There's an exuberant new-world theme to this year's Edinburgh International Festival, in a programme that features exciting and challenging performances from North, South and Central America, and also from Australasia, complemented by old-world perspectives on the exotic and the new.
For openers, there's John Adams' critically acclaimed oratorio El Niño, a reinterpretation of the nativity told from a mother's perspective—and, I imagine, the most contemporary work ever selected for the Festival's first night (13 August).
Operatic treats include Opéra de Lyon's Porgy & Bess (14/16/17 August), and a new work from Australia—Bliss—based on the 1981 novel by Peter Carey, composed by Brett Dean to a libretto by Amanda Holden (2/4 September). There is also an outing for a rarity, Carl Heinrich Graun's 1755 work Montezuma (text by King Frederick II of Prussia, I kid you not) in a Festival coproduction with artists and performers drawn equally from old and new worlds, led by the young Mexican director Claudio Valdés Kuri (14/15/17 August).
There are concert performances, too, of Mozart's Idomeneo (SCO/Mackerras, 20 August); Puccini's Fanciulla del West (Scottish Opera/Corti, 23 August); Purcell's Indian Queen (The Sixteen/Harry Christophers, 24 August); and Ravel's L'Heure Espagnol, in a concert that also features Chabrier's Espagne and Ibert's Escales (RSNO/Denève, 25 August).
Notably absent this year is a prime-time piano recital, but there's an enticing line-up of visiting orchestras and repertoire. The Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra, under Sakari Oramo, perform Nielsen’s fourth and fifth symphonies (15/16 August). Franz Welser-Möst brings the Cleveland Orchestra for two concerts, an Ives and Bruckner programme (17 August) and a Viennese night (18 August) featuring Berg's Lulu Suite and Brahms' 2nd symphony. The Minnesota Orchestra, under Osmo Vänskä, performs Elgar and Beethoven (29 August). The Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra performs Stravinsky, Bartok and Berio (August 30), and Mahler's 3rd under Mariss Jansons (31 August). Vladimir Ashkenazy brings the Sydney Symphony Orchestra for two concerts featuring contemporary Australian composers alongside traditional repertoire (1/2 September).
Turning to the chamber series, one of these Australian composers, Peter Sculthorpe, will also be performed by the Tokyo String Quartet—Sculthorpe's eighteenth quartet—alongside Debussy's quartet and Schubert's sumptuous quintet in C (2 September). It'll also be worth looking out for Javier Alvarez’ Metro Chabacano (Simón Bolívar String Quartet, 4 September). Magdalena Kožená returns to Edinburgh for what's billed as 'an intimate recital' with viol ensemble Private Musicke, of early renaissance song. There are piano recitals by Jonathan Biss (14 August, including Schumann's Kreisleriana), Llyr Williams (28 August, including Ives' Concord Sonata) and Stephen Osborne (31 August, including Ravel's Valses nobles et sentimentales). Celebrated violin virtuoso Midori makes her Festival debut (26 August, including Beethoven's A minor sonata), while among the notable vocal recitals are Simon Keenlyside/Malcolm Martineau (23 August, including Schumann's Dichterliebe), and Joan Rogers & Roderick Williams/Roger Vignoles (30 August, including a selection from Wolf's Italian Songbook).
Finally, two American legends—the eminent composer, conductor and jazz musician Gunther Schuller, and the Kronos Quartet—are visiting. Schuller directs the RSNO in a concert that includes Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue in its original jazz-band version, and Ives' fourth symphony (14 August), and later joins Tommy Smith and Joe Lovano in a concert given by the Scottish National Jazz Orchestra (26 August). The Kronos Quartet performs two modern classics, Steve Reich's Different Trains, and George Crumb's Black Angels (21 August).
The Festival ends with a performance of Mahler's 8th by the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra and Donald Runnicles (4 September).
Photo: Kronos Quartet