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EIF director discusses his 2013 season – where art absorbs technological shifts

By | Published on Friday 19 July 2013

Jonathan Mills

While it’s easy to get lost in the Fringe programme alone, the Edinburgh International Festival boasts another impressive line up of theatre, music, dance, opera and visual art again this August, taking place in some of the city’s finest theatres and concert halls from 9 Aug-1 Sep. Unlike the Fringe – which is famously unprogrammed – the EIF is put together by one man, Jonathan Mills, who recently announced he will depart the role of Artistic Director at the festival next year, making this his penultimate season.

Mills likes to approach each year with a loose theme, and this time he has considered the relationship between art and technology, and the way creators over the centuries have responded to the technological developments of their age. Or in Mills’ words: “This year we invite our audience to embark upon a journey inspired by the way technology seizes and shifts our perceptions of the world, translated by such visionaries as Beethoven, Beckett and Burton, John Cage and Jean Cocteau, François Couperin and Frank Zappa, to name just a few”.

He continues: “Great artists absorb the circumstances of their surroundings, and the prevailing shifts and shapes of our world, in weird and wonderful ways. The pounding chords of Beethoven’s ‘Hammerklavier’ Sonata” – a work created for and requiring the metal-framed pianoforte, and performed at EIF this year by Swiss pianist Andreas Haefliger – “are the result of a collaboration of genius. Between the ingenuity of piano makers like John Broadwood, and their fascination with materials and machinery, and the ways the the technological processes of the Industrial Revolution could be utilised in the design of musical instruments, and the rebellious zeal of a composer who grabbed such change with an immense passion, to reveal new ways of thinking about sound and music”.

“Or what about?” he adds, “The ‘wireless’ imagination of a poet-cum-playwright who was intrigued by the disembodied challenges of a compact electronic invention called radio, where conventions of characterisation and narrative are turned on their heads. For a writer like Samuel Beckett, this created an opportunity to invent a new language of dreams and drama”. With that in mind, this year’s International Festival includes stage adaptations of a series of Beckett works originally created for radio and television, the stand out production of which is possibly the theatrical version of ‘Eh Joe’, the playwright’s first script for TV, brought to life on stage by a certain Michael Gambon.

It is worth noting though, that while Mills’ thought processes are always fascinating to know when scanning through his EIF programme for the first time, such insight isn’t actually required to enjoy the constituent concerts and shows; ie it’s not necessary to know how Beethoven’s metal-framed piano worked to appreciate what a mighty piece of work his ‘Hammerklavier’ really is.

And while the International Festival boasts some of the priciest tickets at the wider Edinburgh Festival, it also has some of the cheapest. Mills concludes: “Our tickets start from just £6, and young people are entitled to a 50% discount and can also buy the best tickets still available on the day for just £8, so price shouldn’t get in the way too much of being able to try out a few different artists or companies in our programme. And remember, we’ve selected all the artists and productions in the festival, so they come with our hallmark of quality, and we think they’re really interesting. So while you’ll probably want to see those productions in our programme that are creating a lot of buzz, why not also take a chance on something a little less familiar and feel like a Festival pioneer?”

Check ThreeWeeks coverage of EIF at www.ThreeWeeks.co.uk/eif

LINKS: www.eif.co.uk



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