Music highlights at the Edinburgh International Festival
- Kirstyn Smith
- 3 August 2017
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.
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.
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 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.