Youth takes centre stage at Edinburgh international festival

Celebration of young people and end of first world war are key themes of this year’s event

The Edinburgh international festival is to celebrate the virtuosity of youth and mark the harrowing loss of teenage lives in the trenches, a century after the first world war ended.

This August’s festival will bridge the century by opening with a mass audience light show featuring five telegrams sent home by young soldiers, contemporary music from acts such as St Vincent and Mogwai, and a programme of concerts by some of the world’s finest youth orchestras.

Fergus Linehan, the festival’s director, said the classic music sector felt under huge pressure to make itself attractive to younger audiences – Scotland is holding a year of young people in 2018.

“It feels like an opportunity to say, in this year, let’s just celebrate virtuosity among young people,” he said.

The festival’s opening concert will feature Scotland’s national youth choir singing Haydn’s Creation, the youth jazz orchestra from Carnegie Hall in New York and YOA Orchestras of the Americas, an acclaimed ensemble from North and South America, as well as the national youth orchestra of Canada.

Théâtre des Bouffes du Nord.
The French company, Théâtre des Bouffes du Nord, will have be resident at this year’s Edinburgh international festival. Photograph: Tristram Kenton/The Guardian

Theatre will be heavily represented in this year’s programme, featuring Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot by the Tony-award winning Irish theatre group Druid, and Home by Geoff Sobelle, where a house is built as its residents live there and leave as a party takes place.

The French company, Théâtre des Bouffes du Nord, will have a long residency this year, presenting three shows including The Prisoner, a production which meditates on justice and guilt with a multinational cast from Sri Lanka, Rwanda, India and the UK.

The commemorations of the end of the first world war will also feature Xenos, the last full-length production by the dancer Akram Khan, examining the experience of a shell-shocked Indian soldier trapped in a trench on the Western Front, thousands of miles from home.

Part of the 14-18 Now season to mark the war, Khan’s production is one of several shows which the festival has made in its first collaboration with the BBC proms and Sadler’s Wells theatre in London, which will present Xenos in May.

The Five Telegrams light show from 59 Productions, which like its previous show Harmonium Project will be broadcast onto the Usher Hall in central Edinburgh, is being featured too at the Royal Albert Hall in July.

For opera-goers, Théâtre des Bouffes du Nord will present John Gay’s 300-year-old satire The Beggar’s Opera, while the Hallé orchestra will put on Siegfried, in the third part of Wagner’s ring cycle, which Edinburgh is staging over four years, with Christine Goerke as Brünnhilde.

Fergus Linehan.
Fergus Linehan, the director of the Edinburgh international festival 2018. Photograph: Murdo Macleod/The Guardian

In 1918, young men of the same age were being slaughtered in the trenches in an “unnecessary sacrifice”, Linehan said. “There was at the end of the first world war a sense there was no way back, when the [previous] order was being discredited. It was the end of empire and the beginning of universal suffrage.”

Linehan said he was untroubled by the risk that audiences may have already seen Xenos or Five Telegrams in London before they were put on in Edinburgh. He said premiers were risky: complex or ambitious shows often improved over time. And collaborations were now routine in the international arts world.

“We have just stopped worrying about it,” he said. “There is nothing to indicate that there’s a diminishing audience from it.” Objecting to coproductions “just shuts down so many healthy conversations.”

  • Edinburgh international festival tickets will go on general sale at 10am on 24 March


Severin Carrell Scotland editor

The GuardianTramp

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