Edinburgh Festival: Performers from 70 countries, including Ukraine, are gathering for return of 'full' festival – Angus Robertson MSP

The first days of August instil a special feeling in the hearts of Edinburgers.

It is the month we throw our doors open to the world to show our city, as well as provide spaces for the world’s artists, of all stripes, to play, act, sing, debate, recount, dance, perform, entertain, and sometimes even confuse global audiences.

There is joy and relief that Edinburgh’s world-renowned August festivals are back ‘in full’. But, it’s important to realise that the programme offer is around 80 per cent of 2019, which is similar to levels seen in 2014.

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Of course, there was not a single in-person show in 2020. In 2021 only ten per cent of shows could be performed. This makes it all the more extraordinary that 80 per cent of 2019 levels have been reached in such a challenging context.

It’s a huge testament to the dedication, perseverance and professionalism of those who run our festivals to have got them where they are today, and I extend my deep thanks to them for protecting and guiding Scotland’s cultural centrepiece through this time.

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Ukrainian Freedom Orchestra: fighting a war with music
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In recognition of this, I hope and am sure the citizens of Scotland’s capital will be out in full force to support the festivals. Indeed, with 40 per cent of audiences expected from Edinburgh, the local appeal is as strong as ever, enjoying around 1000 Scottish shows and over 3000 from 70 countries worldwide.

Scots are expected to make up around 60 per cent of the audience; 40 per cent are coming from further afield, three-quarters from the rest of the UK and a quarter from abroad.

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Pianist Anna Fedorova of the Ukrainian Freedom Orchestra takes part in a rehearsal with the Warsaw Opera before their international tour (Picture: Wojtek Radwanski/AFP via Getty Images)

As always, the festivals are there to be enjoyed by those of all ages, tastes and budgets. Between the International Festival, Fringe and others, there are over 55,000 free tickets as well as street artists and many ‘pay what you want’ offers.

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Of course, there are new considerations to juggle. Covid safety, transport access and the cost-of-living crisis mean many may make different choices about attending all, some or any of the festivals. But bookings are going strong and the draw of the Edinburgh Festivals is difficult for any to refuse.

So far, I have been privileged to attend the opening of the visual art festival and look forward to the kick-off of the International Festival at BT Murrayfield on Friday, along with the galas, launches and openings of the other ten festivals.

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Importantly, on the first full day of the event, Edinburgh International Festival and the Scottish Government are partnering to show solidarity with the people of Ukraine by welcoming the Ukrainian Freedom Orchestra for a historic free concert at the Usher Hall on Saturday.

Assembled by New York’s Metropolitan Opera and the Polish National Opera, the Ukrainian Freedom Orchestra includes recent refugees, Ukrainian members of European orchestras and leading Ukrainian musicians and performers, including soprano Liudmyla Monastyrska and pianist Anna Fedorova.

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This is particularly pertinent as the city of Edinburgh begins to welcome refugees from the Ukraine war aboard the cruise ship Victoria, where they will be provided with a temporary home and provisions while more suitable longer-term homes are found.

I wish all those organising, watching and performing in all the festivals this year the very best, and I look forward to taking in as much as I can.

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Angus Robertson is the SNP MSP for Edinburgh Central and Constitution, External Affairs and Culture Secretary