Edinburgh International Festival 2017 kicks off this Friday – here’s what’s on

The highly-anticipated 70th anniversary edition of Edinburgh International Festival (EIF) kicks off this coming weekend with a massive free event on Friday 4 and Saturday 5 August.

The full festival, which runs from 4-28 August, will host 2,020 artists from 40 nations, and features a special Spirit of ’47, programme comprising talks, performances and screenings jointly curated with the festival’s founding partner, the British Council. The series examines ideas of global citizenship and international collaboration with perspectives from around the world, exploring EIF’s belief that the arts have the power to bring nations together.

EIF director, Fergus Linehan, said: “Since 1947, the International Festival has extended an invitation from the people of Scotland to people all over the world, to join us in celebrating the unparalleled creativity and talent that great artists bring to Edinburgh. In our 70th anniversary year, it feels more important than ever, perhaps, that we celebrate the founding values of the International Festival and that through a shared celebration of artistic excellence and cultural exchange, we ‘provide a platform for the flowering of the human spirit’ and to continue to welcome the world to our city.”

Marking the occasion with a blast is the Standard Life Opening Event: Bloom, a large-scale public engagement work. Produced for the third year by 59 Productions, Bloom celebrates the explosion of colour, vibrancy and optimism that accompanied the arrival of EIF in 1947, when it was presented in response to the aftermath of WWII.

2017 marks Linehan’s third edition at EIF and his celebratory programme is an eclectic mix of well-known faces alongside award-winning newcomers. Major headline artists include British bass-baritone Sir Bryn Terfel, singer-songwriter Jarvis Cocker, world-renowned conductor Riccardo Chailly, playwright Alan Ayckbourn, Sitar player and composer Anoushka Shankar, Australian chanteuse Meow Meow, and violinist Nicola Benedetti.

Janet Archer, chief executive of Creative Scotland, said: “The 70th year of the Edinburgh International Festival feels more vital than ever before… This year’s programme ranges from the unique chance to see Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker’s Rain to the debut of Mercury Music Prize winner Benjamin Clementine, the premiere of a new Alan Ayckbourn play and a staging of Verdi’s Macbeth, the very first opera to be performed at the inaugural festival all those decades ago.

“Scottish talent is woven into the heart of the festival, as our theatre companies, orchestras and ensembles take centre stage alongside singular talents such as Martin Creed, Nicola Benedetti and Jackie Kay. This is a very special programme indeed in a very important anniversary year.”

Classical fans will enjoy making the most of the newly renovated St Cecilia’s Concert Hall, the oldest purpose-built concert hall in Scotland, through six concerts tailor made for its opening. The chosen ensembles and artists are Scottish period group Ensemble Marsyas, Iranian-American harpsichordist Mahan Esfahani, South African instrumentalist Kristian Bezuidenhout, German tenor Julian Pregardien, Baroque violinist Rachel Podger and Richard Egarr, who will give a recital of 17th and 18th century harpsichord repertoire.

Theatre highlights include a co-production with The Old Vic theatre (who performed at the very first festival in 1947), with a world premiere of The Divide, by Alan Ayckbourn. The story conjures a post-catastrophic Britain where contact between men and women has become fatal, it is presented in two parts at the King’s Theatre over two weeks.

Also in the theatre strand, three of Scotland’s leading companies all present adaptations by award-winning writer Zinnie Harris. The Edinburgh-based playwright’s Oresteia: This Restless House is produced by Citizens Theatre and is a reimagining of Aeschylus’s 2,500-year-old drama. Royal Lyceum Theatre collaborate with Turkey’s DOT Theatre on Harris’s new adaptation of Eugene Ionesco’s Rhinoceros, a comment on the rise of extremism. Traverse Theatre Company, meanwhile, make the world premiere of Meet me at Dawn, inspired by the story of Orpheus’s desperate reclamation of his wife Eurydice from the underworld. In Harris’ version, two women wash up on a distant shore following a violent boating accident and are left to tackle their last day on earth.

The contemporary music programme features artists including The Magnetic Fields and 2015 Mercury Prize winner Benjamin Clementine, Sitar star Anoushka Shankar and a celebration of the music of Edinburgh’s The Incredible String Band.

This year the opera offering has been expanded to feature nine exciting works: Puccini’s La boheme, directed by Àlex Ollé, of Catalan theatre collective La Fura dels Baus; Verdi’s Macbeth, by EIF 2017 resident company Teatro Regio di Torino, conducted by music director Gianandrea Noseda and directed by Emma Dante; Mozart’s Don Giovanni, conducted and directed by Iván Fischer; Mark-Anthony Turnage’s Greek; Wagner’s Die Walküre; Britten’s Peter Grimes, conducted by Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra & Chorus and conducted by Edward Gardner; Monteverdi’s L’Orfeo conducted by John Eliot Gardiner, who also conducts Ritorno D’Ulisse in Patria.

Concert performances in the Usher Hall feature world-leading orchestras including Filarmonica della Scala with Riccardo Chailly; Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra, with conductor Edward Gardner; Hallé Orchestra, conducted by Mark Elder; Philharmonia Orchestra, with Andrew Davis; and Budapest Festival Orchestra, led by music director Iván Fischer. World-leading soloists include Joshua Bell and Mitsuko Uchida.

EIF closes on 28 August with the Virgin Money Fireworks Concert, when over 400,000 fireworks will burst into the sky above Edinburgh Castle, choreographed to live music from the Scottish Chamber Orchestra.