Edinburgh international festival returns with music-heavy lineup

After a year away because of Covid-19, the Edinburgh international festival is returning with a music-heavy lineup for 2021.

Although the festival’s usual raft of live theatre and dance productions have been limited by the pandemic, there will still be more than 170 performance events, including concerts from artists such as Damon Albarn, Laura Mvula, and the London Symphony Orchestra directed by Simon Rattle.

Violinist Nicola Benedetti is working in residence at the festival, appearing with her Benedetti Baroque Orchestra, as well as performing solo and with another ensemble for a performance of Stravinsky’s The Soldier’s Tale.

Other orchestral performances include the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Vasily Petrenko and featuring Isata Kanneh-Mason; the Chineke! Orchestra, the BBC Symphony Orchestra, and Scottish Chamber Orchestra. The Royal Scottish National Orchestra will be conducted by Valery Gergiev with pianist Daniil Trifonov, and by Elim Chan with cellist Sol Gabetta. Marin Alsop will conduct the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra.

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Jazz artists include Moses Boyd and the Comet is Coming, while the experimental end of British indie is represented by Black Midi, Nadine Shah and Black Country, New Road. Chart-topping Scottish band the Snuts will have a near-homecoming, and African performers Fatoumata Diawara and Ballaké Sissoko will also appear.

Opera productions include Richard Strauss’s Ariadne auf Naxos with soprano Dorothea Röschmann in the title role; Dido’s Ghost, a continuation of the Dido and Aeneas story by composer Errollyn Wallen, who will weave new material through Purcell’s original, and featuring South African soprano Golda Schultz, while Scottish Opera will stage a David McVicar-directed production of Verdi’s Falstaff. Another star soprano, Danielle de Niese, will lead the cast of A Grand Night for Singing, a revue of songs from Rodgers and Hammerstein musicals.

Alan Cumming
The Scottish-American actor Alan Cumming stars in Alan Cumming Is Not Acting His Age. Photograph: Evan Agostini/Invision/AP

The slimmed-down theatre offering is headed up by the world premiere of Medicine, by Enda Walsh, starring Domhnall Gleeson in an examination of mental health. Alan Cumming brings his new show Alan Cumming Is Not Acting His Age, blending songs and storytelling as the actor ponders the ageing process.

Festival director Fergus Linehan said: “It is now time to look to the future” with regard to the pandemic, and described the festival as “a carefully organised return to live performance”. Numerous Covid safety measures have been implemented, such as the highly ventilated pavilion-style outdoor structures announced earlier this year. Other measures will include social distancing, shorter performances with no intervals and audience members seated in bubbles.

Twenty one performances will be available free online, a first for the festival. Another free event is Night Light, a nighttime walk through the city’s Royal Botanic Garden created by Compagnie Carabosse, known for their elaborate fire sculptures. The spectacle will be accompanied by live traditional Scottish music.

The status of the vibrant, comedy-heavy fringe festival, which happens alongside the more august international festival, is still in doubt. The current statement from organisers reads: “It’s still too early to say exactly what the [fringe] festival will look like in 2021. We will take our lead from official guidance as we continue to plan for the 2021 fringe with the health and safety of our participants and audiences in mind.”

The Edinburgh international book festival is still planned to take place, from 14 to 30 August in Charlotte Square Gardens.