composer. The EIF's musical offerings in 2016 are altogether more eclectic; there's plenty of top-class musicianship in the form of recitals from the Amaryllis and Emerson quartets and George Li; Valery Gergiev conducting Wagner; Mark Padmore and Kristian Bezuidenhout performing Beethoven and Schubert songs and John Eliot Gardiner conducting Bach's epic St Matthew Passion – but there are also stranger, wiggier, more downtown things on the bill.

Here are what we reckon will be some high points – and, before you complain that we haven't included Alan Cumming (whose Alan Cumming Sings Sappy Songs is on all month at The Hub), the reason is that although we're sure it'll be fabulous, it no longer needs any recommendation from us because it's already sold out:

Karine Polwart: Wind Resistance
The singer-songwriter and storyteller explores bird lore, traditional music and Scottish football in this combination of story and song, directed by Wils Wilson.
Rehearsal Room, Lyceum, 6–21 Aug.

Deep Time
Edinburgh is built over a volcano. Everyone knows it, but people don't usually make it into giant multimedia public art installations. Deep Time is that installation. It's brought to you by 59 Productions, who did the Harmonium Project in last year's festival, and features music from Mogwai, animation and 350 million years of geological history.
Deep Time Arena, 7 Aug.

Godspeed You! Black Emperor
They don't play live that often anymore, so catch Quebec's roaring post-rock pioneers while you can. In keeping with Godspeed's egalitarian principles, this is one of the more reasonably priced gigs in the EIF.
Edinburgh Playhouse, 10 Aug.

Pierre Boulez: A Festival Celebration
Classical music's oldest Young Turk, who died in January, had a long association with the EIF and it's good to see his fiery, protean music on the bill once more. Here, Matthias Pintscher conducts the BBC SSO in works by Berg and Debussy, as well as an extract from Pli selon pli and Mémoriale ("…explosante-fixe…" originel) for flute and ensemble.
Usher Hall, 12 Aug.

Young Fathers
The explosive, Mercury Award-winning trio are the kind of thing it's impossible to imagine being on the EIF bill just a few years ago, but their eclectic, try-anything approach makes them right at home.
The Hub, 14–15 Aug.

Mahler's Ninth Symphony
Daniel Harding conducts the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra in Mahler's most death-haunted symphony, with Beethoven's Piano Concerto No 1, featuring Daniil Trifonov, as a curtain-raiser.
Usher Hall, Fri 19 Aug.

Patricia Petibon and Susan Manoff
There's a definite vein of showbiz in this year's music programme, with (besides Mr Cumming) concerts of standards by baritone Simon Keenlyside and a night of Weimar cabaret from Barry Humphries, but the classiest offering should be this charismatic French soprano singing songs by Satie, Poulenc, Fauré, Hahn, Bernstein, Gershwin and others, accompanied by renowned US pianist Madoff.
The Queen's Hall, Sat 20 Aug.

Mogwai & Mark Cousins: Atomic
Mark Cousins' documentary on life in the age of the atomic bomb has a soundtrack from Glasgow's premier noisemakers Mogwai, and here the band plays it live in accompaniment to Cousins' impressionistic assemble of archive footage.
Edinburgh Playhouse, Sat 27--Sun 28 Aug.

Schoenberg's mighty cantata isn't performed very often because of the sheer size of the forces it requires (he had to order bespoke music paper to write it) but in terms of the epic amount of sound it generates, this is up there with Mogwai and Godspeed. Donald Runnicles conducts for the last time as chief conductor of the BBC SSO, with a stellar cast of soloists including Karen Cargill and Thomas Quasthoff.
Usher Hall, Sun 28 Aug.

Godspeed You! Black Emperor

  • 3 stars

Cult Canadian stately sonic sculptors.

Young Fathers

Bass and electro heavy hip hop from Edinburgh threesome who won both the 2014 SAY award and the Mercury Prize.

Patricia Petibon & Susan Manoff

Songs, chansons and piano music by Satie, Poulenc, Fauré, Hahn, Bernstein, Gershwin and others Charismatic French coloratura soprano Patricia Petibon is world-renowned for her distinctive, beguiling voice, particularly in sparkling performances of Baroque music with conductors including William Christie, John Eliot…

Pierre Boulez - A Festival Celebration

Composer, conductor and musical pioneer Pierre Boulez, who died in January, was one of the most influential figures in 20th- and 21st-century cultural life. This very special event celebrates his 56-year relationship with the Edinburgh International Festival as one of its closest and most cherished contributors. Boulez’s…


Powerhouse conductor Donald Runnicles brings the 2016 Usher Hall concerts to a dazzling conclusion with Schoenberg’s epic mega-cantata Gurrelieder, marking his very last concert as Chief Conductor of the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra. One of the grandest, most opulent musical statements ever made, the voluptuous but…

Mogwai & Mark Cousins

  • 5 stars

Scottish experimentalists Mogwai provide a live soundtrack to a backdrop of footage from the nuclear age assembled by filmmaker Mark Cousins.

Wind Resistance

  • 5 stars

Every autumn, two and a half thousand pink-footed geese fly from Greenland to winter at Fala Flow, a peat-bog south-east of Edinburgh. Musician Karine Polwart captures the surrounding landscape through story and song, taking in history, bird lore and personal memoir.

Standard Life Opening Event: Deep Time

We will be live streaming the event on our Facebook page and also releasing a full length film of the event early on Monday 8 August. Like us on Facebook and turn on notifications so you know when we're live. The Standard Life Opening Event: Deep Time is an epic, outdoor, public artwork, bringing together spectacular…

Mahler's Ninth Symphony

Young British conductor Daniel Harding, formerly a protégé of Sir Simon Rattle and Claudio Abbado, has been praised for his potent, finely chiselled performances at the helm of the outstanding Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra. Together they bring a typically provocative, contrasted programme to the 2016 International…