02 December, 2010

Shanghai Express

Jonathan meets Prince Zi Dan

Just in town for a day we made the most of our time in Shanghai. There were meetings with the Shanghai Cultural Bureau, the Ministry of Culture, and we got to know the British Council representatives in Shanghai. All of this took place around and about our press conference in the afternoon.

The conference was at a gorgeous little hotel in the French Concession called Le Sun Chine and was well attended with many local Shanghai and national media print media, as well as online and broadcast crews turning out to hear from Jonathan and Mr Sun (the Director of the Shanghai Peking Opera Troupe, or SPOT as we affectionately call them).

Jonathan and Mr Sun signed a letter of agreement and the event culminated in a short performance by Prince Zi Dan, the equivalent character to Hamlet in Shanghai Peking Opera Troupe’s retelling of Shakespeare’s famous tale. Prince Zi Dan was fabulous. A wonderful costume, particularly expressive feathers and the envy inspiring platform boots. However it was his muscle control that stole the show with a stunning, sculptural physical feat. It has certainly left me wanting to see more!

Now we have the job of evaluating and translating all the coverage. The circulations of some of these outlets are mind-blowing, but that is the nature of the scale of China in numbers. It certainly has the wow factor.

- Susie Burnet

17 November, 2010

At home in China - Festival 2011 theme launched in Beijing and Shanghai

Pudong from the Bund, Shanghai

Beijing is wonderfully stylish and eclectic, teeming with life, has absolutely bags of character, and is very, very welcoming. Since arriving on Sunday we have met so many people keen to engage with the Festival and Scotland and it is at times like this that you have to be convinced you have the best job in the world. Jonathan met with a string of media over Sunday and Monday all of whom asked interesting questions throwing up all sorts of avenues of conversation. Then there was a buzzing reception last night that the British Ambassador and British Council here threw in honour of the Festival and its developing relationship with China with more media, representatives of the Chinese Ministry of Culture, artists and various interested businesses in attendance. It has been an intense couple of days and I am sure Jonathan is very happy to have a couple of hours off from the media mayhem this morning.

Today it is Jackie, our Marketing and Communications Director’s turn as she steels herself to speed date 60 tour operators this afternoon as part of VisitBritain’s delegation at the China International Travel Mart. No mean feat and just the first of several days here and in Shanghai which will offer lots of opportunities to shout about the Festival to those who can help boost Chinese visitor numbers into the future.

Meanwhile I’m put the finishing touches to our media event in Shanghai tomorrow where we’ll do it all again!

Tomorrow afternoon Jonathan and Mr Sun of the Shanghai Peking Opera Troupe will sign a letter of agreement before posing for photos with the ornately dressed performers in their full glittering get-up. I wonder if there’ll be a spare pair of their fabulous platform shoes kicking around… just to help me get a better photo!

- Susie Burnet

07 October, 2010

Confessions of a Chorus Member: Jack Kirk

A black, wet and windy late 20th century November night: I’m in my mid-30’s, recently returned to Edinburgh. A friend has fixed up an audition for me with the Festival Chorus after their rehearsal this Tuesday evening. He says it’s a good choir. Well, I could join for a year or two. An audition? – no great problem.

I arrive at the venue, find the stairs for the fourth floor. I’m on the first few steps when, evidently after a pause in the rehearsal, I suddenly hear the choir far above launch into the start of the first movement of Mahler’s 8th Symphony. I am transfixed. I have never heard a sound like the sopranos I am now hearing. They are rising to a tremendous fortissimo high note, truly thrilling – then over two or three bars descending melody they diminuendo to an exquisite pianissimo and a brilliant accompanist is taking the music on into a piano dolce section, amazingly simulating a full orchestra plus soprano soloist.

As I wait outside the room I know that I badly want into this choir. I no longer fancy myself, this is no stroll. I need to pass this audition.

Twenty minutes later I’m in, on probation as a 1st bass. It appears that work on my voice is required, actually a lot of work. But I’m in.

Fast forward a couple of decades and I’m still in. The Festival Chorus has given me a fantastic musical education. I have got to know, and know well - from the inside - marvellous music by marvellous composers, much of which I might never have heard otherwise, let alone grow to love - taught to me by great musicians. There’s immense interest in seeing a brilliant conductor at piano rehearsal operate within a very tight timescale, testing and educating the chorus, in the process entertaining us with wit and charm, then later maybe surprising us with fresh nuances even in the performance.

There have been great concerts and fabulous foreign tours. But nothing beats a Tuesday evening, often the ones I have felt least like turning up for, when some powerful mix of great music, humour, intellectual demand and simple corporate energy just leaves ordinariness far behind. Donald Runnicles once complimented the Festival Chorus on its reputation for taking hold of a performance and energising it. I know what he meant because it happens for me on so many Tuesdays. Audio replays are in my head for good – the tenors singing “Et Incarnatus Est” from the Bruckner E Minor Mass, the women with “Huic ergo parce Deus” from Verdi’s Requiem, many more. Any Tuesday night could hold a moment like that.

Arthur Oldham said that Giulini told him, “You've a marvellous chorus, but the voices are all white. Now you have to look for the reds and the blues and the greens.” That’s encouragement that my voice supplies something in the blend – though I hope it isn’t a loud pink.

08 September, 2010

A Day in the Life of...Temporary Photos Officer, Erin Hickey

Photo: Erin with Lemi Ponifasio

Picture this with Erin Hickey, Temporary Festival Photos officer...

I do like a good picture story. It might first appear that taking a picture during the Festival in Edinburgh is straightforward; there is always something going on and all you have to do is point the camera and shoot. That’s not always the case. There is a lot of planning that goes into making a photo call run smoothly, from brainstorming ideas, contacting performers, tour managers and venues to get permission, drafting invites to photo calls, speaking to photographers and making travel arrangements. But the end result of all of the hard work and organising makes the Festival experience worthwhile. And the best part is seeing the photographs in print (including a few front pages!) and online.

One of my favourite experiences of the Edinburgh International Festival this year was meeting a very talented designer named Charlotte Helyar who designed and created a remarkable gown made completely out of Edinburgh International Festival brochures. The dress was worn by a soloist from the opening concert El Niño. I was incredibly proud that the team work and dedication paid off when a picture of Kelley wearing the dress was featured on the front cover of the Scotsman.

Part of what makes the Festival so great is working with a team of people who are as passionate about theatre as you are; Charlotte Anderson, my colleague in the Photos team and I have had a great time, looking after photographers at different venues and getting to see dress rehearsals of the fantastic shows on this year (my favourites being Porgy and Bess at the Festival Theatre and hearing the RSNO play Rhapsody in Blue during their rehearsals for Rhapsodies in Red, White and Blue at the Usher Hall.) It was great fun to literally be backstage and meeting some fantastically talented performers – including, I might add, striking my best ballet pose with the Alonzo King Lines Ballet!

You can see a selection of Festival photos here.

07 September, 2010

A Day in the Life of...Temporary Festival Press Assistant, Lucy Howe

Our fabulous temporary Festival Press Assistant, Lucy Howe, talks kangaroos, photo calls and why she was nicknamed 'Girl on the Street'...

Interning at the Edinburgh International Festival has been a great experience and the press office has been especially fun. We’ve had ‘Thinking-Hat Saturdays’ where the entire office have worn sailor hats made from newspaper, Australia Day where an Australian accent is compulsory once through our office doors, and copious supplies of coffee, cake, biscuits and haribo placed strategically on my desk – yum.

Labelled ambiguously as ‘festival press assistant’ (but also apparently ‘girl on street’ – in the nicest possible way!) I’ve been given numerous different roles, the most random being the distribution of 10 inflatable Kangaroos around Edinburgh. But mostly I’ve attended photo-calls (keeping an eye on unruly photographers – “No, the door labelled ‘STAGE ACCESS, DO NOT ENTER’ is NOT the door to the auditorium...”) helped our Broadcast Liaison when she’s super busy (which included a 4-second appearance on the BBC Culture Show – my moment of fame!) and even taken part in a photo-call (I was the US Flag behind Jonathan Mills – my 2nd moment of fame!).

I have also been an honorary member of the digital marketing desk which has allowed me to interview some of our luckier stars of this year’s festival such as the Labeque sisters and Alonzo King for our audioboo, recorded audience voxpops for the longer-running productions, and looked after the ever-increasing different bodies of social networking sites such as blipfoto and flickr. Phew. It’s been busy, but also great fun and given me the chance to see many amazing performances from around the world, and already I can’t wait for next year.

Over and out.

Listen to the Artist interviews and audience vox pops from Festival 2010 here.

06 September, 2010

What you thought: Bank of Scotland Fireworks Concert

We joined the crowds at the Bank of Scotland Fireworks Concert 2010 to find out what they enjoy about the event...


03 September, 2010

A Day in the Life of...Lynsey Shovlin, Bank of Scotland Fireworks Concert Co-ordinator

Bank of Scotland Fireworks Concert Co-ordinator, Lynsey Shovlin, tells all as the firework preparations start to heat up...

I am excited, I am nervous, I am running on adrenaline, I am happy, I am sad and I am now dreaming about the Bank of Scotland Fireworks Concert in my sleep! My whirlwind romance with the Edinburgh International Festival is nearly over and I have been well and truly swooned by the people and projects I have been involved with, no more so than the looming Festival finale – The Bank of Scotland Fireworks Concert.

Preparations for this dazzling display of artistic delights on Sunday 5th September at 9pm are going exceptionally well. The most grueling task recently… I suppose sampling Café Hub’s ‘fireworks cupcakes’ which are on sale now was a chore. It’s not an easy job sampling delicious cake all day long but the press office felt they could take a hit for the team on this occasion!

Before I say my final goodbyes, here are some of my tips for enjoying the Fireworks Concert;

  • Be early to find a good spot in Princes Street Gardens or, if you don’t have a ticket, at Inverleith Park.
  • If you have your own secret spot for watching the Fireworks Concert, don’t forget to tune in to Radio Forth on 97.3 FM and 1548 AM to hear the Scottish Chamber Orchestra perform live.
  • Remember to stay connected to us by including us in your tweets - #BOSfireworks
  • Wrap up warm and take a bin bag to sit on incase the ground is muddy or damp.
  • Enjoy the evening with friends and family - take pictures which you will remember for years to come and treat yourself to some tasty ‘fireworks cupcakes’ from the Hub Café!

Now all that is left for you to do is pack a picnic and keep your fingers crossed for the weather. In the meantime, I can guarantee that everyone at the Edinburgh International Festival, Bank of Scotland and Scottish Chamber Orchestra will continue to work their socks off to bring you a very glamorous, exuberant and special event to celebrate another Festival finale.

What the Audience thought: Bliss

We were at The Festival Theatre, Edinburgh on Thursday 2 September asking the audience what they thought about Opera Australia's Bliss...


Artist Interview: Christine Brewer

We spoke to American Soprano Christine Brewer about returning to Edinburgh and how she chose the programme for her concert at the Usher Hall on Friday 3 September...


What the Audience thought: Paco Peña Flamenco Dance Company

We were at The Edinburgh Playhouse on Thursday 2 September asking the audience what they thought of Paco Peña Flamenco Dance Company...


02 September, 2010

Artist Interview: Duo Sol

We spoke to Caroline Allmente and Miki Tsunoda, who together make up Duo Sol, ahead of their concert at The Queen's Hall on Friday 3 September at 11am.


Artist Interview: David Watkin

We spoke to Cellist David Watkin ahead of his concert with the Tokyo Quartet on Thursday 2 September at the Queen's Hall.


30 August, 2010

What the Audience thought: Sin Sangre (Without Blood)

We were at the King's Theatre on Saturday 28 August asking the audience what they thought of Teatro Cinema's Sin Sangre (Without Blood)


The Aussies are coming

To celebrate Opera Australia's premiere of Bliss coming to the Edinburgh International Festival, a number of inflatable kangaroos are taking up home in unusual locations across Edinburgh from today, Monday 30 August. All you have to do is find them and hop them up to The Hub in order to win two free tickets.

We caught up with Kangaroos Scott and Charlene as they arrived in Edinburgh...

Scott: "G’Day Skippy, what shall we see at the Festival tonight?"
Charlene: "I don’t know Sport, there’s just too much bizzo to choose from. Let’s go to the Hub to figure it out"

Charlene: "Crikey mate, this cuppa’s a corker!"
Scott: "Too right mate, beats the billabong any day"

Charlene: "Why don’t we see something from Down Under?"
Scott: "Well let’s take a sticky-beak at the programme"

Scott: "How about the opera Bliss?"
Charlene: "Strewth! That’s a true blue bonza idea!"

You can get clues of the Kangaroos locations by keeping an eye on our Twitter and Facebook pages.

Find out more about Bliss here.

28 August, 2010

Festival Director, Jonathan Mills

Festival Director, Jonathan Mills shares his favourite Festival moments so far and gives his recommendations for the final week.

We’re nearing the end of the second wave now.

I had a fantastic night this week with the Gospel at Colonus cast at Giulianos, it is a great place to hang out after performances and there was an amazing atmosphere with such a huge cast filling the restaurant. It was like Harlem had come to Leith. There was a lot of joy in those performances, it was great to see the effect it had on audiences.

I had a wonderful encounter with Carmen Romero, Director of the Santiago Festival, this week. We saw Sin Sangre together in Santiago two years ago, and actually the last time I saw her was with Pina Bausch, which was also the last time I saw Pina. The audience at last night’s opening of Agua absolutely loved it, it is an incredibly fun piece.

It has been great to have the constant presence of Gunther Schuller and his idea of moving from one dimension of his career with Ives and Rhapsodies in Blue into a completely different genre, replicating his life in New York in the 50s. He told me the other evening that in the 50s New York had 127 jazz clubs, now it has just 7 and a half.

We are about to enter the final week of performances and there will be a massive influx of Australians with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra and Opera Australia. I am looking forward to welcoming them to the Festival and to Edinburgh and showing them something of the city. Get yourself to see Bliss this week, it is a fabulous opera, stunningly staged. If you are a fan of Kronos, or Meredith Monk, or a little adventurous with your cultural experiences then this is unmissable.

27 August, 2010

Confessions of a Chorus Member: Derek Calder

Festival Chorus Member Derek Calder, talks his thirtieth Festival, his loss of Tuesday evenings and his all time favourite memories...

It’s hard to believe, but this is my Thirtieth Festival! Just think, for the past 30 years, I’ve rarely had a Tuesday evening free … after all, that’s when the Festival Chorus rehearse!

‘How did I get into it?’ is a question that’s often asked. I started all those years ago when I was a student, and the opportunity to spend a three weeks singing in America was not to be turned down. So my introduction to choral music at this high standard was with the SNO Chorus, performing Prokofiev’s “Alexander Nevsky” at the Hollywood Bowl! That was closely followed by Verdi’s Four Sacred Pieces, conducted by Maestro Guilini at the same venue, with an audience of 12,000! After experiences like that how could I not fall in love with choral singing!

Following those experiences I auditioned for the Edinburgh Festival Chorus. Why the Festival Chorus? Well, at the time, I was a student in Aberdeen and in those days there was an Aberdeen section of the Festival Chorus which was rehearsed by my singing tutor, John Hearne. I had to audition again for the then Chorus Master of both the EFC and the SNO Chorus, John Currie and thankfully was successful; every re-audition is a nerve-wracking experience, even after 30 years!

Looking back fondly over my past 30 years with Festival Chorus I have many great memories, too many to list here.

However I have to mention performances such as:
  • Verdi Requiem in 1982, Claudio Abbado conducting, Jessye Norman and Jose Carreras amongst the soloists.
  • Filming Handel’s Israel In Egypt on the shores of the Red Sea.
  • A Proms performance of Beethoven Missa Solemnis at the Royal Albert Hall with Sir Georg Solti conducting.
  • The first time I ever performed Britten’s “War Requiem” – an unbelievable experience!
  • Recording Mozart’s Idomeno with Sir Charles Mackerras.
  • Surviving and enjoying Schoenberg’s Moses Und Aaron!.
  • The amazing experience of performing Messiaen’s St Francis of Assisi.
  • The personal discovery of the music of John Adams, such as this year’s opening concert ‘El Nino’ and ‘Harmonium’ which we performed as a late night concert several years ago.
Plus more trivial memories, such as:
  • chatting with Bryn Terfl about his round of golf at St Andrews during a break in a recording session.
  • sharing Polo Mints with Dame Janet Baker.
  • having coffee with Dame Cleo Laine.
And finally:
  • all the great friends I’ve made over my years in the chorus.
Not to mention all that I’ve learned from the Chorus Masters we’ve worked with: John Currie, Arthur Oldham, David Jones, Christopher Bell, plus visiting chorus masters – each different in their own way.

After Thirty years how can experiences like these be beaten? I’m not sure, but I’m certain that Jonathan Mills and Christopher Bell will no doubt try!

What the Audience thought: Alonzo King Lines Ballet

We were at the Festival Theatre, Edinburgh on Thursday 26 August at the opening night of Alonzo King Lines Ballet to ask the audience what they thought of the show.


26 August, 2010

Artist Interview: Alonzo King

We caught up with Alonzo King during rehearsals at the Festival Theatre to talk about the Alonzo King Lines Ballet performance on Thu 26, Fri 27, Sat 28 & Sun 29 August as part of the Edinburgh International Festival 2010.


Artist Interview: Katia and Marielle Labèque

We caught up with Katia and Marielle Labèque to talk sisters, style and Scotland ahead of their up coming performance with the Scottish Chamber Orchestra on Friday 27 August at the Edinburgh International Festival 2010.


24 August, 2010

See Britian through Jonathan Mills' eyes

Festival Director, Jonathan Mills talks about his experiences while directing the Edinburgh International Festival. He challenges the perception that "the UK is up itself" and highlights its celebration of culture and welcoming multicultural society.

Artist Interview: Carl Tanner

We spoke to Tenor, Carl Tanner ahead of his performance in La Fanciulla del West at the Edinburgh International Festival 2010.


20 August, 2010

Artist Interview: The Wooster Group

Ed McKeaney, General Manager of The Wooster Group talks arriving in Edinburgh, rehearsals and what happens in the run up to showtime!

The first of us began arriving in Edinburgh on the 17th – slightly jetlagged after our 90 minute delay at JFK airport in NYC and 250 minute layover in Amsterdam – including all of the technicians, the director and the company manager (me). On the 18th is when the performers, costumer and producer followed; with equal lag. Bozzy, our production manager, had been here the longest – he flew from NYC to Antwerp on Thursday the 12th where he, and a team of workers converted our European set from HAMLET to VIEUX CARRÉ then loaded it onto a truck along with the rest of our freight that had arrived from the US a few days earlier. In the end, we all made it safely and ready to begin the next phase of VIEUX CARRÉ. (If you want to hear about the first performances of VC in France, you’ll have to find one of us at the bar after a show…).

Then the fun began, a quick three hours of grid setup in the Royal Lyceum on Tuesday night after our friends and colleagues, Elevator Repair Service, struck their set and equipment. The next two days, the technical crew worked 14-hour shifts getting the theater ready for rehearsals. Meanwhile Cynthia, our producer, and I were busy at the Hub finalizing the program, scheduling interviews and photo calls, and of course continuing to keep the operations of the Group going overseas (via multiple wireless internet connections – found in coffee shops, pubs, cafes, the hotel, etc.)

On Thursday, the performers prepared for the first day of rehearsals with a few hours of video watching and then mic checks on stage.

On Friday, the morning hours will be spent with the tech team making some adjustments before rehearsal where we will be visited by two Festival audio-describers and a photo team. Dinner break. Repeat. A second four-hour rehearsal followed by notes and adjustments.

Saturday, August 21 – the day of the first show will start with a final early morning of tech notes, four hours of rehearsal, a quick hour-dinner and then a 6pm show call for the whole team. Make-up and costumes are put on. Lights, video, sound and effects are checked. The audience is let in the house and we begin – performance #1 of VIEUX CARRÉ by Tennessee Williams at the Edinburgh International Festival.

19 August, 2010

Artist Interview: Joyce DiDonato

We spoke to Mezzo soprano, Joyce DiDonato, ahead of her two performances at the Edinburgh International Festival 2010, Idomeneo and a recital with pianist David Zobel at the Usher Hall.

What is the most challenging piece that you will be performing at this year’s Festival?

The role of Idamante is incredibly challenging! The opening aria is an incredible challenge to sing because the vocal range sits quite high without much of a rest at all, not to mention that it is super emotionally charged! After that, the entire recital program I'll sing on Sunday is challenging, but SUCH a joy to sing!

The Italian language features heavily in your repertoire, is this your preferred language to sing in?

I speak Italian relatively well, so it's a language I'm quite comfortable in - I can play with the words as if I were speaking English, and that's a very powerful tool as an artist. But I do love French as well - the smoothness and expressiveness of that language is very special. If I HAD to choose, yes, it would be Italian, I suppose.

You have had the opportunity to perform all the over the world, are there any cities or venues that hold a special place in your heart?

London has been very good to me, as has Paris and many of the US venues. It's too difficult to narrow it down because I find such special qualities about all the cities I visit. I'm enjoying Edinburgh tremendously, and after the patience the audience showed me last year with the lights going out before we could even get started, it just may well become an absolute favourite of mine!

Of all the people you’ve worked with, who has influenced you most as a performer?

Well, I have to say that working with the late, but oh-so-great Sir Charles Mackerras left an enduring, deep impression on me. I will miss singing with him very, very much. But I learn from so many people - the good colleagues, as well as the bad, and at the top of the list must be Frederica von Stade. Her unbridled generosity, simple sincerity and utter honesty as a performer continue to inspire me greatly and she serves as a unique role model to me in so many ways.

Do you have an all-time favourite role?

NO! And please don't make me choose! I love them all - almost without exception. I get to work with the greatest masters of history: Mozart, Bellini, Strauss, Handel, Bach, etc and they each provide an incredible platform for discovery and depth, that I revel each character I get to sing!

Are there any orchestras that you would like to get the chance to work with in the future?

I have had so much good fortune so far - the only thing missing is some repeat performances with groups like the London Phil, London Symphony Orch, NY Phil, The OAE - so many great ones that I've only sung with once. I'd love the chance to get to deepen my relationship with them.

How will you relax after your Festival performances?

After 5 months on the road here in Europe, my husband and I plan a short vacation to California to stay at a heavenly spa in Big Sur, and THEN TWO WEEKS AT HOME, TOGETHER! That is the real vacation!!!

You can read Joyce DiDonato's own blog here.

Find out more about Joyce DiDonato's recital here.

18 August, 2010

Artist Interview: Edicson Ruiz

We spoke to Double Bass soloist, Edicson Ruiz ahead of his performance with Sergio Tiempo at the Queen's Hall on Thursday 19 August at Festival 2010.


For more about Edicson Ruiz and Sergio Tiempo go here.

17 August, 2010

Festival Highlights: Carol Main, The List

We spoke to Classical Music Editor at The List, Carol Main about her Festival highlights so far and what she would recommend for this weekend.


16 August, 2010

What the Audience thought: Montezuma

We were at the King's Theatre on Saturday 14 August asking the audience what they thought of the operatic gem, Montezuma.


Artist interview: Lemi Ponifasio

We caught up with Samoan choreographer Lemi Ponifasio on the way to rehearsals to talk about the two awe-inspiring works he has brought to the Festival 2010 with his company MAU.


Find out more about Tempest: Without a Body here.
Find out more about Birds with Skymirrors here.

14 August, 2010

Confessions of a Chorus Member: Ronnie Barnes

Festival Chorus Member Ronnie Barnes gives an insight into the life of a chorus member and what makes it all worth while...

It’s 1.59pm on the first Saturday in August 2010. The Festival Chorus have assembled for final preparations for this year’s International Festival and we await the warm up exercises which precedes the detailed work on the scores which are in preparation.

This is the 22nd consecutive 1st weekend in August in which I have participated. This results in 130 or so people being inside for the most part of what is usually a glorious weekend for weather. It is also the 22nd consecutive year that I have had to remind work colleagues and friends that despite their belief to the contrary, the Festival Chorus remains inactive during the month of July at least, and no I am not rehearsing furiously for the upcoming Festival! It still surprises some of my acquaintances that rehearsals stop at least for the month of July if not for June as well as all the hard work is undertaken during the winter months from January to the end of May.

I have had the good fortune to be a 1st Tenor with the Chorus since the Festival of 1989. I joined at a time when the Chorus strength was over 200 with an unbelievable Tenor section made up of 40. Our size has diminished significantly over the period and while we are a smaller Chorus we are still, I think, as effective.

I originally auditioned having heard the Chorus at the Festivals of 1987 and 1988 and I was encouraged to consider joining through a friend who sang in the Chorus at the time.

Throughout the past 22 years I have had the great privilege of being part of some incredible performances and while each and every one has in its own way been memorable, the particular highlights for me have been the Grende Messe de Morte by Berlioz, Mahler 2 with Simon Rattle and the Vienna Philharmonic, James McMillan’s Quickening and a performance of Alexander Nevsky in Rouen in Normandy with the St Petersburg Philharmonic Orchestra. What was particularly memorable during that performance was hearing this orchestra rehearsing the Suite from the ballet Romeo and Juliet. There was something about listening to that particular Orchestra playing that particular music that almost transcends the words which I have to describe it.

And so to the Festival 2010. Much of this week has been taken up with preparing for the opening concert which is a performance of John Adams’ El Nino. If we are performing in the opening concert, the week preceding is a frantic compression of rehearsal given that we are now meeting the Conductor, the Soloists and the Orchestra for the first time. And this is where the performance is finally shaped as we hear for the first time the sounds and textures which have previously only been played to us on a piano accompaniment. This can make it all sound and feel very different and you are likely to be thrown a bit by the orchestration and also hearing the Soloist for the first time.

El Nino is a complex, challenging piece of modern music with compelling syncopated rhythms which require pinpoint accuracy.

Following the main concert, the men will be involved in a performance of Puccinni’s The Girl of the Golden West. The Chorus will be re-united in two weeks time to prepare for the mammoth Mahler 8 which will be a fitting climax to this year’s Festival, the performance of which I am looking forward to with great relish.

It has always been a source of huge satisfaction to be part of this great Chorus and it is worth the sacrifices and the juggling of work and other commitments in order to make myself available for what can be a punishing schedule in the month of August. We all of us give generously of our time and some travel enormous distances in order to be included. However, the reward is participation in events which as individuals we would be unlikely to play a part, but as a collective we have earned the right to be up there with all the other world class performers.

And so it is now 9.29pm on the 12 August. The final Dress Rehearsal has come to an end. It is now ready. And so are we...

What the Audience thought: Opening Concert El Nino

We were at the Usher Hall on Friday 13 August asking the audience what they thought about the Festival 2010 Opening Concert El Nino...


13 August, 2010

Festival highlights: Mary Brennan, The Herald

We have just spoken to Mary Brennan from The Herald about her 2010 Festival highlights, you can listen to her recommendations here:


Festival Director, Jonathan Mills

Festival Director Jonathan Mills reveals what he’s been up to during the opening week of the festival and how he can’t wait to get started!

The week leading up the opening weekend is really a tremendously busy time. I’ve been doing the rounds of all the venues as the various shows are being installed, seeing the sets going in and the lighting and so on. It has also been a week of greeting artists from as far afield as Mexico and Boston, and as close as London. People who’ve come a long way, and those not so far.

The press department has filled my schedule with photocalls, filming calls, interviews and a lot of international radio interest and now there is a real sense of momentum building.

So now I am impatient to get underway. Having programmed the artists and the shows many months ago the anticipation is now almost unbearable.

The atmosphere in the office is intense, everyone is very focused and I love it.

Tonight’s Opening Concert of El Nino is a really great cast and the Festival Chorus sound fabulous. One of the real pleasures of my jobs is going along to the first chorus rehearsal during the Festival period and introducing their first conductor of the season to them in this instance James Conlon. It reminds me of the commitment of the individuals who make such a solid and magnificent contribution.

Lets get it underway now!

12 August, 2010

A day in the life of...Artistic Administrator, Matthew Studdert-Kennedy

Artistic Administrator, Matthew Studdert-Kennedy, talks about his past life of teaching and why he's a people person...

Can you give a brief overview of your role at EIF?
I’m the Festival’s Artistic Administrator. Throughout the year I help devise the Festival programme (particularly the music programme) and at Festival time I help deliver it.

How long have you worked at the Festival?
I joined the Festival team in December 2006 so Festival 2010 is my fourth.

What is the best/most challenging part of your job?
We work with a great many exceptional artists and performers who we bring to Edinburgh and this is both the best and most challenging part of my job. Some are more demanding than others but I like people and enjoy working with them all.

What do you do on a day to day basis?
Throughout the year I work on our detailed programming and forward planning. At Festival time I try to make sure that everything is going to plan which means I probably go to more rehearsals than I do performances.

What did you do before joining the Festival?
I had many jobs simultaneously all involved with music: performing, teaching at the University of Edinburgh and St Mary’s Music school, managing a chamber music group and devising and delivering music education projects.

What do you get up to outside of work?
I have a little baby girl who fills my days up fantastically.

Which events are you most looking forward to at the Festival 2010?
The Gospel at Colonus, The Sun Also Rises, The Concertgebouw, the SCO playing Les Elémens by Rebel and Llŷr Williams playing Charles Ives’ Concord Sonata.

09 August, 2010

Confessions of a Chorus Member: Anne Backhouse

Festival Chorus Member Anne Backhouse talks about her BBC Proms experience...

I was a member of the Edinburgh Festival Chorus from 1996-2003 and have just rejoined. I was tempted back by the prospect of singing Mahler’s 8th Symphony for the first time, and Christopher’s ‘good and bad news’ announcement of a trip to the Proms only came after we’d started rehearsals. The bad news was that the work to be performed was Mahler’s 3rd Symphony and only the ladies of the Chorus would be needed. Singing at the Proms has always been a dream of mine and now it was going to be fulfilled.

We travelled down to London by train the day before the concert and stayed at Imperial College, a great location only 5 minutes away from the Albert Hall. I made the most of being there and went to 2 other Prom concerts and it certainly added to the excitement, sitting in the audience thinking I’ll be on that stage tomorrow!

The Festival Chorus Ladies and the RSNO Junior Chorus, were performing with the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, mezzo-soprano Karen Cargill and conductor Donald Runnicles. Our big moment comes in the 5th movement and, after a very long sit, we rose to our feet for our 3 minutes of ‘angelic’ singing. The very precise timings of our stand and sit were the cause of some anxiety, especially coping with tip-up seats, but all went well and, after the intensely moving final movement, there was thunderous applause. Back in the dressing room Christopher appeared to pass on congratulations and compliments. As chorus master of both choirs it was a very special occasion for him.

It’s hard to describe the thrill of being part of such a wonderful performance, but one privilege of sitting in the choir is being able to watch the clarity, passion and intensity of Donald Runnicles’ conducting. I can’t wait for Mahler 8!

06 August, 2010

Confessions of a Chorus Member: Fiona Mcbryde

Festival Chorus Member Fiona McBryde gives a day by day account of the run up to the BBC Proms.

Conductor's Rehearsal, Glasgow
Wednesday 28th July

I would never have suspected, at the beginning of our rehearsals for the 2010 festival season, that grown women with the talent of the ladies of the Festival Chorus would be so worried about "bimming" or "bamming" in the wrong place, yet here we are. As we board the chorus bus at Haymarket and head across the M8, memorised words are being muttered under breath and scores are being checked in advance of today's rehearsals with Donald Runnicles and the BBC SSO. The bus trip to Glasgow is always an exciting sign to me that a performance with the choir is in the pipeline - and this year it marks the beginning of a wonderful festival of music and an additional outing for the chorus to the BBC Proms in London. The rehearsal goes well although we all heed Christopher's advice to his "Bell's Angels" to devote some bathroom practice to Mahler 3 before the next rehearsal.

General Rehearsal and recording for the BBC Archive, Glasgow
Saturday 31st July

After the minor mishap of the chorus bus breaking down on the way to the Royal Concert hall, our final rehearsal before meeting in London gets underway. We are very lucky ladies as we are treated to what is essentially a private performance of the whole of Mahler's 3rd symphony by the orchestra and Karen Cargill. It's truly spellbinding stuff and it puts us in the perfect frame of mind for the concert.

Day off, London
Monday 2nd August

Having sung in the Albert Hall with the National Youth Choir of Scotland but never having been to a prom before, I decided in May that this trip to London was too good an opportunity to miss for getting truly absorbed in the Proms spirit. I booked tickets for 3 concerts and after an afternoon concert in the Cadogan Hall, coffee and saunter along Southbank, I make my way to the Albert Hall from South Kensington tube station to meet friends for an evening Prom. The excitement reaches a peak when I see my first glimpse of the hall, the crescent apartments of Kensington Gore leading towards it like rippling waves of music emanating from the iconic building and out through central London. As I take in the atmosphere of the concert, it all adds to the excitement that it will soon be our turn.

Concert Day, London
Wednesday 4th August

After a fairly painless warm up and rehearsal in the empty concert hall - with the anticipation building that it will soon be full of prommers waiting to hear us sing - the ladies of the chorus disperse for lunches, sightseeing and snoozes prior to the final preparations for the concert. We assemble for final notes from Christopher at 6.15: the message is clear; the hard work isn't over and we need to give our all for one final time. At 9 o'clock we emerge sore-faced from all the smiling following a thrilling performance. We celebrate in anticipation of this weekend's rehearsals and next week's Opening Concert. The following weeks will bring our EIF performance of Mahler 3 and our reunion with the BBC SSO and Donald Runnicles for Mahler 8, bringing to end a great programme for the chorus for 2010.

04 August, 2010

Bank of Scotland Fireworks Concert Co-ordinator, Lynsey Shovlin, reveals all about being the bright spark behind the event...

Obsessed with glitter, glam and sparkle the position of project co-ordinator for the Bank of Scotland Fireworks Concert definitely appealed to me. Since June, I have been interning with the Edinburgh International Festival and working with our dedicated team to bring you what will be a spectacular live concert performed by the Scottish Chamber Orchestra including a choreographed pyrotechnic display.

I work closely with many different people on a daily basis and enjoy the variety of tasks which I perform each day. For example; contributing to press releases (and coming up with cheesy firework puns) promoting our #BOSfireworks Twitter hash tag and updating the event website with the newest information.

One of my main duties is to get answers from stakeholders involved with the concert and communicate information effectively to the partners of the event; Bank of Scotland (BOS), Scottish Chamber Orchestra (SCO) and Edinburgh International Festival. This is important because a centralised point of contact prevents duplicate conversations and misunderstandings for the many people involved - which helps when we have a deadline of 5th September!

Most recently my main tasks have been organising interviews with those at the forefront of the fireworks concert action - Jonathan Mills (Festival Director), Rod Bain (SCO Concert Manager) and Keith Webb (firework display designer of Pyrovision). They are available to listen to here.

I am also responsible for the production of the printed programme for the evening including its contents, design and distribution. With an audience of over 220,000 people last year, it is perhaps the most wanted leaflet throughout the Edinburgh Festivals!

For me personally, the Bank of Scotland Fireworks Concert is a marvellous celebration of cultural diversity, Edinburgh and its people. As the world’s largest annual live music and fireworks display, over 100,000 fireworks are ignited which illuminate the night sky and for me personally there will be a lot of satisfaction when all our efforts go up in smoke albeit loud and colourful!

To find out more about the Bank of Scotland Fireworks Concert go here.

28 July, 2010

A day in the life of...Head of Programme Development, Sally Hobson

Head of Programme Development, Sally Hobson talks negotiating a bustling Royal Mile to get to work and reveals what she is looking forward to at Festival 2010.

Can you give a brief overview of your role at EIF?
I work at the Festival as Head of Programme Development. I look after events that extend the reach of the Festival’s programme. My portfolio includes defining and delivering our schools work in Edinburgh for primary and secondary schools.

How long have you worked at the Festival?
I have worked here since 1994 and this will be my 17th Festival.

What is the best/most challenging part of your job?
The most challenging part of my job is meeting deadlines and the pressure of the job. The hardest part is negotiating the walk along the Royal Mile when its busy.

The best parts of the job include working with my colleagues, the school pupils responses and our artists who deliver the programme year round as well as in August.

What do you do on a day to day basis?
I work with all departments at the Festival in different ways throughout the year.

What did you do before joining the Festival?
I worked with the Citizens’ Theatre and various arts organisations in Scotland and England. Alongside this I trained and worked as a therapist with experience of working in England and Scotland, specifically Easterhouse and Royston in Glasgow.

What do you get up to outside of work?
I write poetry and theatre productions. I have undertaken SAC funded projects in writing development and had produced work in various venues in Scotland. I swim a lot, and walk all over the place. I have an 18 year son whom I talk to occasionally. I go to the cinema and hang-out with friends.

Which events are you most looking forward to at the Festival 2010?
Mahler 3, Pina Bausch and Mau. The day after the Festival is all over is a wonderful feeling too! The weight of delivering a large programme lifts and for a while there is space in the city again!

23 July, 2010

Confessions of a Chorus Member: Susan Bowden

Festival Chorus member Susan Bowden talks about her nerve-racking first audition, the thrill of a standing ovation and wardrobe worries backstage.

Where to start? I arrived in the festival chorus in 1989 having done higher music at school. A friend of my mums brought me along to an empty Usher Hall to listen to a rehearsal and I was blown away by the sound. So after one very nerve-racking audition with Arthur Oldham, 'sight-reading terrible' he said, 'you are not supposed to improvise!' I was a member of the Festival chorus.

The first piece I ever sang in the festival was the memorable Brahms Requiem, terrifying when you have never sung in German before. Over the years there have many memorable concerts, the large choral works, opera recordings, one great memory was the St Petersburg Phil and Yuri Teramakanov we rehearsed in the Meadowbank stadium and they wheeled in a Television at half time for the orchestra to watch what was unfolding in Russia as Communism fell. As the orchestra took to the stage the audience gave a standing ovation, the Mozart Requiem has never felt so emotional.

There is always a great anticipation as August approaches, the first piano rehearsal with the visiting conductor and the great day when the full orchestration comes to life! It is always fascinating to hear the music we have heard Sam Hutchings playing on the grand piano in rehearsal, filling the Usher Hall.

Over the years I have made many great friends, the chorus is a very friendly group, some people have been there for many years and some only a few. But we all share a common goal of making the best music we possibly can, helped by our chorus master Christopher Bell. He keeps us working hard throughout the year, and we share lots of funny moments.

We have El Nino, Mahler 3, and Mahler 8 and the men have opera, Puccini , I am probably most excited by Mahler 3 with the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, but all our concerts are filled with excitement. Live music is always best, the only way to really share in the excitement and atmosphere. The best feeling is the opening concert but many concerts take you by surprise, it is always a great adventure, even sitting backstage trying not to get dust on your black outfit before going on stage builds the excitement. Here’s to a great Festival 2010.

To find out more about the Festival Chorus go here.

15 July, 2010

A day in the life of...Graphic Designer, Dawid Nabialek

Graphic Designer for the Festival, Dawid Nabialek talks job juggling, his career path from Poland and bringing creative ideas to life.

Can you give a brief overview of your role at EIF?
I work at the Festival as a full-time graphic designer looking after the Festival's brand and providing the marketing department with many designs including posters, leaflets, advertisements, displays, stationery, reports as well as electronic communications and web graphics.

Every year we collaborate with a design agency. They usually create the main design ideas each year including the design of the main brochure. This then forms the basis for the rest of that year’s campaign. Once the Festival brochure is ready I use the designs to develop the rest of campaign visuals which come in various shapes and sizes.

How long have you worked at the Festival?
I have worked here since 2007 and this year is my fourth Festival.

What is the best/most challenging part of your job?
The most challenging part of my job is juggling numerous design jobs for various Festival colleagues all to tight deadlines. I love it when work duties allow me to release my creativity which I can turn into a good and effective design.

One of the best moments each year is during the Festival when after a busy day of work I have the opportunity to enjoy watching Festival shows.

What do you do on a day to day basis?
I work closely with Marketing Manager, Marketing Officer and Festival Marketing and Communication Director on marketing strategies, creative ideas and campaigns all year round, I then find design solutions and techniques to make them a reality. I deal with subcontractors (e.g. printers) and I also help colleagues from other Festival departments including sponsorship, finance, programme development, Hub Tickets and Cafe Hub with their graphic design and artworks.

What did you do before joining the Festival?
Since 2003 I worked as a designer for art organisations, printing companies, ad agencies, graphic design studios, clubs, shops and different companies in Poland.

What do you do apart from your normal work?
My current interest is photography. My favourite subjects are people, streets and more detailed work. I have taken part in two group exhibitions in Edinburgh with Polish and Scottish artists.

I try to be active after my day to day work as well. I work with local communities from Edinburgh on various cultural projects and events. For example, last year, I joined a busy team of young volunteers who have been organising a week-long Festival, the Polish Cultural Festival in Edinburgh, full of cultural events and performances including live music, theatre, dance, film, visual arts and lectures as well as great Medieval Market and Tournament in Leith Links Park.

Which events are you most looking forward to at the Festival 2010?
Russian National Orchestra, Kronos Quartet, Teatro Cinema, Grupo Corpo, Alonzo King Lines Ballet, Mau and Bliss.