Edinburgh Festival could get blown awaymain
Hugh Kerr, of Edinburgh Music Review, fears that the city’s strong winds pose a threat to this summer’s improvised festival:
Edinburgh Festival has launched its programme three months late and in a virtual way (as outlined in Slipped Disc yesterday).
Last year’s festival was a totally virtual festival in the midst of lockdown. This year, most major music events will be in “pop up outdoor” venues.
Edinburgh Music Review asked its readers and critics for their response and in general they have been positive about the programme and welcomed some interesting artists such as Joyce di Donato and Valerie Gergiev coming to Edinburgh, though no big foreign companies.
My real concern is that most performances will be outdoor, beginning with the opening light show in the Botanic Gardens, followed by outdoor venues at the University , Edinburgh Academy and Edinburgh Park.The only major indoor music event is Scottish Opera’s production of David Macvicar’s Falstaff but COVID restrictions means that only 370 people will be allowed in the Festival Theatre which normally holds 2000.
Social distancing in outdoor venues will also keep numbers down. Some programmes will be repeated to increase spectator numbers.
Readers will be aware that August weather in Edinburgh is not necessarily friendly, Michael Billington of the Guardian said Edinburgh is the only place he knows where it can rain sideways. How will chamber music in the University Old Quad survive the drumming of the rain on the roof, the gusts of winds through the open sides and the noise of the traffic from the busy road outside?
A further concern is price. Events which last a little over an hour cost £30 upwards. In the past Edinburgh kept ticket prices low compared to other international festivals. There were always tickets at the Queens Hall or the Usher Hall from £10 upwards which made it accessible to Edinburgh residents. Two thirds of the festival audience is local.
With few foreign visitors this year that percentage will likely increase. Given restricted seat numbers the festival probably will sell out, but to a less diverse audience than normal given the cost. The irony is that the Festival is championing diversity this year after recent criticism.It has a range of ethnically diverse performers but it may well price out less well-off audiences.
This all sounds a little pessimistic and of course we should celebrate the good things that will happen in August, giving work to musicians, and the opening up of Edinburgh (although at this stage the existence of the Fringe Festival is in doubt.) There will be a festival, shored up by £5m of public money but going to a limited audience and crucially dependent on Edinburgh’s temperamental weather.
Hugh Kerr editor of the Edinburgh Music Review