Edinburgh International Festival, the world’s leading performing arts festival, pioneers the return of live performance in Scotland from 7th – 29th August with a diverse programme of UK and international artists. This return to live performance marks a significant turning point for Scotland’s cultural sector by providing a platform for artists to return to the stage after over a year. The Festival’s ambition is to pave the way for other organisations to rebuild their own live performance programmes and to re-establish Edinburgh as a global centre for culture.
The 2021 programme features over 170 classical and contemporary music, theatre, opera, dance and spoken word performances, including 15 new commissions and premieres.
Audience safety is central to the planning of the 2021 Festival, with measures including outdoor venues, social distancing, shorter performances with no intervals, audience members seated in bubbles and, in a first for the International Festival, online access to 21 free full-length performances.
Venues used for the 2021 International Festival include bespoke outdoor venues at Edinburgh Academy Junior School, Parabola’s Edinburgh Park development and the University of Edinburgh’s Old College Quad, alongside carefully planned performances at the Festival Theatre, Traverse Theatre, The Royal Lyceum Theatre and Dance Base.
Highlights of the programme include:
- Two operas-in-concert featuring two of the world’s most celebrated sopranos. A new concert staging of Ariadne auf Naxos stars Dorothea Röschmann in the title role alongside David Butt Philip as Bacchus. Composer Errollyn Wallen continues the story of Dido and Aeneas in Dido’s Ghost, interweaving the music of Purcell’s original tragedy within her own new opera which stars South African soprano Golda Schultz.
- The world premiere of Medicine, Enda Walsh’s latest play featuring star of stage-and-screen Domhnall Gleeson (Ex Machina, Brooklyn, The Revenant, Star Wars VIII & IX, Harry Potter series), which examines society’s relation with mental health.
- Nicola Benedetti in residence across two weeks at the Festival, appearing with the Benedetti Baroque Orchestra, with a specially selected ensemble in Stravinsky’s The Soldier’s Tale and in a solo performance The Story of the Violin.
- Alan Cumming returning to the Festival for the first UK performances of his new show Alan Cumming Is Not Acting His Age, an evening of story and song which celebrates ageing.
- Aberdeen Standard Investments Opening Event: Night Light – A free large-scale fire night-walk, created by French artist collective Compagnie Carabosse, that combines elaborate fire sculptures and live traditional Scottish music against the backdrop of the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh.
- A contemporary music line-up including London-based guitar bands black midi and Black Country, New Road; new jazz from Kokoroko, The Comet is Coming and Moses Boyd; iconic female voices including Laura Mvula, Nadine Shah and Kathryn Joseph; Anna Meredith’s return to the International Festival; West Lothian indie band The Snuts; and Damon Albarn performs tracks from his extensive back catalogue, including current project The Nearer the Fountain, More Pure the Stream Flows. Visiting international artists include Fatoumata Diawara, Ballaké Sissoko, Tune-Yards and Caribou.
- Scottish Opera returning to the International Festival with a new production of Falstaff by Glasgow-born director Sir David McVicar.
- Leading orchestras from across the UK including the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Vasily Petrenko and featuring Isata Kanneh-Mason, the London Symphony Orchestra led by Sir Simon Rattle, the Chineke! Orchestra with William Eddins and the BBC Symphony Orchestra under the baton of Dalia Stasevska.
- Global figures in classical music leading and performing with Scottish orchestras, including two concerts with the Royal Scottish National Orchestra, one conducted by Valery Gergiev and featuring Daniil Trifonov and another led by Elim Chan with Argentinian cellist Sol Gabetta. Marin Alsop conducts the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra in a programme including Beethoven’s Fifth and Kazushi Ono leads the Scottish Chamber Orchestra.
- A dance offering including new filmed version of Akram Khan’s Chotto Xenos, four dance films from international choreographers Omar Rajeh, Gregory Maqoma, Alice Ripoll and Janice Parker for Dancing in the Streets and Curious Seed’s Field – Something for the Future Now.
- Thomas Quasthoff featured in three performances across the Festival, appearing in Ariadne auf Naxos as the Major Domo, leading his jazz quartet for an intimate evening of vocal classics and hosting two public masterclasses with outstanding young singers.
- The Royal Lyceum Theatre playing host to live audiences for the first time in over a year, with a programme including the National Theatre of Scotland’s Lament for Sheku Bayoh and rehearsed readings of Hindu Times by Jaimini Jethwa and You Bury Me by Ahlam.
- A Grand Night for Singing – a staged musical revue which showcases the iconic songs of classic Rodgers and Hammerstein musicals. Staged by musical theatre performer Kim Criswell and conducted by Wayne Marshall, the handpicked cast features Criswell alongside Danielle de Niese.
- A series of intimate recitals at the Old College Quad including performances from piano masters Elisabeth Leonskaja, Mariam Batsashvili, Ronald Brautigam and the much-loved Scottish pianist Malcolm Martineau celebrating the 250th anniversary of Sir Walter Scott’s birth. Vocal recitals include Norwegian lyric soprano Mari Eriksmoen in her International Festival debut, Gerald Finley and Renée Fleming. Also chamber music from Chineke! Chamber Ensemble, Zehetmair Quartet and more.
- In the Tradition – a programme of traditional Scottish music and interconnected folk traditions which features leading artists and ensembles such as RURA, Talisk, the Kinnaris Quintet, Karine Polwart and Siobhan Miller.
As part of the International Festival’s ongoing commitment to accessibility, the 2021 programme includes audio described, captioned and British Sign Language interpreted performances, free tickets to classical music concerts for 200 young people and a free, large-scale opening event.
General booking for the 2021 International Festival opens on Friday 11th June.
Fergus Linehan, Festival Director, Edinburgh International Festival said:
“The programme we are announcing today represents a carefully organised return to live performance. It is a collaborative effort between those who live in our city, our artists, the team at the festival, our donors and stakeholders and all who will be coming along to our performances.
“While so much has been written and said about the challenges of the past 15 months, it is now time to look to the future and to the brilliant musicians, actors, dancers and poets who are getting ready to perform in Edinburgh this August.
“I would like to pay tribute to everyone involved in the Festival who has worked tirelessly in extraordinary circumstances and to thank our many partner organisations and stakeholders who have contributed to this programme. None of us can be certain of what the coming months will bring but we are committed to working together on returning to the joy of live performance.”
Culture Minister Jenny Gilruth said:
“Edinburgh’s world-class festivals are responding to incredibly difficult circumstances by continuing a proud tradition of innovation. The International Festival’s pioneering and safe return to live performance is an exciting moment for the sector and for audiences who have missed the joy of sharing live performance.
“The programme has been planned with the utmost care and attention and an excellent and diverse digital programme extends the spirit of the International Festival to those who are unable to join us in Edinburgh this year.”
Councillor Donald Wilson, Edinburgh’s Culture and Communities Convener, said:
The Edinburgh International Festival is a celebration of people coming together from all backgrounds, and a celebration of Edinburgh itself, one of the world’s leading cultural capitals. I’m delighted to see the International Festival return with such an interesting and diverse programme of UK and international artists. After the challenging year we’ve all had and the disappointment of not being able to enjoy the festival in the usual way last year, it’s fantastic to have a broad programme where audiences can share in the live performance experience again, with an excellent programme in outdoor venues alongside the Festival’s online offering.
“Public safety will of course remain a priority, and we continue to be impressed by the resourcefulness and resilience displayed by the Festival throughout the last year and in the planning for such an exciting programme for 2021. We can all very much look forward to this year’s Festival.”
Ian Munro, CEO, Creative Scotland said:
“The breadth and depth of the 2021 Edinburgh International Festival programme is more than we could have dreamt of in the darkest days of lockdown. It is a celebration of spirit and creativity across all art forms, placing Scotland’s magnificent home-grown talent shoulder to shoulder with a truly international array of artists. With over 170 performances from world renowned orchestras to inspirational young ensembles, folk stars to alternative jazz, electronica to world music sensations, and acclaimed choreographers to leading theatre companies, there really is something for everyone.
“Edinburgh itself is the festival’s foundation, and this year’s programme reflects different aspects of this unique city and its diverse communities, from the Irish history of the Old Town to the combined Scottish and African voices of the Shona The Musical Choir. This impressive programme will reach new audiences across the city as well as breathing life back into some of the capital’s most iconic venues.”
Further programme information by genre:
The UK’s finest orchestras and musicians make a long-awaited return to Edinburgh with 26 concerts in the beautiful setting of Edinburgh Academy Junior School and 36 intimate recitals at The Old College Quad.
The BBC Symphony Orchestra conducted by Dalia Stasevska opens the 2021 orchestral series with the world premiere of Anna Clyne’s PIVOT, a new work inspired by an old Edinburgh folk music venue.
The Royal Scottish National Orchestra performs Mendelssohn’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream under the baton of Thomas Søndergård with narration from Dame Harriet Walter. Additional concerts by the Royal Scottish National Orchestra are conducted by Valery Gergiev and Elim Chan.
The Chineke! Orchestra, conducted by William Eddins, performs the world premiere of a new piece from Ayanna Witter-Johnson alongside Judith Weir’s song cycle woman.life.song with Andrea Baker.
The Scottish Chamber Orchestra under Kazushi Ono presents Ravel, Prokofiev and two evocative Japanese pieces inspired by the beauty of the natural world. Joyce DiDonato is accompanied by period instrument ensemble Il Pomo D’oro for a personal selection of her most cherished opera arias.
Other major UK orchestras include the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Vasily Petrenko and featuring Isata Kanneh-Mason, the London Symphony Orchestra with Sir Simon Rattle and the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra conducted by Marin Alsop.
Nicola Benedetti is in residence at the Festival combining her wide musical range with her passion for music education in three unique concerts. She charts the history of her instrument in her solo performance The Story of the Violin and is joined by the Benedetti Baroque Orchestra to perform the multifaceted musical creations of Vivaldi. In Stravinsky’s The Soldier’s Tale she performs alongside a specially selected ensemble of musicians and actors to bring this unique mix of theatre and music to life.
Thomas Quasthoff features in three performances across the Festival, appearing in Ariadne auf Naxos as the Major Domo, leading three of Germany’s leading jazz performers for an intimate evening of vocal classics and hosting two public masterclasses with outstanding young singers to demonstrate everything that goes into an exceptional performance.
In Lonely House, Barrie Kosky, Artistic Director of Berlin’s Komische Oper, and singer Katharine Mehrling perform an evening of cabaret with little known songs by one of Germany’s most distinctive musical figures, Kurt Weill.
The Edinburgh Festival Chorus returns as a small chamber choir under Chorus Director Aidan Oliver in a concert of varied music by Tallis, Britten, Holst, Errollyn Wallen and Abbie Betinis.
The Old College Quad series includes intimate recitals from Elisabeth Leonskaja, Mariam Batsashvili, Ronald Brautigam, Patricia Kopatchinskaja, Gerald Finley, Renée Fleming and 20-year-old violinist Noa Wildschut. Ensemble performances include the Zehetmair Quartet, Goldmund Quartet, Gringolts Quartet and the Chineke! Chamber Ensemble. Edinburgh-born pianist Malcolm Martineau celebrates the 250th anniversary of Sir Walter Scott’s birth with soprano Elizabeth Watts and an ensemble of chamber musicians. The Scottish Chamber Orchestra’s principal conductor and accomplished pianist Maxim Emelyanychev is joined by five of the orchestra’s celebrated principals to perform Mozart and Thuille.
See www.eif.co.uk/classicalmusic for information on individual performances.
Theatre and Spoken Word
The 2021 International Festival programme features the world premiere of Enda Walsh’s Medicine from the award-winning Landmark Productions and Galway International Arts Festival, presented in association with The Traverse. Featuring Domhnall Gleeson alongside Clare Barrett, Sean Carpio and Aoife Duffin, Medicine examines social responses to mental health concerns while deconstructing the fabric of theatrical performance.
The National Theatre of Scotland returns to the International Festival with Hannah Lavery’s Lament for Sheku Bayoh, a co-production between Edinburgh International Festival and the Royal Lyceum Theatre. First seen as a rehearsed reading during the 2019 Festival before it premiered as a digital production in 2020, Lament for Sheku Bayoh is performed by Scottish actors Saskia Ashdown, Patricia Panther and Courtney Stoddart with music composed and performed by Beldina Odenyo.
Alan Cumming returns to the Festival following the success of Alan Cumming Sings Sappy Songs in 2016 for the first and only UK performances of his new show Alan Cumming Is Not Acting His Age. This evening of story and song joyfully celebrates ageing.
An exciting series of rehearsed readings at The Lyceum includes Jaimini Jethwa’s Hindu Times, presented by the Dundee Rep Theatre, Royal Lyceum Theatre Edinburgh and Pitlochry Festival Theatre in association with Stellar Quines. Winner of the inaugural Women’s Prize for Playwriting 2020, You Bury Me is written by Ahlam, directed by Katie Posner and presented by Paines Plough, Ellie Keel Productions and 45North.
Combining street artwork, audio-story performance and a walk through Edinburgh, Niqabi Ninja was written by Sara Shaarawi in reaction to the 2012–2014 mob sexual assaults in Tahrir Square, Cairo. Presented simultaneously in five locations across Scotland, this collective experience offers the space to think about what it means to walk in public without fear.
Presented in partnership with the Edinburgh International Book Festival, A Toast to the People features new commissions and specially selected sets from spoken word artists Jay Bernard, Jefferson Tshabalala, Inua Ellams, Saul Williams, Hollie McNish, Wana Udobang, Vanessa Kisuule, Safiya Sinclair, Rafeef Ziadah and Francesca Beard.
See www.eif.co.uk/theatre for information on individual productions.
Opera & Musicals
Under conductor Sir Andrew Davis, the Royal Scottish National Orchestra returns to the International Festival in Richard Strauss’ sumptuous comedy Ariadne auf Naxos. This brand-new concert staging by Louisa Muller features German soprano Dorothea Röschmann as the opera’s wronged heroine, David Butt Philip as Bacchus, Thomas Quasthoff as the house’s major-domo and prize-winning Scottish singer Catriona Morison as The Composer.
Belize-born British composer Errollyn Wallen reimagines and expands the story of Dido and Aeneas in Dido’s Ghost, accompanied by the Dunedin Consort under the directorship of John Butt and starring South African soprano Golda Schultz as Dido. The piece was co-commissioned by the International Festival, Dunedin Consort, Mahogany Opera, the Barbican Centre, Buxton International Festival and the Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra and Chorale.
Scottish Opera returns to the International Festival with a new production of Falstaff by Glasgow-born director and designer Sir David McVicar. This new staging, adapted from the outdoor version, gets to the bones of Falstaff, balancing laugh-out-loud moments with a poignant tale of a childlike man who has outlived his own time.
The iconic songs of classic Rodgers and Hammerstein musicals shine in A Grand Night for Singing – a musical revue staged by musical theatre performer Kim Criswell and conducted by Wayne Marshall. The handpicked cast features Criswell alongside Danielle de Niese, Anna-Jane Casey, Damian Humbley and Richard Morrison.
Shona the Musical Choir is a Scottish/African choir based in Edinburgh, presenting original songs from Shona the Musical, a cross-cultural love story that transcends racial barriers. The story and music are inspired by historical events and the socio-political turmoil of Robert Mugabe’s rule of Zimbabwe.
See www.eif.co.uk/opera for information on individual performances.
The 2021 International Festival’s dance co-commissions include new dance film Chotto Xenos, inspired by Akram Khan’s solo show XENOS. Directed by Sue Buckmaster and Maxime Dos, Chotto Xenos visits the untold stories of colonial soldiers during the First World War. The film features a powerful performance of Khan’s choreography by Kennedy Junior Muntanga.
Dancing in the Streets is a series of filmic postcards from the streets of cities around the world, the homes of the dancers who should have been performing in Edinburgh in August 2020. Four of the world’s most acclaimed choreographers, Alice Ripoll from São Paulo, Omar Rajeh from Beirut, Gregory Maqoma from Soweto and Janice Parker from Edinburgh have created short films with their dancers, responding to the past year and reflecting on their relationship with their home cities. All four films will be screened at Dance Base and available to watch online.
Edinburgh-based dance theatre company Curious Seed makes its International Festival debut with Field – Something for the Future Now. This durational outdoor dance happening takes place in the beautiful setting of Holyrood Park.
See www.eif.co.uk/dance for information on individual performances.
The International Festival’s Edinburgh Park series includes concerts that span music genres.
Accompanied by a band and string section, Blur and Gorillaz frontman Damon Albarn presents tracks from across his songbook, including the current project The Nearer the Fountain, More Pure the Stream Flows, originally inspired by the landscapes of Iceland and expanded during lockdown, exploring themes of fragility, emergence and rebirth. The title is taken from a John Clare poem Love and Memory.
Anna Meredith returns to Edinburgh after the unforgettable Five Telegrams at the 2018 International Festival to perform her second album FIBS. Post-punk singer-songwriter Nadine Shah performs her latest album The Kitchen Sink and Mercury nominee Laura Mvula performs material from her new album Pink Noise in her recognisably soulful jazz style, infused with 80s new wave and dance-pop. Kathryn Joseph, winner of Scottish Album of the Year in 2015 for her debut album Bones You Have Thrown Me and Blood I’ve Spilled, joins the bill with her haunting, beautiful balladry.
Jazz artists include female-led music collective Kokoroko who bring their distinctive mix of West African highlife, jazz and afrobeat to Scotland for the first time. Producer-drummer Moses Boyd, one of the most exciting new voices in British jazz, is also on the line-up, along with London’s The Comet is Coming, who return to Edinburgh with their explosive cosmic jazz rave.
Northumbrian musician Richard Dawson performs dark, folk-influenced tracks from his concept albums Peasant and 2020, and multi-disciplinary artist and composer Erland Cooper performs music from his lauded Orkney trilogy: Solan Goose, Sule Skerry and Hether Blether. Family folk band The Unthanks perform their poetic mixture of folk music and storytelling and indie folk sister trio The Staves come to the city with songs from their new album Good Woman.
Genre-melting, guitar-noise four-piece black midi make an appearance, while fellow Londoners Black Country, New Road play tracks from their debut album For The First Time.
The programme also includes West Lothian indie heroes The Snuts, whose debut album became the first by a Scottish band to top the Official Album chart in 14 years. Glasgow-based four-piece Tide Lines perform their trademark anthemic folk rock, rooted firmly in the Highlands, and Edinburgh’s Neu! Reekie! programme one of their signature multi-genre experiences.
Electronic artists performing include Floating Points, combining his classically trained background with UK garage, spiritual jazz and broken-beat influences and Canadian electronic artist Dan Snaith, AKA Caribou, with his latest LP Suddenly.
International artists include Malian singer, songwriter, guitarist and acclaimed actress Fatoumata Diawara with material from her Wassoulou and Mali blues influenced back catalogue. Californian art-pop duo Tune-Yards perform material from their latest album sketchy.
A full line-up and information on individual concerts be found at www.eif.co.uk/contemporarymusic.
In A Great Disordered Heart, fiddler, composer and producer Aidan O’Rourke brings a personal concert series and film project to life, considering the past and present of his home in the heart of Edinburgh’s Old Town, also known as Little Ireland. The concert series features Scottish and Irish traditional musicians including piper Brìghde Chaimbeul, concertina player Cormac Begley, Irish singer Liam Ó Maonlaí, Scottish singer and piper Allan Macdonald, celebrated trio Sian and Scotland’s folk trio Lau.
The International Festival also welcomes a performance by friends and collaborators Ballaké Sissoko & Vincent Ségal: the Malian master of the kora and the French cellist with a background in trip-hop. Another virtuoso kora player Sona Jobarteh, from the West African Griot dynasties, joins the bill with her powerful mix of music and political activism.
In the Tradition is a season of traditional Scottish music and interconnected folk traditions from across the world taking place in the University of Edinburgh’s Old College Quad. The programme includes performances from Karine Polwart, RURA, Kinnaris Quintet, Talisk, Breabach, Siobhan Miller and more. A special programme collaboration with the University of Edinburgh celebrates 70 years of the School of Scottish Studies with performances from local traditional Scottish music talent.
Further information about In The Tradition can be found at www.eif.co.uk/traditionalmusic.
The Normal, a visual art exhibition at the Talbot Rice Gallery, is a vivid reflection of life in 2020 during the pandemic featuring work from Larry Achiampong, Amy Balkin, Anca Benera & Arnold Estefan, Boyle Family, Alexandra Daisy Ginsberg & Sascha Pohflepp, Gabrielle Goliath, Femke Herregraven, Jarsdell Solutions Ltd, Kahlil Joseph, Tonya McMullan, Sarah Rose and James Webb.
The 2021 International Festival includes a digital programme of 21 full-length productions available to watch online for free. Digital performances include Ariadne auf Naxos, the Chineke! Orchestra, Lament for Sheku Bayoh, the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Talisk and the Zehetmair Quartet.