Edinburgh International Festival: Fireworks finale may not return over environmental impact concerns

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The new director of the Edinburgh International Festival has revealed environmental concerns were a key factor in a decision to shelve the event’s traditional fireworks finale and suggested it may not return in its previous format.

Nicola Benedetti, who has unveiled her first programme as director of the 76-year-old event, said the impact of the event, which has seen more than 400,000 fireworks fired above Edinburgh Castle in recent years, was a “strong consideration” in the Scottish Chamber Orchestra’s concert not going ahead this year.

Instead, the closing weekend of the festival will see Charlotte Square Garden reopened for the first event since the relocation of the book festival when recordings of music from previous festival concerts are broadcast into the historic space.

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The Festival Fireworks Concert, which was first staged in West Princes Street Gardens in 1982 when it was sponsored by Glenlivet, has always had a commercial backer. It is believed to have cost more than £250,000 to stage in modern times.

Edinburgh's festival fireworks finale was first staged in 1982. Picture: Andrew O'BrienEdinburgh's festival fireworks finale was first staged in 1982. Picture: Andrew O'Brien
Edinburgh's festival fireworks finale was first staged in 1982. Picture: Andrew O'Brien

The most recent backer of the event, Virgin Money, had decided not to renew its backing of the festival in 2020. When the event was missing from outgoing director Fergus Linehan’s programme last year, he blamed the Covid restrictions on large gatherings which were in place when a decision had to be taken at the end of the previous year.

However, the festival has set a series of targets for reducing its environmental impact as part of a drive to become net zero across its operations by 2020 and across its programme by 2045. A key aim of the festival is to “embrace new models of working with companies and orchestras to reduce carbon impact”.

Ms Benedetti said: “We talked a lot about the closing of the festival and have explored a number of different avenues. I know the fireworks are a much-loved event. We are looking at a contemporary iteration of what that moment meant to people. We’re scrutinising that at the moment, but there's going to be a slightly longer-term solution and answer to that.

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“Both elements (financial and environment) were strong considerations in the decision not to go ahead with the fireworks. There has been a lot of internal scrutiny over their environmental impact and whether it is the most sensible thing to do.”

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