Edinburgh International Festival
The Edinburgh International Festival is an annual festival of performing arts in Edinburgh, Scotland, over three weeks in August. By invitation from the Festival Director, the International Festival brings top class performers of music, theatre, opera and dance from around the world to perform. The festival also hosts a series of visual art exhibitions, talks and workshops.
HistoryThe idea of a Festival with a remit to "provide a platform for the flowering of the human spirit" and enrich the cultural life of Scotland, Britain and Europe took form in the wake of the Second World War. The idea of creating an international festival within the UK was first conceived by Rudolf Bing, the General Manager of Glyndebourne Opera Festival, the arts patron Lady Rosebery, theatre director Sir Tyrone Guthrie, and Audrey Mildmay during a wartime tour of a small-scale Glyndebourne production of The Beggar's Opera.
Rudolf Bing conceived of the festival to heal the wounds of war through the languages of the arts. This is its principal raison d’être. It was first financed by Lord Roseberry with the £10,000 winnings of his horse Ocean Swell that won the only two major horse-races run in wartime including the Jockey Gold Cup in 1944. This sum was matched by Edinburgh Town Council and then some money in turn was matched by the Arts Council of Great Britain formed by Lord Keynes at war's end. Bing also co-founded the Festival with Henry Harvey Wood, Head of the British Council in Scotland, Sidney Newman, Reid Professor of Music at Edinburgh University, and a group of civic leaders from the City of Edinburgh, in particular Sir John Falconer.
Bing had looked at several English cities before shifting his focus to Scotland and settling on Edinburgh, a city he had visited and admired in 1939. In particular, Edinburgh's castle reminded him of Salzburg where he had been the festival director before the war. Harvey Wood described the meeting at which the idea was hatched:
The Edinburgh International Festival of Music and Drama was first discussed over a lunch table in a restaurant in Hanover Square, London, towards the end of 1944. Rudolf Bing, convinced that musical and operatic festivals on anything like the pre-war scale were unlikely to be held in any of the shattered and impoverished centres for many years to come, was anxious to consider and investigate the possibility of staging such a Festival somewhere in the United Kingdom in the summer of 1946. He was convinced and he convinced my colleagues and myself that such an enterprise, successfully conducted, might at this moment of European time, be of more than temporary significance and might establish in Britain a centre of world resort for lovers of music, drama, opera, ballet and the graphic arts.
Certain preconditions were obviously required of such a centre. It should be a town of reasonable size, capable of absorbing and entertaining anything between 50,000 and 150,000 visitors over a period of three weeks to a month. It should, like Salzburg, have considerable scenic and picturesque appeal and it should be set in a country likely to be attractive to tourists and foreign visitors. It should have sufficient number of theatres, concert halls and open spaces for the adequate staging of a programme of an ambitious and varied character. Above all it should be a city likely to embrace the opportunity and willing to make the festival a major preoccupation not only in the City Chambers but in the heart and home of every citizen, however modest. Greatly daring but not without confidence I recommended Edinburgh as the centre and promised to make preliminary investigations.
Wood approached Falconer, who enthusiastically welcomed the initiative on behalf of the city. As it was too late to finalise arrangements for 1946, plans were made for the following year. The first International Festival took place between 22 August and 11 September 1947. The Festival has since taken place every August.
The first Festival concentrated mainly on classical music, a highlight being concerts given by the Vienna Philharmonic, reunited with their erstwhile conductor Bruno Walter, who had left Europe after the Nazi occupation of his homeland. The Festival's first dramatic success came in the following year when an adaptation of Sir David Lyndsay's The Thrie Estaites was performed to great acclaim for the first time since 1552 in the Assembly Hall on the Mound. The British Army's desire to showcase itself during the Festival period led to the independent staging of the first Edinburgh Military Tattoo, featuring displays of piping and dancing, in 1950. This annual event has come to be regarded as an integral part of the official festival, though it continues to be organised separately.
TodayIn 1999, the Festival opened a new central box office and information centre in The Hub, a converted church on Castlehill, directly below Edinburgh Castle. Originally built as the Tollbooth Church to house the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, its tall Gothic spire is the highest point in central Edinburgh and a landmark visible for miles around.
The Edinburgh International Festival was brought forward to coincide with the Fringe in 2015.
All Edinburgh festivals were cancelled in 2020 due to the ongoing Coronavirus pandemic
Festival venuesThe principal venues of the Festival are:
- The Edinburgh Playhouse
- Usher Hall
- Festival Theatre, primarily used for opera and ballet productions.
- Kings Theatre
- The Queen's Hall
- Royal Lyceum Theatre
- The Hub
- 1947–49: Sir Rudolf Bing
- 1950–55: Sir Ian Bruce Hope Hunter
- 1956–1960: Robert Noel Ponsonby
- 1961–65: George Henry Hubert Lascelles, 7th Earl of Harewood
- 1966–1978: Peter Diamand
- 1979–1983: Sir John Richard Gray Drummond
- 1984–1991: Frank Dunlop
- 1992–2006: Sir Brian McMaster
- October 2006–2014: Sir Jonathan Mills
- October 2014–present: Fergus Linehan
Other festivals in Edinburgh
World premieresThe following works received their world premiere at the Edinburgh International Festival:
|Date of premiere||Work||Creator/composer||Presented/performed by|
|28/08/2003||There Where She Loved|
|Christopher Wheeldon||San Francisco Ballet|
|13/08/2010||Caledonia||Alistair Beaton||National Theatre of Scotland|
|02/09/2010||Quimeras||Paco Peña||Paco Peña Flamenco Dance Company|
|26/08/2011||Kings 2 Ends||Jorma Elo||Scottish Ballet|
|22/08/2012||Since it was the day of Preparation...||Sir James MacMillan||William Conway, Brindley Sherratt, Hebrides Ensemble, Synergy Vocals|
|27/08/2013||Festival City||Tod Machover||Royal Scottish National Orchestra, Peter Oundjian|
|12/08/2016||Hommage à Kurtág||Mark Simpson||Mark Simpson, Antoine Tamestit, Pierre-Laurent Aimard|
|16/08/2016||Anything That Gives Off Light||Jessica Almasy, Davey Anderson, Rachel Chavkin, Brian Ferguson, Sandy Grierson||The TEAM, National Theatre of Scotland|
|27/08/2016||Swans Kissing||Rolf Wallin||Danish String Quartet|
|04/08/2017||Meet Me at Dawn||Zinnie Harris||Traverse Theatre Company|
|04/08/2017||Flight||Oliver Emanuel based on the novel Hinterland by Caroline Brothers||Vox Motus|
|08/08/2017||The Divide Parts 1 & 2||Alan Ayckbourn||The Old Vic|
|17/08/2018||Correspondences||Peder Barratt-Due||Eivind Ringstad, David Meier|
|03/08/2019||The Crucible||Helen Pickett, Peter Salem||Scottish Ballet|
|07/08/2019||Total Immediate Collective Imminent Terrestrial Salvation||Tim Crouch||National Theatre of Scotland|
|10/08/2019||Quickening||Sir James MacMillan||The King's Singers, Royal Scottish National Orchestra, Edinburgh Festival Chorus, RSNO Junior Chorus, Ed Gardner|
|14/08/2019||Red Dust Road||Tanika Gupta based on the book by Jackie Kay||National Theatre of Scotland, HOME|
|17/08/2019||Symphony No. 5 "Le grand Inconnu"||Sir James MacMillan||Scottish Chamber Orchestra, The Sixteen, Genesis Sixteen, Harry Christophers|