Los Angeles Philharmonic

Tynecastle Park/Usher Hall, Edinburgh

Keith Bruce

five stars

HOW to begin the world’s greatest arts festival? EIF director Fergus Linehan has grappled with that question since his arrival in Edinburgh. A free concert of film music in Heart of Midlothian’s football stadium lacked the imaginative impact of the run of audio-visual events in association with 59 Productions that began with the Harmonium Project and culminated in Five Telegrams last year, but the magnificent performances there and at the “official” Opening Concert in the Usher Hall the following evening were as clear a statement as possible of the ambition of the event.

In the space of 24 hours, the broadest representation of Festivalgoers, from family groups on Friday night to a noticeably comprehensive turnout of supporters and benefactors among the packed house on Saturday, heard the LA Phil and dynamic Venezuelan conductor Gustavo Dudamel play hits from their Hollywood home and then one of the pinnacles of the European symphonic repertoire, Mahler’s “Resurrection” Symphony.

Perhaps the quality of the sound at Tynecastle was the greater achievement. Although the PA system had seemed insipid during the pre-match video segments as kick-off was delayed to admit all of the audience, when it mattered every detail of the orchestra was there, albeit competing with sirens and seagulls. The best of the music was in the suites made from Bernard Herrmann’s score for Hitchcock’s Vertigo, Max Steiner’s music for Casablanca and Franz Waxman’s for Sunset Boulevard, on which the players were joined by a substantial contingent from its youth ensemble YOLA, as Dudamel recognised how the Sistema music education project that formed him had been adopted in Scotland. But it was the John Williams themes from Harry Potter, Jurassic Park, E.T. and Star Wars that inevitably galvanised the attention of the audience.

It will be Mahler’s Second Symphony that is spoken of as one of the great opening nights in Festival history, however. From a bare podium, with no score, Dudamel directed the most eloquently structured performance of the most moving of works, full of quite extraordinary detail in the pizzicato string playing, superb wind and brass soloists, expert placing of offstage brass, horns and percussion, and perfectly poised contributions from mezzo Anna Larsson and soprano Miah Persson.

The vocal contribution of the Edinburgh Festival Chorus was also exemplary. Silent for 100 minutes and only on their feet for the final three, Aidan Oliver’s singers showed they deserve to enjoy the company of the finest musicians in the world.