Five Telegrams

Festival Square, Edinburgh

Keith Bruce, five stars

OF the main innovations that director Fergus Linehan has brought to the Edinburgh International Festival – the vibrant yellow “Welcome!” branding on the streets, the strand of “contemporary music” programming, and the free public opening event – it is the latter that perhaps most clearly has seized the August initiative back from the Fringe.

Until this year, however, it is probably true to say that the substance of those occasions – what actually lay behind the music and the spectacle – was often opaque to many of the thousands who attended them. While in one sense the partnership that was created with the BBC Proms and 1914-18 NOW to make Five Telegrams diluted the sense of occasion this year, it also meant that the message of its content had a much better opportunity to be transmitted to those who had the chance to see it.

Composer Anna Meredith’s five-movement piece would, despite her protestations to the contrary, stand as an orchestral work with chorus, but equally it was clear how closely its conception was tied to the visuals created by Richard Slaney of 59 Productions. The fruit of their researches into communications during the First World War, from the gung-ho rhetoric of the media, to the censorship of postcards back from the front and then the pace of the message of the declaration of peace were themselves communicated with a clarity that surpassed the spectacles of previous years. In the horn figure of the third section and the solo cello that began the last one Meredith has written some of her most instantly appreciable music, and the way in which Slaney’s work was mapped on to the exterior of the Usher Hall visually surpassed the work he and his colleagues produced with Harmonium at the start of this series of events.

Although there would be few in the crowd in a position to make the judgement, it also qualitatively improved upon the incarnation of Five Telegrams at the Royal Albert Hall, both in terms of the vibrancy of the imagery and the projection of the sound mix. A triumph in every department.

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