Music highlights at the Edinburgh International Festival

Music highlights at the Edinburgh International Festival

PJ Harvey / credit: Maria Mochnacz

Including PJ Harvey, Benjamin Clementine and Reflections on Syria

Since Fergus Linehan took over the curation of the Edinburgh International Festival, the programme has been fresher and more innovative than ever before. While the Festival's reputation for putting on the very best in classical performances remains intact, a push towards giving contemporary music acts more prominence has audiences reaching for the 'buy now' button, and EIF is all the better for mixing the two genres in an accessible and diverse way. As a result, there's a lot to choose from, so here's music editor Kirstyn Smith's pick of EIF must-sees.

PJ Harvey
During Harvey's two-night stint at the Playhouse, her latest album, The Hope Six Demolition Project, should take centre stage. That's not to underestimate Harvey's back-catalogue and vast contribution to music – we'll never stop shouting about how she's the only artist to have won the Mercury Prize twice – but this record, released last year, is an immersive documentary piece, inspired by three years spent exploring and absorbing Kosovo, Afghanistan and Washington DC, alongside photographer and filmmaker Seamus Murphy. Its social commentary is mixed up with music reflecting what she saw; at times funereal, at times cacophonous, at times wistful. Bolstered by her nine-piece band, she will also dip into her back catalogue for what's guaranteed to be a wholly engulfing evening.
PJ Harvey, Playhouse, 7 & 8 Aug, 8pm, £15--£48.

Benjamin Clementine
Clementine's album, At Least for Now, won the Mercury Prize in 2015 for its raw honesty and deeply personal songs of unwitting adventure. Much has been made of the fact that his Later … With Jools Holland appearance won the praise of Paul McCartney, but it's Clementine's background – he was homeless as a teen in Paris and a busker, before exploring symphonic music and spoken word – that gives the record a quiet poignancy. Add to the mix his voice, which could shatter hearts, and the comparisons to Edith Piaf and Anohni (one of the star's of last year's International Festival) will make sense.
Benjamin Clementine, Festival Theatre, 10 Aug, 7.30pm, £10--£35.

Reflections on Syria
Reflections on Syria, an event held in collaboration with Shubbak, London's biennial festival of contemporary Arab culture, mixes not only music, but film and theatrical pieces to create an afternoon of learning and understanding. Artists who live and work in Syria present their own lived experiences as a means of introducing new stories and memories to the audience. As well as documentary filmmaker Yasmin Fedda and theatre director Rafat Alzakout, classical musician Maya Youssef performs a set that explores the concept of music as an act of healing in relation to what is happening in Syria right now.
Reflections on Syria, The Studio (Festival Theatre), 13 Aug, 3pm, £4--£8.

Staffa
Staffa is a full orchestral work taking in three different visions of the uninhabited Hebridean island of Staffa from BAFTA-winning filmmaker Gerry Fox and composer Ned Bigham. In 1829, a trip to Staffa inspired Mendelssohn to create his 'Hebrides Overture', an example of an early tone poem that he tentatively named 'Fingalshöhle' ('Fingal's Cave') after the sea cave he explored, a title which stuck after the piece was first published. It is this piece of work that Fox and Bigham are celebrating; Mendelssohn's haunting interpretation of the area influencing their own spiritual celebration. Staffa will also be performed by the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra as part of the festival's 70th Anniversary Celebration Concert on 27 Aug at the Usher Hall.
Staffa, National Library of Scotland, 17–27 Aug, 10am, free.

Had We Never
A bewitching way to end an evening at the festival, these late-night gigs take place in the imposing Great Hall of the Scottish National Portrait Gallery, and are centred on our national Bard. In Robert Burns: Chains and Slavery, roots and reggae singer-songwriter Ghetto Priest teams up with countertenor David James and bass Brian Bannatyne-Scott, as well as Makar Jackie Kay and members of the Scottish Ensemble for an evening that delves into Burns' legacy, and presents music and poetry inspired by both his work and a new Burns exhibition by Douglas Gordon and Graham Fagen. Ghetto Priest and the Scottish Ensemble take on Burns' 'The Slave's Lament', a poem highlighting his oft-noted disdain for injustice, while David James sings Arvo Pärt's arrangement of 'My Heart's in the Highlands'.
Had We Never, Scottish National Portrait Gallery, 17 & 18 Aug, 9 & 11pm, £25.

The Magnetic Fields: 50 Song Memoir
Stephin Merritt, in a celebration of his 50th birthday, has written an entirely new set of 50 songs, to be performed, along with a larger Magnetic Fields band than usual, in an event that takes place over the course of two nights. One song for each year alive covers the highs and lows of Merritt's existence, from the Vietnam War to medical conditions (Merritt suffers from hyperacusis, a sensitivity to certain frequencies and volumes), as well as love, loss and music. His dual showcases will be accompanied by a staging spectacular which includes 50 years of articles from his life, including reel-to-reel tape decks, old computers, a tiki bar and vintage magazines for you to flick through, should you become bored at any point. Spoiler: this is unlikely.
The Magnetic Fields: 50 Song Memoir, King's Theatre, 25 & 26 Aug, 8pm, £20--£32.

The Magnetic Fields 1

Leftfield pop’s answer to Stephen Sondheim, Stephin Merritt has been called one of the greatest songwriters of the 20th and 21st centuries. And to celebrate his 50th birthday, Stephin has created a brand new set of 50 songs – one for each year of his existence. In this magical mystery tour through Merritt’s life – from…

King's Theatre, Edinburgh

Fri 25 Aug

£20 / 0131 473 2000

Part of Edinburgh International Festival.

The Magnetic Fields 2

Leftfield pop’s answer to Stephen Sondheim, Stephin Merritt has been called one of the greatest songwriters of the 20th and 21st centuries. And to celebrate his 50th birthday, Stephin has created a brand new set of 50 songs – one for each year of his existence. In this magical mystery tour through Merritt’s life – from…

King's Theatre, Edinburgh

Sat 26 Aug

£20 / 0131 473 2000

Part of Edinburgh International Festival.

Staffa

Staffa is a work for full orchestra and large screens depicting three simultaneous visions of the uninhabited Hebridean island of Staffa created by BAFTA and Grierson award-winning filmmaker Gerry Fox and acclaimed composer Ned Bigham. The piece pays homage to Mendelssohn's famous 1829 visit to the haunting Fingal's…

National Library of Scotland, Edinburgh

Sat 19 Aug

Free / 0131 473 2000

Part of Edinburgh International Festival.

Sun 20 Aug

Free / 0131 473 2000

Part of Edinburgh International Festival.

Mon 21 Aug

Free / 0131 473 2000

Part of Edinburgh International Festival.

…and 6 more dates until 27 Aug

PJ Harvey

One of the most distinctive musical voices of this or any other generation plays selections of eerie, intoxicating material from her latest release The Hope Six Demolition Project.

Had We Never

Poet and Makar Jackie Kay, singer-songwriter Ghetto Priest, bass Brian Bannatyne-Scott and renowned countertenor David James come together with members of the Scottish Ensemble for four very special late-night concerts exploring Robert Burns, slavery and Scotland, in the magnificent and atmospheric Great Hall of the…

Reflections on Syria

A rare opportunity to experience work created in the most challenging of contexts. Six years into a complex conflict, artists from Syria present their stories and memories through film, music and theatre, taking us beyond the headlines and offering fresh perspectives on how war is affecting Syrian lives. The event…

Benjamin Clementine

One of the greatest singer-songwriters of his generation, Benjamin Clementine delivers deeply personal songs of shattering power and searing emotional honesty. Clementine won the Mercury Prize in 2015 with his beautiful debut album At Least For Now. His poetic songs, honest and inquisitive in style, frequently question…

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