Edinburgh International Festival goes digital as performers return to stage

Performers will be back on stage for the Edinburgh International Festival but shows will be filmed in closed venues and broadcast online.

The turn to digital offerings has enabled the festival to commission new works despite theatres across the city remaining closed due to coronavirus restrictions.

My Light Shines On – a series of digital works and light installations across Edinburgh -will mark what would have been the opening weekend of the festival season.

Dancer Sophie Martin from Scottish Ballet
Dancer Sophie Martin from Scottish Ballet

In a series of digital commissions, the festival has joined with Scottish artists and national arts companies to film original performances in venues including the Edinburgh Festival Theatre, the Usher Hall and The Queen’s Hall.

They include a personal love letter to Scottish theatre from the National Theatre of Scotland, directed by award-winning film-maker Hope Dickson Leach.

Scottish Opera’s modern-day interpretation of Gian Carlo Menotti’s The Telephone, starring Soraya Mafi and Jonathan McGovern, was filmed in the bar of the King’s Theatre.

Other performances include the Scottish Chamber Orchestra playing Beethoven’s Second Piano Concerto with pianist Paul Lewis in celebration of the 250th anniversary of Beethoven’s birth, the Royal Scottish National Orchestra celebrating Mahler’s 160th birthday and a series of films from Scottish Ballet.

The films premiere on Edinburgh International Festival’s YouTube channel on Saturday August 8 at 9.30pm.

The festival will also feature an outdoor light installation with hundreds of beams of light illuminating festival venues such as the Castle Esplanade, Usher Hall and Edinburgh Festival Theatre.

The installation, from Scottish lighting designers Kate Bonney and Simon Hayes, will be visible across the city and residents are encouraged to view it from their windows or a high vantage point, maintaining social distancing and avoiding crowds.

Royal Academy of Arts Summer Exhibition Preview Party 2019 – London
Royal Academy of Arts Summer Exhibition Preview Party 2019 – London

To mark what would have been the opening of the festival on August 8, a one-hour film hosted by presenter Kirsty Wark and cellist Su-a Lee previews the My Light Shines On activity on the International Festival’s YouTube channel.

Famous festival faces featured include Alan Cumming, Fiona Shaw, Anna Meredith and Akram Khan, plus collaborations with Edinburgh Festival Fringe, Edinburgh International Book Festival and The Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo.

A sound installation will also broadcast classical concerts – recorded behind closed doors in The Hub – throughout Princes Street Gardens on weekday lunchtimes from August 10 to 28.

Artists include Mark Padmore, Angela Hewitt, Dunedin Consort and the Hebrides Ensemble.

Videos of the full concert series will be released on the festival’s YouTube channel on August 8 along with a film of more than 120 members of the Edinburgh Festival Chorus performing Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana, having recorded their parts in their own homes.

Fergus Linehan, festival director at Edinburgh International Festival, said: “For the first time since lockdown, orchestras, ballet companies, traditional musicians, theatre ensembles and designers have come together to perform in and light up the venues they love.

“This has been achieved with great care to ensure the safety of all involved.

“It represents a cautious but essential step towards the re-emergence of the performing arts in our country.”

He added: “The programme of events that we announce today is not so much a curated season as a reunion – it is time for our artists to make theatre together, to play music together, to sing together, to dance together and to light up the skies together.

“We are working hard to engage and employ artists and freelance workers in the festival ecosystem and to help companies take the first steps in performing together in venues.

“Through these projects, we are providing employment for over 500 Scottish artists, creatives and technical staff.

“To all who have participated and all those who have supported them, thank you.”

Scotland’s Culture Secretary Fiona Hyslop said: “The loss of Edinburgh’s festivals this August will be felt across the world.

“Every year since the Edinburgh International Festival’s inception in 1947 the city has heralded the best of international talent, alongside some of the finest performers that Scotland has to offer.

“It’s wonderful to see that despite the difficulties the world is facing, the Edinburgh International Festival has harnessed that creative spirit to create a digital programme focusing on Scottish artists, once again bringing them to the global audience.”