WHEN violinist Nicola Benedetti was announced as the successor to Fergus Linehan as artistic director of the Edinburgh International Festival, some were surprised that, as well as being the first woman and the first Scot to occupy the post, she was not also the youngest in the job.

That distinction goes to Robert Ponsonby, who took the Festival into its second decade in the 1950s and who died at 92 in 2019. Ostensibly Benedetti has little in common with her very tall, patrician predecessor, but one of Ponsonby’s claims to fame is the invention of Beyond the Fringe, for which he recruited and teamed Dudley Moore with Peter Cook alongside Alan Bennett and Jonathan Miller. Their late-night show at the Lyceum Theatre was slyly named, because it appropriated the success of the ”official” Festival’s free-spirited August companion.

If Linehan began the process of including “Fringe” music that had been beyond the scope of the International Festival in the EIF programme, Benedetti has swiftly dropped distinctions between styles of music altogether. Any compartmentalising of her programme was only conceded in small print, and the joy of EIF 2023 was the way artists crossed boundaries - between dance, theatre and music as much as between different types of music - as if they were irrelevant, as they very often are.

At the end of the event, the director said that her first Festival had surpassed her expectations. She emphasised the success of mass participation events and ones that had challenged preconceptions of how music is presented, or what chamber music means, by seating audiences on bean bags and mixing up jazz, traditional and classical ensembles.

Read more: BBC SSO/Canellakis Usher Hall, Edinburgh

Some of this was not new to Scotland, although having all these genre-spanning artists in Edinburgh in the same three weeks is what a Festival is all about. What was different was the presence of Benedetti herself, happily gracing occasions that went beyond her own event with her box office allure and being the public face of Festivals Edinburgh in a way that was entirely different from her predecessors.

Benedetti recognises that she can bring something new to the job. A team player, she shares credit for the programming and has passed the CEO part of the job Linehan had to Francesca Hegyi. Much of the programme which she shaped into her Rev Martin Luther King-quoting vision for this year’s Festival will have been in place before she took office however, and it will be fascinating to see how her ideas begin to influence programming decisions across artforms beyond music.

Although Linehan’s predecessor, Jonathan Mills, came to Festival directorship with a hinterland as a composer, generally the top man (as it has always been up to now) has been chosen for a track record in arts administration, rather than personal creativity. Alongside her other “firsts”, that is what marks out Benedetti as a new broom. It makes her endorsement of something unfamiliar more valuable to audiences, because a lot of people already like what she does herself.

That quality has produced some remarkable results in Edinburgh this August. Working with orchestral conductors like Hungarian Ivan Fischer, Sir Simon Rattle and the BBC SSO’s Ryan Wigglesworth, she has put bottoms on concert hall seats for music that ranges from old war-horses of the repertoire to much more challenging, more recent composition. The Festival was not ready to release final box office figures when asked at the start of this week, but observably concerts were selling out for music that might have hoped for a two-thirds-full Usher Hall in previous years.

Doubtless Benedetti will be unwilling to take too much personal credit for that, but the truth of it is undeniable, just as there has been palpable sincerity in tributes paid to her by artists overjoyed by the receptive audiences they have found in Edinburgh.

There have been some complaints too, of course. The issue of “dynamic pricing” for popular events is a hot potato, and the lack of availability of thorough printed programmes, or even something useful online in advance, undid some of the good work in attracting large audiences to music that requires some explaining to be best enjoyed.

On the other hand, the digital functionality of EIF ticketing, so that emailed tickets were followed by text message tickets to buyers immediately before performances, seemed a model of efficiency, and best use of the technology most people now have.

It is always dangerous to make predictions, but the smart money would say that Benedetti is likely to listen to criticisms and take them on board, rather than be defensive of details that could be improved. Because the hope is that she is in for the long haul and what looks likely to have been a very successful first year will have ensured that her mind is already working on plans for Festivals years ahead.