Prepare to be enlightened.



IN the three years, since Jonathan Mills took over as director of the Edinburgh International

Festival, there has been a dramatic sea change in the structure and content of the Festival’s music programme. In the 15 years during which Sir Brian McMaster was in charge, the music programme, with many superb qualities and performers, was bedded in the mainstream of Western classical music. That period, roughly, ran from Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven, and through the music of the 19th century, the big Romantic (and crowd-pulling) period.

Of course that’s a generalisation, but by and large it’s true. And it did mean that one of the richest and most productive periods in Western classical music, the Baroque era of the early to middle 18th century, as well as even earlier music, was pretty much neglected. That is the issue that has been systematically addressed by Mills, culminating in this year’s music programme, with its huge focus on the music of Bach and Handel.

Not everyone is happy. Many music lovers miss their big rock-solid orchestral programme at the Usher Hall, which one former orchestra boss said should be the core of the music programme.

Has Mills gone to an extreme? Yes he has, in order to address the question of the

“missing link” in the music programme, and many are curious as to how he’ll find his way back from the extreme.

In the meantime, those who do not like Baroque music search for other plums. So what are they? What’s the best on offer for Baroqueophobes? What are Tumelty’s top tips?

In the orchestral programme, the

Philharmonia Orchestra concert is a plum with perhaps a hard stone in the middle. On its night, the Philharmonia, with a very characteristic sound, is one of the great London orchestras. And the programme, which opens with Bartok’s hair-raisingly exciting Miraculous Mandarin Suite, and includes Debussy’s flawless, ultra-sophisticated

10-minute masterpiece, L’Apres-midi D’Un Faune and Janacek’s trumpet-laden and blazing Sinfonietta, amounts to a display case for the fabulous versatility of this great orchestra.

And the stone in the middle? Conductor Esa-Pekka Salonen is also a composer, whose own Piano Concerto will feature in the programme. I seem to remember it got a pasting in some quarters. The rest of the programme, however, is a must.

The RSNO with Stephane Deneve has a strong track record, with the tall Frenchman bringing new levels of polish to the orchestra in the music of his own country. Their performance of Berlioz’s Romeo Et Juliette promises a night of high drama and electric intensity.

And it will be high voltage too in the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra’s concert with Donald Runnicles, where their performance of Strauss’s tone poem Don Quixote should be a good indicator of what we can expect in Scotland in October when Runnicles takes up his post of chief conductor of the SSO.

For mainstream fans who don’t mind a little tart flavour in their musical meal, then the concert by the Tonhalle Orchestra Zurich, with David Zinman conducting, serves up a real feast in a programme that opens with Brahms’s wonderful Haydn Variations, and closes with Mahler’s utterly beguiling and seductive Fourth Symphony, which has a ravishing slow movement that will stop your heart, then kick-start it again as the music climaxes in an awe-inspiring blaze of light and colour.

In the middle of the programme, the great American soprano Dawn Upshaw will sing Berio’s Folk Songs, beautiful and moving arrangements with, here and there, a touch of pungency. Upshaw will also bring

her gorgeous voice to the childlike, heart-warming song that is the finale of the Mahler.

Now then, what about just a hint of adventure? A touch of danger to spice up your personal festival programme?

In the Queen’s Hall morning concert series, there will be two concerts by the Arditti Quartet. This group is not your average string quartet. It’s not even your above-average string quartet. Irvine

Arditti’s group has dominated the new-music

horizon for over three decades.

But it’s not what they play, it’s the way that they play it. With various changes of personnel over the years, they seem consistently to have superhuman technical abilities, strength and power. To witness them at close quarters, in full flight and turbo-driven is, believe me, absolutely awesome.

If you are at all curious, then try the second of their two programmes, which opens with Beethoven’s Great Fugue, opus 133, and closes with Arnold Schoenberg’s Second String Quartet, whose finale, a visionary, prophetic piece, will also feature the soprano Barbara Hannigan. But it’s the Beethoven to watch out for.

The Great Fugue is a killer piece. Beethoven pushes everything beyond the limit: his own intellect, his vision, the very boundaries of music, the players, their technique, their power, their concentration, their stamina and the instruments themselves.

No prisoners are taken in this piece. Take a deep breath before it, and a large drink after it.



For his third Edinburgh International Festival, director Jonathan Mills has taken as his main programme theme the 18th-century period known as the Enlightenment and Scotland’s place within it. The country’s current tourism campaign, Homecoming 2009, also has a place in his planning, but the philosophy and cultural life of the 18th century, the rise of democracy and rationale to replace autocracy and religion, are the real foundations for his programme architecture.

Perhaps surprisingly, there is very little Robert Burns to be seen, notwithstanding this year being the 250th anniversary of his birth, the poet’s close association with that particular intellectual era and his long established Edinburgh connections – all of which may be too lacking in subtlety for a festival which takes a very serious view of the breadth of cultural and artistic ­refinement it projects. No place for wall-to-wall Burns.

The result is a programme which, overall, looks both challenging and invigorating. Indeed, with an opening concert of Handel’s celebration of the Culloden massacre of 1746 – the oratorio Judas Maccabaeus – we could well see the atavistic sparks fly long before the traditional fireworks concert.

Looking at the operatic content of the music programme, it is clear that its very full line-up combines both Enlightenment and Homecoming themes in a mix of concert performance and fully staged production. Monteverdi, Purcell, Handel, Wagner and Verdi are all there, as well as an unlikely, but undeniably fascinating, amalgam of six sacred cantatas by JS Bach presented in the form of a staged opera under the title Actus Tragicus.

Numerically speaking, pride of place goes to Handel, who has three operas being performed: two in concert version and the third – Admeto, King Of Thessaly – in a new production by the award-winning film-maker and author Doris Dörrie. This comes to Edinburgh direct from its first performances at the International Handel Festival in Göttingen. Dörrie eschews Handel’s classical Greek location to set the work in the world of the Japanese samurai and introduces Japanese dancers performing the Butoh (a dance of shadow and death) to music of the European Enlightenment.

The irrepressible Nicholas McGegan, who conducts, also directs his FestspielOrchester Göttingen in a concert version of Handel’s Acis And Galatea (arranged by Mendelssohn) which promises some top drawer singing from an international cast including German-tenor-with-the-French-name Christoph Prégardien, and Canadian soprano Dominique Labelle.

Masaaki Suzuki, who is probably better known for his direction of the music of Bach than that of Handel, takes up the baton with his superb Bach Collegium Japan (BCJ) for the four-hour marathon of Rinaldo, an opera which, thankfully, given its duration, is brimming with wonderfully tuneful arias written to showcase a necessarily starry cast. South African counter-tenor, Clint van der Linde and Japanese soprano Maki Mori will no doubt take the vocal honours with the melting aria Cara Sposa and the anguish of Lascia Ch’io Pianga, while BCJ and Suzuki will provide the stylish musicianship for which they are so renowned.

With possibly the most obvious connection to the themes of the festival, South Africa’s Handspring Puppet Company present a fully staged (but with a difference) interpretation of Monteverdi’s The Return Of Ulysses To His Homeland. In this wonderfully original take, singers, instrumentalists, half life-size puppets and animated film are all brought together by director-designer-animator William Kentridge and the action transferred from Ithaca to a Johannesburg hospital. The playing of the Ricercar Consort and the quality of the singing should be first class and, with all of the characters made of wood, it should certainly be visually interesting, maybe even a complete hoot.

Returning to the concert stage and real people, Verdi’s Scottish opera, Macbeth, could well benefit from the lack of set and staging. With four of the great dramatic voices of the day taking the major roles and Verdi’s wonderful choruses being given the fabulous Festival Chorus sound, all supported by the excellent BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra under David Robertson, the quality of the music will undoubtedly thrill.

Likewise, Hamburg State Opera’s The Flying Dutchman; with a mighty cast and the Hamburg Orchestra directed by one of the few lady conductors around (Australian Simone Young), this promises to be two-and-a-half hours of complete fulfilment for Wagner fans.

Opening all of this operatic splendour is the rather lower key but potentially no less rewarding performance of St Kilda, Island Of The Birdmen. Performed in Gaelic, French and English, the work tells of the last days of the island and the people who lived there until the evacuation in 1930. Traditional and contemporary music, actors, singers and acrobats portray the decline and depopulation of a once thriving community against a backdrop of archive film of the time.

The peerless vocal ensemble, The Sixteen, with Harry Christophers directing, save what could be the best for the last of the opera performances. With his line-up of some of today’s finest young British singers and specialist period instrument players, Christophers’s concert performance of The Fairy Queen will ensure an evening of ravishing sound as Purcell fashions the musical version of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. If only we could be as sure of the midsummer weather ...


Given the Edinburgh International Festival’s mission to express the essence of the Enlightenment in its 2009 programme, it is hardly surprising that there is something of the universal in this year’s theatre offerings. Geographically and politically, there are reflections on the implications of global travel and the realities of globalisation for modern-day migrants. Intellectually and spiritually, we are plunged into matters of religious fundamentalism and irreligiousness. Emotionally, we face love, desire, ­transgression and loss at their furthest reaches.

If it is broad-ranging thematically, the diversity of the programme is also reflected in the cultures from which the companies come (from Australia to Romania, Singapore to the US). It is also to Festival director Jonathan Mills’s credit that he has brought together theatrical work which integrates an astonishing array of art forms; from film and puppetry to promenade and live orchestral and choral music. All of which makes the EIF theatre programme something of a haven for those seeking refuge from a

Festival Fringe dominated increasingly by an army of stand-up comedians (which is not to say that the shows on the EIF’s stages will be lacking in humour).

In Optimism – Malthouse Theatre of Melbourne’s cheekily titled reworking of Voltaire’s Candide – comedian Frank Woodley plays a cocky Australian traveller as he leads a cast of clowns through a wide-ranging global and spiritual adventure. Malthouse are the creators of last year’s EIF hit show The Tell-Tale Heart (a beautiful musical theatre performance of Edgar Allan Poe’s short story), so a stylish, compelling and witty production is in prospect.

Operating almost as a counterbalance to Malthouse’s jaunty globetrotter, Theatreworks of Singapore take us into the varied worlds of migrant peoples – from the Orang Laut “sea nomads” to Scotland’s Muslim community – in the European premiere of Diaspora, staged at the Edinburgh Playhouse. Integrating projected film with live music (that takes us back through 2000 years of Chinese musical history) performed by the Singapore Chinese Orchestra, it looks set to be a truly unique theatrical event.

The journeys are more emotional in nature in the Gate Theatre of Dublin’s eagerly awaited

trilogy of plays by the great contemporary Irish playwright Brian Friel. In Faith Healer, The Yalta Game and Afterplay, Friel explores the most seminal and resonating themes (from the terrible nature of spiritual power to the anguish of transgressive desire and unrequited love). Scottish theatre has seen some fine productions of Friel’s work in recent years (in particular the Citizens Theatre’s production of Molly Sweeney and The Arches’ presentation of Translations), and the Gate’s offerings promise to be Festival highlights.

Reflecting the dark flipside of the

Scottish Enlightenment, Rona Munro’s specially commissioned play The Last Witch wins the prize for the most unambiguous title in the Festival. Based upon the recorded history of the last woman to be executed for witchcraft in Scotland (in 1727), the play takes us into similar territory to Arthur Miller’s great tragedy The Crucible. These are important times for Munro’s drama; no sooner will Dominic Hill have directed this Traverse production for the EIF than John Tiffany will, from September, be staging her adaptation of Federico García Lorca’s exquisite play The House Of Bernarda Alba for the National Theatre of Scotland.

The Scottish strand in the programme continues with Peter And Wendy, the

excellent US company Mabou Mines’s

retelling (in puppetry, music and visual art) of

JM Barrie’s Peter Pan, and the dramatisation of Robert Henryson’s 15th-century poetic journey into a classical Trojan mind in

The Testament Of Cresseid.

There will be Scottish voices too (courtesy of the Edinburgh Royal Choral Union) in the intriguing Experimentum Mundi, in which a composer puts 16 artisans to work, bringing craft and art together in a way which is truly hard to envision.

The voices are more international in the fascinating Tondal’s Vision, staged in the Canongate Kirk. Dialogos, a pan-European group of choristers, tell the 12th-century story of the knight Tondal, who dreamt that his soul travelled to Hell, before being ushered back to his body by an angel. Sung in Church Slavonic and Latin (with English supertitles) it promises to elevate the term “musical theatre” above the commercialism of Andrew Lloyd Webber and co.

It is, however, in one of the most famous human journeys into the demonic that the Festival stages what is, for me, the must-see show in Edinburgh this summer. With a cast of more than 100, performed partly in promenade, everything points to leading Romanian dramatist-director Silviu Purcarete’s adaptation of Goethe’s Faust being a breathtaking spectacle visually, musically and theatrically. Staged by the National Theatre “Radu Stanca” from the Transylvanian city of Sibiu, with live music by the Imperium Band, it promises – or threatens – to take us closer to Faust’s pact with Satan than we have ever been before.


Homecoming has been the cultural buzzword that has attached itself to numerous events across Scotland this year – so how has Edinburgh International Festival (EIF) director Jonathan Mills responded to the call for a gathering of creative forces that celebrate our national character?

Well, the dance programme does feature four companies which have performed in the EIF before: Royal Ballet of Flanders, Gelabert-Azzopardi Companyia de Dansa, the Michael Clark Company and Scottish Ballet. But take a closer look at the works they will be bringing, and what percolates through is how Mills has been busily spinning the concept of “coming back” to take in the cross-fertilising energies of journeying: what it is that people take with them; how venturing into new territories alters and enriches their perspectives; and how, in a nutshell, that brings us all to enlightenment.

This is the juice, the feisty enthusiasm for knowledge and innovation, that Mills has distilled into his entire programme, creating a sophisticated mesh of interconnecting associations while, as in his dance programme, ensuring that the work itself has genuine appeal. Put to one side the concepts that link all four dance companies to his core themes of diaspora, identity, home and homecoming. Take on board, instead, the sheer dynamic calibre of what they all offer in terms of bravura technique, intriguing repertoire, interesting musical choices and a welcome degree of ­­­­dramatic flair.

Each of these companies is eminently watchable. And enjoying their distinctly different performances is – rest assured – in no way dependant on knowing anything about the provenance of their work or the historical strands that weave it into the fabric of Mills’s artistic overview.

You might well want to do a kind of “compare and contrast” across genres by seeing how Handspring Puppet Company and the Ricercar Consort interpet Monteverdi’s Return Of Ulysses To His Homeland after you’ve watched the Royal Ballet of Flanders in their Return Of Ulysses – this latter is so blazingly fine, however, you might just want to keep going back instead.

Its choreographer, Christian Spuck, comments wryly that in Homer, which is the inspiration for his clever, witty modern ballet, the faithful Penelope only rates about three lines in the entire Odyssey. Spuck puts her centrestage, surrounded by importunate suitors – seven suavely suited, athletic and impassioned male dancers – who each want her hand, her body, but most of all the crown she wears as Ulysses’s queen. Music by Purcell ... and Doris Day. That conjunction alone should tease your curiosity. And if you saw this company in William Forsythe’s Impressing The Czar (EIF, 2007) you’ll already know how classy, how accomplished they are.

Handel’s music features prominently in Mills’s programme, but that’s not the only reason he asked the Barcelona-based Gelabert-Azzopardi Companyia de Dansa to bring Conquassabit to the EIF. This truly is choreography that dances up a storm. It whirls bodies into an exhilerating vision of forces – which could be cosmic, could well be internal turmoils – that take possession of the space and everything in it. There’s calm: serene, sensual and restorative but, as with the eye of any hurricane, it passes, and Conquassabit accelerates to a fabulously frenzied conclusion. Sense Fi, the other half of this double bill, offers another side of the poetic, Puck-ishly humourous intellect that Cesc Gelabert brings to his choreography.

Imagine David Bowie singing “we could be heroes” and Michael Clark, dazzled and inspired not just then, but now, some 30 years on. Bowie, Iggy Pop and Lou Reed are the bedrock influences that Clark celebrates in the New Work he brings to Edinburgh. It marks a return to music he has always loved, a return to the EIF after a gap of some 20 years and, of course, a return to his homeland of Scotland.

All of which ticks lots of thematic boxes. But peel back those layers and you’ll find the best-ever connection between Clark and enlightenment is in his ability to take the pure lines of classical ballet, then throw a switch that races a current of iconoclastic, punk rock energy through the moves and jolts us all into a new awareness of why dance exists. And why it matters.

And then there’s Scottish Ballet, currently entering its 40th anniversary season and now a welcome component both of the EIF and of Scotland’s cultural profile. This is where we nail the national colours to the mast. Under artistic director Ashley Page, the company has soared to new heights of artistic ambition and acclaim. This triple bill includes a new, modern Petrushka commissioned from Ian Spink, blisteringly fierce, virtuoso pointe-work in Forsythe’s Workwithinwork and a celebratory homage to ballet itself in Frederick Ashton’s Scenes De Ballet.

Together, it adds up to a gold-standard sampler of how the dancers can turn their feet, minds and bodies to just about any style (including a bit of break-dancing). This company has had turbulent times and rollercoaster uncertainties across its four decades – the “homecoming” tag now fits it snugly. It’s back on top form and promises to end the EIF dance programme on a high for all.


For decades, the visual arts have been the black sheep of the Edinburgh Festival family. Exhibitions once played an integral part of the Edinburgh International Festival (EIF), fuelled by the ­enthusiasm of people like Ricky Demarco, but in

recent times the official programme has made no mention of art. The Edinburgh Art ­Festival was introduced to plug the hole, but now, with an art strand reintroduced into the International Festival, our cup runneth over.

The EIF’s new foray into the visual arts began two years ago with curator Katrina Brown’s project, Jardins Publics. Three international artists made garden-related interventions in four unexpected sites around town; eschewing the usual gallery format, it pushed boundaries, but as a visual art programme it was easily missed.

Operating on a biennial basis, art is back this year with a gallery-based project put together by Australian curator, Juliana Engberg. While the rest of the festival celebrates Edinburgh’s historic contribution to The Enlightenment, Engberg has kept things 21st century and popped an “s” on the end to embrace enlightenments in their widest sense. So, while the 18th-century Enlightenment famously challenged religion, Engberg’s Enlightenments include, for instance, contemplations on spirituality.

The choice of venues, however, invokes the spirit of The Enlightenment. The Collective, a grassroots gallery at the heart of Edinburgh’s ghost-filled Old Town, sits between the neoclassical elegance of both the Dean Gallery in the west, and Robert Adam’s Old College, housing the Talbot Rice Gallery, in the south. In those three galleries you will find embodiments of the establishment, the university and a cultural avant-garde, all of which were powerful players in the intellectual upheaval of the 18th century.

At the Dean Gallery, Tacita Dean’s Presentation Sisters is an hour-long film about five nuns in a convent whose long corridors and empty rooms recall a lost age when their order was thriving. In painterly shafts of light, they perform their collective daily rituals: domestic chores and religious devotion. This is a warm film celebrating faith and a way of life which will soon pass – more counter-Enlightenment, really, than Enlightenment.

Though Dean curated a show at the Fruitmarket Gallery some years ago, and will loom large in Ingleby’s upcoming billboard project, her films are not often seen in Scotland. Inviting an antipodean to curate the Festival’s visual art programme brings with it a distinct advantage – the usual artistic suspects are sidestepped for a less predictable selection. It’s a fairly new-world line-up, hailing largely from Australia and the USA, with the only real usual suspect being our own Nathan Coley.

Coley is perfect for the project, with his painstaking, relentless challenging of belief systems. For this new commission, he has put his famous cardboard churches to one side, plucking an architectural oddity from rural Perthshire and peppering it with hidden textual references. Beloved is made from three old tree trunks, once holding up a roof; now dried, painted and precision-drilled. I don’t know what Coley’s hidden message says, but it’s likely to set us all puzzling.

Four other artists are showing at the Dean Gallery in an entertaining breadth of media taking in Greg Creek’s detailed drawings, Joshua Mosley’s philosophical animation, Gabrielle de Vietri’s singers (relating the day’s news a capella) and Lee Mingwei’s interactive installation inviting you to write the letter you always meant to.

The Talbot Rice Gallery will host Joseph Kosuth, a key figure in the use of text as art (he was American editor of the seminal journal, Art And Language, and the famous 1965 installation One And Three Chairs was his). Kosuth has made a new commission for the refurbished Georgian Gallery – the very room where Charles Darwin began work towards his theory of evolution. Kosuth will combine Darwin’s notes with allusions to Nietzsche and Wittgenstein, all in a series of neon signs.

At the Collective, Australian artist Susan Norrie explores a world of nuclear holocaust, and in her new work, SHOT, she takes the exploration into outer space. There can be nothing closer to the heart of the Enlightenment than looking into the night sky to see what lies beyond.

There’s one further venue I haven’t yet mentioned: in various locations around town, Spaniard Juan Cruz has planted fragments of a story to be discovered via bluetooth on your phone. The ­Enlightenments is a fascinating programme of contemporary art which works hard to talk to us – whether by phone, by letter, by choir, or neon. All that remains is to listen, and with any luck, to be enlightened.


In the midst of three weeks of clashing cymbals, acrobatic dancers and heart-wrenching soliloquies, why would the Edinburgh International Festival include a programme of afternoon talks more suited to a sober radio series than the most dynamic festival of the arts on the planet? Surely academics in conversation is hardly the stuff of which drama and art are made?

Well, actually, perhaps it is. More so this year than for some time, the EIF’s programme is shaped around a single concept, namely the Enlightenment. And if there’s any subject that cries out for discussion and debate, it’s this prickly pear. Three hundred-odd years on from the first sparks of this world-changing intellectual renaissance, the furore over its birth, its significance and its questionable inheritance still rages. To that extent, the festival could not have chosen a livelier or more inspirational theme, as is plainly demonstrated throughout the programme, be it in theatre, art or music.

The range of the conversation series is testimony to the profundity of ideas that have gone into moulding the festival. By revealing the cerebral scaffolding behind the programme, the festival hopes to heighten the impact, and meaning, of its events. Allowing audiences to discuss the underpinning ideas is a very clever way of engaging interest and promoting active participation beyond merely observing. The calibre of events speaks for itself, with some of the most respected experts in various fields gathering on stage. All of the 12-part series are unmissable, and it feels invidious to pick only a few. Suffice to say, the following handful are a mere hair’s breadth above the others in interest.

The opening session, Visual Art And The Enlightenment, covers one of the few tangible inheritors of its rational principles. With a panel of renowned experts, including Timothy Clifford, left, former director-general of the National Galleries of Scotland, and art critic Duncan Macmillan, this conversation may prove one of the most engaging, taking audiences from the portentous, guilt-inducing art of the early modern period and its forebears, to the frankly humanist tone of such masters as Raeburn and his spiritually liberated successors.

Religion obviously dominates any discussion of the Enlightenment, and is addressed in various ways, among them the most pressing topic of Islam And The Enlightenment, which will be tackled by Ibrahim Kalin, from Georgetown University in Washington DC. Contrasting with this is On The Dark Side – Witchcraft And The Theatre. Here playwright Rona Munro will discuss her specially commissioned play, The Last Witch, with, among others, Adrienne Scullion, professor of drama at Glasgow University. It’s likely to be a ghoulish, insightful and lively hour.

A touch of coolth is required after such heated subjects, and James Buchan is well placed to provide that. This urbane chronicler of Adam Smith happens to be John Buchan’s grandson, and is a lively raconteur as you’d expect. He will be talking with Andrew Skinner, professor of economics at Glasgow University on Political Economics: Adam Smith And Others. Did I suggest this would be a quieter session? I meant, only in comparison with the burning alive of old women. In fact, chances are that the current economic meltdown is more likely to raise blood pressure than the historic persecution of the elderly and ugly.

And finally, for those who enjoy a little hubris, Scotland’s foremost historian Tom Devine is joined by Scotland’s greatest fan, Arthur L Herman, whose bestselling work of cheerleading, How Scots Invented The Modern World, should have earned him the keys of the kingdom by now. They’ll be telling us how Scotland Exports The Enlightenment, in much the same way, no doubt, that early travellers accidentally brought home exotic seeds in the turn-ups of their trousers. All conversations take place at The Hub, and you can go to for further details.