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New director builds Edinburgh International Festival excitement

You may have read a report by Phil Miller in our news pages of an informal briefing by the director designate of the Edinburgh International Festival, Fergus Linehan, in the Dunard Library of The Hub, EIF's HQ.

It was a small event, but it presaged some interesting changes.

Each Festival director has his own way of doing things (Linehan will be the fifth whose Festivals I have covered) and his predecessors - John Drummond, Frank Dunlop, Brian McMaster and Jonathan Mills - could hardly be more diverse characters.

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Linehan, in white shirt and charcoal suit, sat at the centre of a semi-circle of journalists, with a quarto-size moleskin notebook of meticulous handwriting on his knee.

The Irishman opened by likening the set-up to a meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous - a gag that would have got a bigger laugh in Scotland 30 years ago, tellingly; it also felt a little like a briefing from the EIF's press adviser back then, when the Festival director would not have descended to such an intimacy with the press.

The new man was at ease, but chose his words carefully, as he outlined his history of involvement in the Festival, including a reference to co-producing the Catalan director Calixto Bieito's controversial Barbaric Comedies that was suffixed with the Beckettian comment: "If you are going to fail, fail big."

That mis-hit has clearly not put him off. The enticing prospect of a theatre man being at the helm of the event for the first time since Dunlop was enhanced by his stated determination to include "theatre of a scale to match the rest of the programme" and the announcement of a co-production of Antigone, starring Juliet Binoche and directed by Ivo van Hove, who won a Herald Angel in 1999, the year of his last association with Edinburgh with a production of India Song by Marguerite Duras.

It was one of a trio of revelations about the 2015 Festival that knocked the event's usual embargo on its programme details into touch, the other two being The Marriage Of Figaro, in a semi-staged production by Ivan Fischer and the Budapest Festival Orchestra (who first won an Angel in 1997 with Fischer collecting an Archangel in 2012) and a celebration of the 50th anniversary of the founding of the Edinburgh Festival Chorus.

Linehan's other big news was the moving of the Festival dates to re-align with the Fringe, to give the audience the "entire spectrum" of the arts during three weeks in August, and his intention to extend the musical remit of the EIF in to other genres, while remaining as "advocate and evangelist for classical music".

If his intention was to build excitement for his first year, even as we gear up for his predecessor's final hurrah, the gambit worked.

This weekend the build-up to the 2014 event continues with pop-up performances at Surgeon's Hall and the Scottish National Gallery of art songs linked to the Festival's marking of the centenary of the First World War (see eif.co.uk/artsong for details). Edinburgh, it seems, will not be overshadowed by Glasgow's summer schedule.

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