No Edinburgh International Festival fireworks this year, but could they be replaced by Disney-style drones? – Susan Dalgety
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After three years of dark skies on the final night of the International Festival because of Covid, its new programme director, Nicola Benedetti, has just announced that the dazzling display will not return this year. There was a suggestion that it was ditched because of its environmental impact.
When fireworks go off, they release three greenhouse gases into the air: carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide and nitrogen, each of which contributes to climate change. And the festival is very mindful of its carbon footprint. One of its key aims is to “embrace new models of working with companies and orchestras to reduce carbon impact”. So far, so green.
But it also transpires the festival could not find a sponsor willing to underwrite the celebrations, which cost Virgin Money, their last backer, around £250,000. During a cost-of-living crisis, a quarter of a million pounds does seem rather a lot to blow on thousands of Catherine Wheels and some big rockets, even if the display did last 45 minutes and was breathtaking in its beauty.
And it was probably the most popular festival event among the people of Edinburgh. Not everyone can afford a ticket to listen to the Budapest Festival Orchestra pay homage to Antonin Dvorak at the Usher Hall. Nor is everyone excited by the prospect of avant garde vocalist Cécile McLorin Salvant performing her jazz song cycle Ogresse at the Festival Theatre.
Most of us are on restricted budgets, and many of us prefer a bit of showbiz bling, which is why, since their inception in 1982, the festival fireworks have become a much-loved part of city life. Disney – famous for the spectacular firework displays at its resorts – has started using drones and video projections to light up the night skies.
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if the International Festival could find a sponsor willing to support a similar show to close Edinburgh’s annual arts extravaganza? But instead of Captain America looming over the castle, we could have Mary Queen of Scots and Greyfriars Bobby… or even Nicola Benedetti herself.
Joking apart, the festival won’t be the same without its pyrotechnics – virtual or otherwise.