Nicola Benedetti’s first Edinburgh International Festival fills an artistic void


Nicola Benedetti’s first festival as artistic director sees 295 separate events spanning theatre, classical and contemporary music, opera, visual art and talks featuring work from over 2000 local and international artists from across 48 nations. The Edinburgh International Festival runs from 4-27th August 2023. Friends of EIF can buy tickets from 26th April. General sales start on 3 May.

Emblazoned across all of the Festival print is one key question: where do we go from here? The question is inspired by Martin Luther King Jnr’s book of the same name, prompting Benedetti to seek out artistic responses to three themes raised in the book: community over chaos, hope in the face of adversity, and a perspective that’s not one’s own.

These Festival-wide themes give the events an added poignancy, prompting thoughts and reflections in addition to the performances themselves, making the prospect of the Edinburgh International Festival a rich and rewarding affair.

Pina Bausch’s choreography for Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring

An epic new production of Pina Bausch’s acclaimed choreography of Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring immediately draws the eye, with a cast of 34 dancers from 14 African countries immediately draws the eye.

So too a London Symphony Orchestra residency including a performance of Messiaen’s epic Turangalîla Symphony, concerts from the Budapest Festival Orchestra, Mozart’s Magic Flute from Scottish Chamber Orchestra, plus another chance to see RPS award-winning Bartók’s Bluebeard’s Castle presented by Theatre of Sound, reimagining the relationship between Bluebeard and Judith as a husband and wife facing the reality of living with dementia whilst celebrating their long love.

Theatre of Sound’s Bluebeard’s Castle

There are also appearances from Oslo Philharmonic and their Chief Conductor Klaus Mäkelä, BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, the Simón Bolívar Symphony Orchestra of Venezuela and, opening the Festival on 4th August, the Royal Scottish National Orchestra and the Edinburgh Festival Chorus in a performance of Tan Dun’s Buddha Passion.

I’m especially looking forward to the European Premiere of Geoff Sobelle’s ‘Food’. Visual theatre in which the audience convenes around a dining table ‘with sounds, scents and textures’ to explore questions about our relationship with food and eating. The promotional imagery is enough to raise eyebrows if not questions. Previews 3-4 August, with the show running 5-26. More details on the EIF website.

Geoff Sobelle’s ‘Food’ previews 3-4 and runs 5-26 August at Edinburgh International Festival

Attention focuses too on the Edinburgh International Festival Hub at the top of the Royal Mile where intimate concerts spanning multiple genres will be staged. Isidore String Quartet, Detroit-born bassist Endea Owens, Abel Selaocoe and the Aga Khan Master Musicians are some of the musicians appearing at the venue which will act as a centrepiece for month-long celebration.

Bassist Endea Owens

Where the BBC Proms fell short last week, Edinburgh International Festival has stepped up to the plate. New and already reliably self-assured artistic director Nicola Benedetti leads the charge communicating her vision with characteristic spirit, warmth and determination, making Edinburgh International this year’s artistic destination. There’s a sense that the Festival is going back to some old-school roots. More than just a series of events loosely linked together, EIF 2023 is an artistic statement that seeks to build connections in the audience and with its community, triggering thinking and reflection long before ticket buying or the event itself gets underway. This conscientiousness and seriousness is immediately appealing – an antidote to a lot of other artistic programming going on at the moment. Textbook Benedetti.

The Edinburgh International Festival runs from 4-27 August. Friends can book from 26th April. General Sale opens 3rd May.