Edinburgh sky to be lit up for launch of international festival

Light installation is intended to celebrate artists in spite of festival venues being shut

Edinburgh’s night sky will be pierced by more than 260 powerful spotlights this weekend as the city’s international festival launches an online programme of concerts, opera and ballet events.

The light installation, part of a programme that festival organisers are calling My Light Shines On, will be switched on at 9.30pm on Saturday around many of the festival’s venues and concert halls, which will also be illuminated internally by lanterns shining and pulsing behind their closed doors.

Involving clusters of between 10 and 25 static and moving lights at sites such as the Usher hall, the Edinburgh Castle esplanade and Bristo Square, the lights are intended to celebrate the work of artists and festival workers despite the venues being closed to the public during the coronavirus crisis.

Simultaneously, the festival will broadcast online 11 new films between 20 and 60 minutes in length, featuring new productions by Scotland’s major arts companies, including a programme of Mahler by the Royal Scottish National Orchestra and several featuring Scottish Ballet performances.

The lights are intended to mark what would have been the launch night of this year’s international festival as it was originally planned. The festival hopes to encourage Edinburgh’s residents to find high vantage points such as the city’s numerous hills or upper-floor windows to see the lights to their fullest extent.

Scottish Ballet dancers rehearse on stage ahead of filming for the Edinburgh International Festival.
Scottish Ballet dancers rehearse on stage ahead of filming for the Edinburgh International Festival. Photograph: Murdo MacLeod/The Guardian

“We wanted a Saturday evening kind of gala moment, and we wanted that to tally up with the lighting up of the city,” said Fergus Linehan, the international festival’s director. Some of the films “are more like little postcards and others are more substantial”.

Once the lights installation ends on 10 August, the festival will switch on a sound installation in Princes Street Gardens under the castle rock, broadcasting 40-minute long classical concerts featuring artists including the Dunedin Consort and Hebrides Ensemble.

Edinburgh’s summer festivals have been forced to innovate after all their live productions were cancelled in early April for the first time since 1947 as the UK and Scottish governments responded to the coronavirus pandemic.

The programme includes a new production of two movements from Carl Orff’s composition Carmina Burana by the Edinburgh Festival Chorus. Over 120 chorus members rehearsed and performed their parts from home online; the recordings have been stitched into two films.

The gradual easing of the lockdown over the summer allowed orchestras, ballet and opera companies to reconvene at the Festival theatre, where the stage is large enough to allow the correct levels of social distancing, the Queen’s Hall nearby and the bar of the King’s theatre.

Scottish Ballet dancers Thomas Edwards, Sophie Martin and Barnaby Rook Bishop at the Festival theatre
Scottish Ballet dancers Thomas Edwards, Sophie Martin and Barnaby Rook Bishop at the Festival theatre on Monday. Photograph: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images

These events, which involved about 500 artists, producers and technical staff, ensured the festival remained productive despite the cancellation of live, public events. Linehan said making the films was “the festival equivalent of playing football behind closed doors, trying to do festival programming in every sense, except for having the audience there.

“Artists have been doing their thing at home but for many of them they just haven’t been able to spark off each other so it has been incredibly moving for musicians to play together again and be back at their place of work.”

Linehan said the pandemic had made producing this year’s festival a “very, very peculiar” experience. He said audiences would start to return. “We haven’t had a huge amount of time to dwell on it. We’re in the middle of a crisis and it just feels our role in this is to be helpful,” he said. “It is just too urgent at the moment to indulge ourselves [in fretting about what has been lost].

“You’ve just got to remain positive in that and you’ve got to stay practical and think with your feet on the ground. It has been very much all hands on deck, and do everything we can.”


Severin Carrell Scotland editor

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Edinburgh international festival to hold more online events after 1m views
There were 26 specially staged opera, classical and ballet performances after the cancellation of live concerts

Severin Carrell Scotland editor

01, Sep, 2020 @1:19 PM

Article image
BP ends sponsorship of Edinburgh international festival after 34 years
Campaigners strongly welcome move, which oil company says is due to extremely challenging business environment

Mark Brown Arts correspondent

06, Apr, 2016 @2:57 PM

Article image
Edinburgh international book festival announces 2013 lineup
Life and work of Iain Banks to be honoured at 30th festival, with Salman Rushdie, Margaret Atwood and Neil Gaiman also featuring in two-week event partnered by the Guardian

Alison Flood

20, Jun, 2013 @8:30 AM

Article image
Edinburgh international festival 2012 to include multimedia Macbeth
Three-week festival promises 'mesmerising' productions from 47 countries after securing record levels of funding

Severin Carrell, Scotland correspondent

14, Mar, 2012 @4:42 PM

Article image
Edinburgh festival fringe to 'break records for internationalism'
Artists from 63 countries will perform 3,841 shows in 323 venues across Scottish capital

Libby Brooks Scotland correspondent

05, Jun, 2019 @12:57 PM

Article image
Edinburgh international book festival may be forced to move
Spokesman says that while the annual festival may have to relocate from usual spot in Charlotte Square, ‘we are sure we can come up with a solution’

Danuta Kean

13, Feb, 2017 @2:47 PM

Article image
Writers in revolutionary mood at Edinburgh International Book Festival

Authors from 40 countries to attend literary event, with Alasdair Gray and AS Byatt among those unveiling new works

Alison Flood

16, Jun, 2011 @6:50 AM

Article image
British army to play host to Edinburgh festival fringe
Drill hall to become venue for August event and will feature squaddies serving drinks and army tuck shop selling ice-cream

Severin Carrell Scotland editor

04, May, 2017 @3:33 PM

Article image
Edinburgh festival offers refunds for controversial opera before opening
Christophe Honoré’s Così fan tutte has been described as a ‘provocative and sexually explicit’ adaptation Mozart’s opera

Chris Johnston

27, Jul, 2016 @8:57 PM

Article image
Edinburgh festival sets contemporary tone amid 'darker' political themes
Director says 2019 lineup reveals artists’ attempts ‘not to go mad in the world at the moment’

Severin Carrell Scotland editor

27, Mar, 2019 @10:00 AM