Sandy Scott’s EIF 2013 overview

Jonathan Mills. Pic: Jane Barlow
Jonathan Mills. Pic: Jane Barlow
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SIR Jonathan Mills, director of the Edinburgh International Festival, frequently refers to aims that were stated by the Festival’s founders in 1947. It seems fair, therefore, to review this year’s programming with some comparative thoughts about past and present.

Choice of repertoire apart, the main criticism to be levelled at rather too many of the Usher Hall concerts is that they have been too short.

Audiences generally expect to hear a third work in addition to a concerto and symphony.

A festival like ours is expected to stage prestigious opera presentations. Throughout his tenure of office, Sir Jonathan has habitually played down this requirement and under-used the Festival Theatre.

His propensity for odd productions is also open to criticism. Beethoven, for example, could never have imagined his Fidelio being set in a spaceship. Ignoring the Wagner bi-centenary, Mills overlooked the international kudos that would have resulted from, for example, a revival of Rienzi – even in the concert hall. One did take place in rival Salzburg.

Aside from these general thoughts, the ever-welcome Sixteen yet again demonstrated their incomparable skills in a wide variety of choral items which extended from unison singing up to the 40 parts of Tallis’s motet Spem in Alium. Two compositions by James MacMillan were balanced against repertoire from the 15th and 16th centuries. His O Bone Jesu in 19 parts provided an interesting counterpart to the earlier setting by fellow Scotsman Robert Carver.

Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas and Bartok’s Bluebeard’s Castle could have been mounted as concert performances in the Usher Hall without detriment. The former was a slap-happy production with action confined to the front of the stage and the orchestral pit.

Did it never occur to producer Barrie Kosky that instructing his leading lady to huff and puff her life away spoilt the concluding chorus of the piece?

It is difficult, too, to imagine what possible artistic justification there might be for the deliberately barren staging of the Bartok.

The Concertgebouw players are due to perform Mahler’s 9th symphony this evening and Verdi’s Requiem – in the capable hands of Donald Runnicles - brings proceedings to an end tomorrow.