|By Michael Coveney|
Mills and Boom on the Festival
Date: 13 August 2011
Edinburgh International Festival director Jonathan Mills is expecting ticket sales to hold steady despite the recession, though he's also bracing himself for a non record-breaking year.
He thanked all the sponsors and funders from the stage of the Usher Hall last night before the the opening concert, extrapolating his own theme of the influence of the Orient on our culture or, as he preferred to put it, the impact of the East on the Far West.
It was neatly expressed, but the natives were stirring in the stalls. They'd come for a concert, not a ten-minute lecture, however gracious. He always does this.
And Mills, even after five years, shows no sign of improving his wardrobe. He looked like a Catholic priest in Advent, sporting a bright green scarf round his neck and over his first night black shirt, with matching cuffs.
Still, the concert was great. Schumann's relatively unknown oratorio Das Paradies und die Peri is about a fallen angel, the peri, trying to regain entrance to heaven.
It's not an oriental piece at all, really, though the story comes from Persian mythology and Schumann set the florid, orientalist epic poem of the Irish writer Thomas Moore. It all sounded like Mozart and Handel combined with a wash of watercolour sound.
Gorgeous, in fact, and the Scottish Chamber Orchestra and the Edinburgh Festival Chorus were conducted with lazy expertise - arms flopping, no baton, black shirt modishly worn outside trousers - by the redoubtable Roger Norrington.
My friend Kathy Hay, widow of the late departed and much lamented Iain Crawford, the International Festival's first publicity director and a festival participant every year since 1947, is an alto in the chorus.
We met for a pre-concert drink in the Traverse bar, which seemed to be occupied by three rugby clubs (it gets a bit like that at the weekends), and she asked me where I was sitting and would I stand up when I sat down so she could see me.
I did so. She wanted, she said, to sing to somebody. And last night I was Iain's substitute. I felt touched and honoured to be asked. It was an emotional evening.
There was nothing for it afterwards but a delicious hamburger by the Gilded Balloon and a drink or two in the Abattoir members' bar by the Udderbelly.
Thanks God it's stopped raining at last and, although the forecast isn't brilliant, I can now see streaks of blue sky through the white clouds beyond the crags.
If I wasn't going off soon to a morning recital in the Queen's Hall, just five minutes round the corner, I'd be up there rambling through the gorse bushes, counting the pheasants and wild flowers. Tomorrow, perhaps...
The EIF's budget this year is stable at £9.5m, with £2.39m coming from the city, £2.32m from Creative Scotland (which is what they call the arts council these days) and another £100,000 from the government's Expo fund for supporting Scottish work.
The rest comes from sponsors and the box office, and the break even figure for ticket sales is about £2.4m, Mills told Tim Cornwell (John Le Carre's son) of The Scotsman yesterday: "We think we will do that reasonably comfotably."
By happy coincidence I sat next to Tim in the Usher Hall, and we pondered the news that next year's festival will be Indian themed, with a huge amount of money already lined up from the sub-continent.
But Ravi Shankar's already playing here this year. What else will fill out the programme? We shall see. Meanwhile, on with the oriental motley, and let's all go shopping for saris for Jonathan.
- by Michael Coveney
Any opinions expressed above do not represent the view of Whatsonstage.com nor any of its staff or contributors beyond the bylined author.
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