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The Harmonium Project (Festival Square, Edinburgh)

The EIF kicked off on Friday with a late-night performance of John Adams's choral work ''Harmonium"

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
The Hamilton Project
(© Eoin Carey)

The Edinburgh International Festival opened on Friday night with a late-night free event, a performance of John Adams's 1980 choral work Harmonium and an accompanying spectacular light show projected onto the Usher Hall.

Ten thousand people gathered in Festival Square, converging from all corners of the city, spilling out of the nearby Traverse Theatre, bars and restaurants, in the most celebratory and popular event in the festival's history, and rightly so: the inaugural season of bright spark new artistic director Fergus Linehan - whose idea this event was - coincides with the fiftieth anniversary of the Edinburgh Festival Chorus.

The relayed performance was a recording of the concert given immediately beforehand - to an "invited" audience inside the Usher Hall - by the Royal Scottish National Orchestra and the Festival Chorus, conducted by Peter Oundjian. As the exciting, rhythmic, serial music spewed out of giant speakers - never has minimalism gone so large - the venerable hall was a kaleidoscope of visual, verbal and inflammatory projected images, laser beams and, at the climax, a Shard-like monumental tent of light.

The work of 59 Productions, in collaboration with the University of Edinburgh's School of Informatics and Edinburgh College of Art was, of necessity in so grandiose a display, less kind to the actual words of Harmonium, which are settings of three poems: one by John Donne, two by Emily Dickinson.

"I could not stop for death; he kindly stopped for me; the carriage held but just ourselves and immortality" is a snatch of Dickinson's "Wild Nights" but we got the general idea of love and death as the words vied on the hall's exterior with numbers, facial images and an amazing apocalyptic finale.