The pan-European celebration that was the founding principle of the Edinburgh International Festival and remains crucial today is marked in the final selection of Bank of Scotland Herald Angel awards in 2012.
This week’s Archangel award, in recognition of a sustained contribution to Festivals Edinburgh, is awarded to Hungarian conductor Ivan Fischer. Fischer founded the Budapest Festival Orchestra in the Soviet era, in pursuit of excellence and in contradiction of approved employment practice. In the 1990s it began operating all year round and was a sensation at the 1997 Edinburgh Festival, winning a Herald Angel in one of the early years of the awards.
Since then Fischer and his band have been regular visitors to the UK, and they won a second Angel at the Festival in 2008.
Their return this year is on the back of acclaimed recordings of Mahler symphonies and a sensational performance of the Fifth was teamed with the music of Hungarian Bela Bartok in what was one of the highlights of the Usher Hall concert programme.
Scots composer Craig Armstrong wrote a chamber opera for the EIF to premiere at the Traverse many years ago and this year he was back with a world premiere at the King’s as part Scottish Opera’s mini-festival on new operas this week.
Armstrong worked with writer Zoe Strachan, another contributor to the company’s Five:15 seasons of short works, on an adaptation of Ibsen’s The Lady from the Sea, which was brilliantly staged by director Harry Fehr and designer Yannis Thavoris. Video work by Finn Ross and movement choreographed by Kally Lloyd-Jones enhanced an engrossing new work blessed with an excellent cast.
There had been riches in the EIF theatre programme this week too. Dmitry Krymov brought an irreverent revision of A Midsummer Night’s Dream from his theatre lab in Russia to the Edinburgh King’s for performances where a small dog threatened to run away with the show and the mechanicals who so amuse the court in the original are put centre stage. It is a theatrical in-joke that the Bard himself would have loved.
As most theatre-lovers had hoped, the rare visit of Ariane Mnouchkine’s Theatre du Soleil with the four-hour Les Naufrages du Fol Espoir (Aurores) was every bit the sensational experience they’d anticipated.
Documenting the efforts of an early film crew to make a movie of an obscure novel of Jules Verne, it required its own special theatre to house its own very special brand of performance.
That theatre was created by the Festival’s technical team, who also win a Bank of Scotland Herald Angel. The transformation of the Royal Highland Centre’s Lowland Hall at Ingliston made a journey to the west as essential a part of EIF 2012 as a run up Arthur’s Seat.
The pop-up venue contained custom-built spaces for 2008: Macbeth and Meine faire Dame as well as Les Naufrages.
On the Fringe, the Angels make final flying visits to two venues that already boast a host of winged awards. As well as its theatre and music events, Summerhall has a vast visual art programme at its heart that has caused excitement and controversy and mostly runs until the end of September. Shows by Carolee Schneemann, David Michalek and Art and Language are included alongside local names like Ian Hamilton Finlay, Robin Gillanders and Richard Demarco.
The place of the Traverse as a vibrant crucible of new writing was continued with Dream Plays (Scenes From a Play I’ll Never Write), which gathered new works by writers that are part of the venue’s history with new names and present fresh scripts at 9am, six days a week for two weeks.
The project was curated and directed by artistic director Orla O’Loughlin and associate artist David Greig.
The last Little Devil of 2012 goes to the principal clarinet of the BBC SSO Yann Ghiro, who was part of the Hebrides Ensemble when it premiered James MacMillan’s new work at Greyfriars, in which he had a crucial role.
At the Usher Hall, meanwhile, the Cleveland Orchestra’s bass clarinettist was taken ill immediately before their concert. EIF concerts assistant Hal Hutchison drove to Glasgow for Ghiro’s bass instrument and had his engine running when the Greyfriars concert ended to whisk the clarinettist to the big hall, where he donned concert dress to join the American orchestra on stage, and contribute an immaculate 10-bar solo to the Sixth Symphony of Shostakovich.