Edinburgh International Festival lineup announced

Includes: FFS, Sufjan Stevens, Chilly Gonzales, King Creosote, Complicite and Robert Lepage’s Ex Machina

Pop musicians Sparks, Franz Ferdinand and Sufjan Stevens, international theatre makers Complicite and Robert Lepage’s Ex Machina, and a grand, free, outdoor opening spectacular are among the events unveiled today by director Fergus Linehan for his first Edinburgh International Festival, which runs from 7 to 31 August.

Following a ‘business as usual’ announcement of the EIF’s classical music programme in February, Linehan announced details that put a more personal stamp on the EIF programme, as well as broadening the events’ musical reach to encompass jazz, rock and experimental music.

‘I guess the EIF is one of the last arts institutions to embrace this kind of serious programming,’ Linehan explains. ‘Almost every other international arts centre and festival have pretty much incorporated popular music into its thinking. But there’s popular music and there’s popular music. Of course some popular music is intended to be consumed in the moment, and there’s nothing wrong with that. But other popular music has got a certain degree of artistic ambition to it, and that’s obviously where we’ve tried to gravitate.’

To that end, Sparks and Franz Ferdinand will come together to form new supergroup FFS (24 Aug), while US folk-pop pioneer Sufjan Stevens kicks off his European tour marking the release of his new family-inspired album Carrie & Lowell (30 Aug). And a new strand titled The Hub Sessions brings together musicians including Chilly Gonzales, King Creosote, Robert Glasper, Jason Moran and Oneohtrix Point Never for late-night gigs in the EIF’s home venue. It also features Wave Movements, an ocean-inspired collaboration between Arcade Fire’s Richard Reed Parry and The National’s Bryce Dessner, performed by the Scottish Chamber Orchestra (28 Aug).

‘I think across the board we’ve tried to gravitate towards artists who we feel can really play,’ Linehan continues. ‘In general these are musicians who are very good musicians – people like Bryce Dessner are classically trained, people like King Creosote are really terrific folk musicians, and people like Robert Glasper and Jason Moran are absolutely stellar jazz artists.’

Linehan also expands the classical programme with the inclusion of Recomposed: Vivaldi – The Four Seasons, Max Richter’s radical reimagining of the classic Baroque piece for the digital age, performed by the composer, violinist Daniel Hope and the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra (24 Apr). And among the EIF's staged opera offerings, two by Mozart promise to push the genre in unexpected directions, in a visually arresting Magic Flute from British theatre company 1927 and Berlin’s Komische Oper (27-30 Aug), and a Marriage of Figaro from conductor Iván Fischer and the Budapest Festival Orchestra that blurs the boundaries between actors, singers and musicians (13, 15 & 16 Aug).

‘Hopefully the mix is curious, interesting and engaging enough that it draws people in, rather than just presenting them with absolutely familiarity. In each case, it’s trying to take that milieu but apply it in a way that feels appropriate for an international arts festival,’ Linehan says. ‘We are still primarily musically, and will always remain, a classical music festival.’

Elsewhere in the programme, British theatre company Complicite bring the world premiere of new work The Encounter, while Robert Lepage’s revered Quebec-based company Ex Machina brings the European premiere of memory-inspired 887. There’s a strong Scottish theme running throughout, with Untitled Projects’ Paul Bright’s Confessions of a Justifier Sinner, the world premiere of a new theatrical adaptation of Alasdair Gray’s Lanark, and Dragon from Vox Motus, the National Theatre of Scotland and Tianjin People’s Arts Theatre.

And the EIF’s opening event will be a large-scale outdoor reinterpretation of John Adams’s minimalist classic Harmonium, to take place outside and around the Usher Hall (7 Aug). Featuring digital projection, with the involvement of the University of Edinburgh’s School of Informatics and Edinburgh College of Art, The Harmonium Project will also serve to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Edinburgh Festival Chorus.

‘We thought: why don’t we take a piece of music from a living composer, and imagine how you would represent that in an abstract sense outside the Usher Hall and on the building itself?’ explains Linehan. ‘The Chorus as well is an interesting thing – it’s an intersection between regular folk from Edinburgh and beyond, who come on a wet Tuesday to rehearse and then step up on stage with the greatest conductors and orchestras in the world. It’s a great metaphor for how the city interacts with the Festival. Just as long as it doesn’t rain and enough people show up – but not too many people show up. Those are my only three concerns.’

Edinburgh International Festival take place at various venues from Fri 7–Mon 31 Aug.

2015 Edinburgh International Festival trailer

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