The Edinburgh International Festival draws on MLK with themes of hope and community

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This year’s Edinburgh International Film Festival will focus on the themes of hope, community and new perspectives as it seeks to bring audiences back to cinemas after the Covid pandemic.

In its first year led by Scottish violinist Nicola Benedetti, the festival will host Alvin Ailey’s American Dance Theater, the Budapest Festival Orchestra playing to an audience on poufs, and the young Simón Bolívar Symphony Orchestra of Venezuela.

Benedetti, the first woman and first Scot to headline the event in its 76-year history, said her seminal text for the season was Martin Luther King Jr’s latest book, Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community?.

From this he drew three overarching themes, one for each of the festival’s three weeks of performances in August: community over chaos, hope in the face of adversity, and a perspective that’s not yours.

Benedetti said the themes demonstrated the universality of King’s thought and its connection to the founding tenets of the festival in the aftermath of World War II: non-violence, “fierce compassion” and “uncompromising internationalism in the face of brutality.” .

Benedetti is struggling with the immediate challenges of getting people back to seeing live events after the pandemic, which led to Edinburgh festivals closing in 2020, for the first time, and then staging limited events in 2021.

Viewership was still well below pre-Covid record levels in 2022. The Edinburgh International Book Festival is cutting its programming significantly this year.

In 2021 and 2022, festivals invested heavily in online streaming in an effort to expand and maintain audiences, but Benedetti said the international festival has abandoned that approach in favor of promoting the live experience. He was reevaluating if and how to produce digital events.

“The idea that that was the future is, as is always the case when we make predictions based on the time, it’s not the future,” he said. “All the data we’re looking at is that people actually want to reconnect to the sacred value of collective live experience.”

Freely tackling the community’s first Benedetti credo on chaos, festival favorites Iván Fischer and his Budapest Festival Orchestra return to Scotland for four performances. For their first concert, the seats in Usher Hall will be removed and replaced with poufs so that spectators can sit between the musicians – who will be performing in the round – to experience Dvořák’s Eighth Symphony from the inside.

In week two, the London Symphony Orchestra will explore the theme of hope with three concerts led by Sir Simon Rattle in his final month as Music Director of the orchestra.

Underpinning the third week’s New Perspectives theme, musicians from the Simón Bolívar orchestra, all aged between 18 and 25, will be joined by their compatriots Gustavo Dudamel and Rafael Payare for performances that include Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony.

Also within this theme will be two concerts by the Oslo Philharmonic and their 27-year-old Finnish conductor, Klaus Mäkelä, and the award-winning Theater of Sound version of Bartók’s Bluebeard’s Castle.

Grammy Award winner Cécile McLorin Salvant will perform the UK premiere of Ogresse, her song cycle about a lovesick monster that blends folk, jazz, baroque and country. Also part of the contemporary music vein will be performances by Alison Goldfrapp, Jake Bugg, John Cale and Detroit composer Endea Owens, known to millions as the house bassist on Stephen Colbert’s The Late Show.

A new production of Pina Bausch’s choreography of Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring will be performed by a cast of 34 dancers from 14 African countries. The specially assembled cast will also perform Common Ground[s] by Germaine Acogny and Malou Airaudo, the latter of whom was part of Bausch’s Wuppertal company for more than a decade and helped create many of his early works.

• Tickets for this year’s Edinburgh International Festival will go on sale from Wednesday 3 May at

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