ED2015 News

New dates, new schemes, though the new International Festival director insists his artists are the real innovators

By | Published on Friday 7 August 2015

Fergus Linehan

When ThreeWeeks launched in 1996 the Edinburgh Festival was a three week festival. True, there were previews and some other early-door events in what the Festival community called ‘week zero’, but the core of the Festival was a three week period somewhere in the middle of August. Hence our name, see.

But then a few years in, the Fringe decided to shift forward a week so that it reached its climax on the English bank holiday at the end of August. But the International Festival – citing bookings already made two or three years in advance, and a calendar of worldwide festivals in which it must slot – declined to follow suit. And so the Edinburgh Festival became a sort of four, possibly five week affair – preview week, the core three weeks, and then one final week when just the International Festival was still running.

But this year the International Festival got a new boss, in the form of Festival Director Fergus Linehan, and his first big change was to pull his three week event back into sync with everything else, so that both the Fringe and the International Festival officially kick off today.

“As a festival attendee of twenty years, the separation of the dates always felt deeply frustrating” he tells ThreeWeeks. “What Edinburgh offers that no other event in the world can, is the ability to move across so many different forms of art and entertainment in the one day. I feel that, as a group of festivals, this is our unique offering so we should maximise the number of dates when this collective experience is possible”.

Well, as a magazine called ThreeWeeks, we for one agree. Though the shift in dates isn’t the only interesting development occurring since Linehan took over at EIF. Whereas his predecessor often had albeit loose themes around which he programmed, the new boss has decided to go for a performer-led approach, hoping to form ongoing relationships with a community of artists.

He explains: “There are no overt themes in our programme this year. The focus was to begin conversations with artists who we felt could make a real contribution, and not just this year, but over the course of my tenure. That’s one of the reasons we put a series of artist portraits on the front of our marketing materials – we wanted the programme to feel as if it was driven by the individual fascinations of great artists. From these conversations we have tried to craft a programme that celebrates the Festival’s great traditions of virtuosity and rigour while simultaneously recognising the changing world around us”.

It does feel like there are a number of innovations in the programme this year (as, we should note, has been the norm whenever a new director has been appointed at the EIF). Though Linehan is keen to stress that it is his performers who are the real innovators. “I hope that the real innovations will come in the from the artists in our programme” he muses, adding, “Ivan Fischer’s approach to Mozart or Jordi Savall’s response to Celtic music are where the real innovations can be heard”.

Nevertheless, he concedes he is doing a little experimenting as programmer as well. “We do have a number of broad programmatic initiatives that we’ll be trying out, including the marrying of technology and music in our free open air opening event, ‘The Harmonium Project’, and the series of concerts at The Hub celebrating a wildly diverse range of musical styles”.

Certainly the music side of the International Festival – always the most prolific – does feel more diverse than in the past. The core classical programme is still there, but a number of artists associated with other genres appear too. “It just seemed logical to me that an international arts festival should reflect artists who are producing ambitious work of substance” Linehan says, “people like Sufjan Stevens or Bryce Dessner fit perfectly into that brief”.

Of course, festival and venue directors always hate being asked to hone in on just a handful of the shows they’ve booked, but we got Linehan to sign off from his first meeting with Team ThreeWeeks by running through this year’s biggest EIF productions, and then tipping a few of the more intimate performances. “The big beasts are ‘The Harmonium Project’, the Komische Oper’s ‘The Magic Flute’ and Ballet Am Rhein’s ‘Seven’” he said, “but keep an eye out for Chilly Gonzales, Tao Dance and ‘Confessions Of A Justified Sinner’”. That we will, as we once again navigate the wider Edinburgh Festival, ThreeWeeks of great cultural adventures.

LINKS: eif.co.uk