AS the Edinburgh International Festival looks forward to its 75th anniversary in 2022, planning for what everyone hopes will be a return to surroundings that have become familiar during its history, there is much about this year’s event, running from August 7 to 29, that is necessarily new.

At the core of the programme, as ever, and accounting for a greater percentage of it this year, is classical music and opera. And although almost all performances are in the specially-built open-sided pavilions being erected at Edinburgh Academy Junior School and the University of Edinburgh’s Old Quad, there is a graspable box-office equivalence in the way the former houses what would have been the Usher Hall programme and the latter the recitals a little way up the road in the Queen’s Hall.

What makes a Festival, however, regardless of its venues, is the artistic content of new artists and new music, so let’s meet a couple of them, as well as a familiar face playing a mix of old and new.

Composer Errollyn Wallen is from Belize, and was raised in London, but now lives in a lighthouse at Strathy Point on the north coast of Scotland, and is a visiting professor of composition at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland in Glasgow.

“I had criteria when I was looking for a place,” she says. “It had to be right on top of the sea and a place that wasn’t near people, I wanted it to be remote, and where no one could hear me playing. I have enjoyed the solitude – it is exactly what I need, and in a most unexpected place. I wasn’t planning on Scotland or a lighthouse, but it seems we were meant for each other.”

Almost every note of her new opera, Dido’s Ghost, was composed there. Using Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas as her starting point, Wallen and librettist Wesley Stace have created a sequel that incorporates the original, to a commission from Edinburgh’s Dunedin Consort. As the show has gone on the road – it premiered at London’s Barbican and played the Buxton Festival before Edinburgh – things have changed at Wallen’s home.

“In the very first lockdown everything was deserted and then hordes of people came up and they were sleeping on the beach. And this time, the moment lockdown was eased people came up here.

“All through the composing of this opera there was nobody around, and now there are people. Lots of people are doing the Northern 500 and of course there is anxiety with wild camping and leaving rubbish everywhere.

“The single track roads are not really suitable for campervans and superfast cars, and cyclists and motorcycles, but a lot of people who come up here are respectful and interested in the wildlife and nature.”

Created with Mahogany Opera, Dido’s Ghost has overcome its own difficulties on the journey to the Festival, but triumphantly so. At all the performances so far, the understudy, or “cover” for the title role has sung the part: Isabelle Peters stepping out of the chorus to replace first South African Golda Schultz and then German soprano Idunna Muench. If she does so again, Edinburgh audiences will not be short-changed, such was the quality of her performance.

“Circumstances have meant that I have worked with three singers on the role, which for a composer is a great way for thinking about what you’ve written,” says Wallen.

“When we knew Golda couldn’t do the Barbican, we thought about getting in a more experienced singer but that just didn’t make sense because it is quite a tricky part and Isabelle was just great.

“It was a very efficient and happy week of rehearsals. We were very productive and then just before the dress rehearsal our electric bass player was ‘Track and Traced’. He’s had two vaccinations but he had to leave the building an hour before the dress rehearsal. We spent that night finding a replacement – these are the times we live in. I was just relieved that the performance went on.

“What’s wonderful about the Dunedin Consort is that in an hour they worked out how to cover the electric bass part for the dress rehearsal. I honestly believe we have created a work that will withstand quite a lot of emergencies, which is a good sign.

“I must tell my students at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland that: don’t be too hung up about things going wrong, a good piece can take a lot of variety!”

The main work in the debut appearance by the Chineke! Orchestra at the Festival,, has perhaps waited for its EIF premiere because of its close association with the late Jessye Norman. She commissioned the orchestral song-cycle from Scottish composer Judith Weir, setting texts by Maya Angelou, Toni Morrison and Clarissa Pinkola Estes. It will be sung in Edinburgh by mezzo-soprano Andrea Baker, another musician who has chosen to settle in Scotland.

The straight-talking founder of the Chineke! Orchestra, which champions the work of black and ethnically-diverse musicians, is bassist Chi-chi Nwanoku.

“EIF suggested that piece to us – it’s the first time a Festival or venue has suggested what we play,” she tells me.

It will be paired with the world premiere of a new work by cellist and composer Ayanna Witter-Johnson, fulfilling the orchestra’s philosophy of playing a piece by a composer of relative ethnicity at every concert.

The Chineke! Chamber Ensemble was scheduled to appear at the cancelled 2020 Festival, playing the Nonet by an earlier black British composer, Samuel Coleridge Taylor, and that concert has been rescheduled for this year. In the meantime the work has been played by other groups, including the Scottish Chamber Orchestra, which is evidence for Nwanoku’s case that Chineke!’s evangelism is bearing fruit.

“We are not playing the Lark Ascending and the Elgar Cello Concerto. We want to teach our audience and introduce them to people they have not heard. Coleridge-Taylor and Florence Price have now made the Classic FM hall of fame. That’s only by repeat performances of their music.

“In the pre-pandemic days when players could share music stands, there were never two people from the same background sharing a stand in the Chineke! Orchestra. From day one it was also important that we included music by a composer of relevant ethnicity.

“It was never my plan just to sprinkle beautiful brown, black and beige people across the stage if our board, our management and our repertoire is all white. People want to be working with an orchestra that is progressive and inclusive and part of change.

“You don’t have to be black to play with the Chineke! Orchestra, but you do have to share our philosophy and be part of change. And be damned good at your instrument.”

The 2020 Queen’s Hall programme was also to have included two appearances by Edinburgh-born pianist Malcolm Martineau, on the occasion of his 60th birthday. Although the concerts are different, happily Martineau will be back in Edinburgh this year, accompanying Egyptian soprano Fatma Said and leading a concert of music setting the words of Sir Walter Scott in the writer’s 250th anniversary year.

Alongside songs by Schubert, Haydn, Beethoven, and Sibelius, the programme will include two new compositions from baritone Roderick Williams.

There are few Edinburgh Festivals that have not included Martineau playing for a singer during his career as an accompanist.

“There might have been the odd year I didn’t do, but if they miss me out one year, they make up for it the next by giving me two,” he jokes.

Martineau won a Herald Angel back in 1998 for an epic series of 16 recitals of the songs of Hugo Wolf. “Total madness,” he says “but the sort of thing you should do in a Festival.”

“I love the Queen’s Hall. I know the seats are not great, but it is the perfect venue for chamber music and for song. The audience is near enough that they can see the singer’s eyes and be part of the event. And I was a programme seller for the Festival at the Usher Hall from when I was 13, up in the Upper Tier. I saw all these wonderful Guilini programmes and Bernstein jumping up and down on the podium in 1973 and 74.”

Martineau’s latest album release is the fourth and final volume of the complete songs of Gabriel Faure on Signum Classics, with a star cast of singers, including John Mark Ainsley, Sarah Connolly, Iestyn Davies, Ann Murray and Kitty Whately.

“I’ve always been one for trying to reinvent the wheel with the song repertoire, and get people to see things in a slightly different way. The Faure was actually finished two years ago, and waiting for the right slot to release it. We’ve since done Duparc and we’re halfway through Ravel.”

During lockdown the pianist managed to do some recordings but found that the pandemic meant that even that work was sporadic.

“My husband is a hospital pharmacist so we had one income coming in, and a lot of my colleagues have not had that. I know a very famous tenor who was driving a van for Morrisons.

“For me lockdown gave me time to practise a lot and reaffirm how much I love what I do. I discovered lots of new technical things, even at my grand old age. That was very exciting.

“Every day I couldn’t wait to get to the piano, which was lovely and slightly surprised me. I practised lots of songs but also lots of solo repertoire that I’ll probably never play, but that was very satisfying.”

Martineau’s return to live work included the first concert with an audience in Scotland for 15 months, opening Perth Concert Hall’s Live and Unlocked week with Jess Dandy at the end of May.

“That was the first thing I’d done with an audience. She has an extraordinary instrument, a real contralto. I’ve known her for a long time but that was the first time we’ve done a recital together and that very clever programme was all of her making. She will corner the market for all that contralto stuff that nobody else can sing.”

“I’ve always loved working with young singers because I love seeing their first response to things that I’ve played for 25 years. I learn as much from them as they do from me.”

Dido’s Ghost, August 20-22, Edinburgh Academy Junior School

Chineke! Chamber Ensemble, August 16, Old College Quad

Chineke! Orchestra August 17, Edinburgh Academy Junior School

Malcolm Martineau and Friends, August 14, Old College Quad

Fatma Said and Malcolm Martineau, August 27, Old College Quad