LIKE Glasgow it has been a European City of Culture, and like Edinburgh it is a Unesco City of Literature. Krakow, which has a rivalry with the Warsaw that probably outstrips that between the two Scottish cities, is wooing both with its appointment of Glasgow University’s Professor John Butt as Residing Director of the Misteria Paschalia Festival in the spring of next year.

John Butt’s post as Gardiner Professor of Music is rather less relevant to his appointment to lead 2018’s Eastertide eight-day event than his role as director of Edinburgh’s award-winning early music group the Dunedin Consort, which will feature prominently in the programme of what has become one of Europe’s foremost baroque music festivals.

The Misteria Paschalia is a relative youngster by comparison with Edinburgh’s 70 years as a Festival City, having begun in 2004. Established on the historical links between Italy and Poland in early music, last year it was rethought with an invitation to Vincent Dumestre, founder of group Le Poeme Harmonique, to bring a French flavour to the event. Next year the focus will be on the music of the British Isles, with Scotland’s Dunedins at the heart of the matter.

Loading article content

This week’s launch of the programme was a fascinating glimpse into another city’s way of using the arts as the major engine for promoting a city. While Festivals Edinburgh is an umbrella body that brings together senior staff from all the Scottish capital’s events and aims to ensure that they are all working together to best promote the city internationally, the young staff at the Krakow Festival Office actually make Krakow’s annual programme of festivals happen, moving from early music to film as part of their calendar of activity. That would seem an odd model in Scotland, even if it is the way many who work in the arts do organise their own freelance work, but it does seem successful in Krakow, which has been recognised with an award as a “City of Festivals.”

Spared the destruction meted out to Warsaw during the Second World War, its historic centre is full of beautiful churches that provide the bulk of the venues for the Easter festival, alongside a swanky new congress centre called ICE. Krakow is not really minded to relinquish its capital status to Warsaw, regardless of that being the seat of government, and still routinely refers to itself as Poland’s royal capital. The link with Edinburgh dates back to 1995, and Edinburgh Provost Frank Ross presented Krakow with its own official tartan, designed by Edinburgh University classicist Alex Imrie, only last month. According to the culture spokespersons in Krakow on Tuesday, the two “sisters” are “Royal cities and capitals of culture”.

In his remarks John Butt took a broader view of what he termed the “shared heritage” of music, and its power as a “unifying force”. Taking leading ensembles from the islands of Britain to the heart of Europe, he noted, was particularly crucial at this time – and no-one needed that reference explained to them.

Nothing needed explained in fact because the presentation featured simultaneous translation through headsets that kept all the languages in the room in the loop, and included the presence of local Polish radio and French-based global pay-to-view Mezzo TV as part of the organisational framework. If that all sounds very slick and flash, it sat comfortably with an appreciation of exactly where the audience of Misteria Paschalia lies. Robert Piaskowski of the Krakow Festivals office told me that as a celebration of Holy Week it attracted many whose Christian faith is as important as their enthusiasm for music, and that struck me as something you would be unlikely to hear from the lips of a festival programme director in the UK.

What that audience will be able to hear is the Dunedin Consort’s Messiah, a decade on from their award-winning recording, teamed with Handel’s oratorio Samson, as it was presented in the composer’s 1743 London season. With the Marian Consort singing Dowland and Purcell, the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment performing Bach’s St Matthew Passion with Mark Podmore, Stile Antico, His Majesty’s Sagbutts and Cornetts, lutenist Elizabeth Kenny and tenor Ian Bostridge, Butt’s Misteria Paschalia 2018 certainly features the cream of British talent. Might some of its delights find their way back to Edinburgh later in the year?