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Hark, a new chorus of angels is coming

As Scotland's first successful festival of 2104, Celtic Connections, comes to a close and the slate of events that will form the cultural programme for the Commonwealth Games is revealed, thoughts in The Herald arts garret are already turning towards the Edinburgh festivals, and our awards, the Herald Angels, which will be in their 20th year.

Here comes the commercial: if you are reading this andare pondering how your business can be associated with the best of the arts in this momentous year, you should be aware that a valuable sponsorship opportunity exists to associate your enterprise with those coveted awards that range across the full gamut of skills and endeavour in Edinburgh, and already grace the mantelpieces of some of the top names in the arts. Drop me a line and I'll put your people in touch with our people.

Since their inception, the Angels have been presented - by a star name that happens to be in the festival city - in the foyer of the Festival Theatre of a Saturday morning, and the list of talent that has graced our event is much too long to start going into, but generally they have been more than happy to turn up to receive an elegant winged statuette. I can recall just two occasions when the Angel had to travel to the recipient, with your correspondent the delivery man.

One of these was to the St Petersburg Brass, a quintet of busking horn players from the Russian conservatoire who were as familiar on the streets of Glasgow during the Christmas shopping season as they were to Edinburgh festival-goers for their appearances outside the Usher Hall and elsewhere. After Michael Tumelty had spent a week wondering why they were not playing inside a capital venue, we had to track them down to their pitch on Princes Street to present them with their Angel. Although they were initially bemused, and neither Tumelty nor I had the Russian to explain what we were about, the trophy sat proudly in front of them wherever they played from then on.

The other was a very worthy winner of an Archangel Award in 2002.

Our ultimate Angel goes to someone who has made a sustained contribution to the Edinburgh festivals over a number of years, and conductor Claudio Abbado, who died recently, was a perfect example of that. His appearances at the Edinburgh International Festival ran from 1966 to 2006 and included the direction of the New Philharmonia, the LSO, the Vienna Phil and the Chamber Orchestra of Europe.

In 2002 he was conducting the superb Gustav Mahler Youth Orchestra in performances of Wagner's Parsifal, for a production directed by Peter Stein, and he was not about to interrupt rehearsals for the triviality of accepting an award. So I and the trumpet-wielding figure of Gabriel were escorted by a senior member of the EIF staff on the short journey from front of house via the wings of the theatre to the pit to hand it over. The young players of the Jugendorchester were delighted and stamped and tapped the music stands with their bows in time-honoured style. Maestro Abbado scarcely lost focus on the score, nodded once and smiled, and then picked up his baton and turned back to the orchestra.

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