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Northern limelight for the rising stars

AMONG the many reasons why all right-thinking people deplore the expansion of the Edinburgh festivals season to more than five weeks since the Fringe declared chronological UDI (the jazz festival started yesterday and the fireworks aren't till September 3), the Aberdeen dimension is often overlooked.

Starting on Wednesday and running for 10 days, the Aberdeen International Youth Festival (AIYF) is a venerable institution for all its regularly renewed youthful vivacity. The 2006 event is the 34th and the bridge-building, international dimension to the festival is as significant as the post-war European reconstruction agenda of the Edinburgh International Festival (EIF) itself. The very cheery-looking cover stars of this year's programme make up the choir from the University of the Philippines, making their 11th visit to the festival as part of a 197-date, 40,000-mile world tour.

They may be old friends, but they are also indicative of the diversity of this year's festival, taking their place in a programme that also includes three African groups, a Chinese choir, an Israeli dance group, a French contemporary folk group, a symphony orchestra from the United States, a dance troupe from Sri Lanka, an acting group from the Philippines, an Armenian orchestra, wind and brass ensembles from Germany and two Azerbaijani musicians.

That sort of global reach gives Edinburgh a run for its money, which makes the high-handed way in which the English bank holiday-fixated migrant summer visitors to the Scottish arts scene moved the dates of the Fringe forward by a week all the more galling. It is pleasing to note that resistance to this has not entirely petered out, with the Traverse programming into the EIF's third week (as well as being first out of the Fringe starting blocks) and the National Festival of Youth Orchestras (NFOYO) maintaining alignment with the "official" festival.

THIS LATTER matter is significant. Its programme may be much more varied today, but the AIYF began life as a celebration of young classical music-making and the timing of the Aberdeen event in relation to Edinburgh was critical. Orchestras would play there on their way to the NFOYO and some still do, while other young performers now go on to Fringe runs. This year, however, much of the Fringe begins on the same day as the AIYF. The resourceful young folk may have worked round this, but it has considerable implications for the profile of the event, which is now in direct competition for media attention with the attention-seeking naked controversy machine that is the Edinburgh Fringe. To say the evolution and practice of three decades of the Scottish summer arts calendar was bulldozed to allow aspiring thespians from English universities to go home after the bank holiday is only to state the obvious, besides acknowledging what is rarely admitted.

The High Commission of Canada is on record as naming the AIYF as the leading festival for youth arts in the world and the proportion of overseas participants - more than 60-per cent, or roughly 600 of a total of 1000 young people - is impressive, but the festival also works well on a local level. It has an established partnership with the National Youth Orchestra of Scotland (NYOS) - the chair of that organisation, Richard Chester, has already fulsomely endorsed the formation of the Grampian Youth Orchestra for this year's event as "an extremely important local and national development" - and it was to the AIYF that the new National Theatre of Scotland turned for the local administration of the Aberdeen end of its launch event, Home. That production has a successor in the MIA Theatre Collective's show, Finding Aberdeen, at the Lemon Tree a week on Monday.

Nor is the programme restricted to the city itself: Inverurie, Fraserburgh, Keith, Brechin and Kemnay all see festival performances. Highlights of the 90 performances are many and varied. The NYOS performance of Oliver Searle's Earworm opens a concert on Wednesday that includes Barber's Violin Concerto and Mahler 1. The gala concert in the city's splendid Music Hall on Friday August 11 has the Grampian band lining up alongside peers from the US and Germany, and this year's opera production, directed by Gidon Saks, is the extremely brave choice of Britten's The Turn of the Screw (to be performed at the Lemon Tree on Friday, Sunday August 6 and Wednesday August 9). The global dance programme at Aberdeen Arts Centre (Hungary, Israel, Sri Lanka, Norway, Canada and Ghana are all represented) culminates in a gala at His Majesty's on Thursday August 10. Just as diverse, unsurprisingly, is the world music programme, which takes in the Beach Ballroom and jazz venue the Blue Lamp, and includes a combo from Aberdeen's twin city in France, Clermont Ferrand, with the splendid name La Mission d'Arthur le Dur.

They are narrowly beaten to the accolade of The Guide's Most Welcome Visitor to Scotland This Week, however, by the Elgin Youth Symphony Orchestra - not a feeder band to the new Grampian outfit as you might suppose, but the winners of the title Youth Orchestra of the Year in its home state of Illinois. Appropriately they follow their Music Hall date on Friday with a concert - primarily of American music of course - in Elgin Town Hall a week today.

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