LONDON – The Edinburgh International Festival, a showcase for international dance, music and theater, will take place in front of an audience this August, the festival organizers announced on Tuesday.
The festival, which usually floods the city with tourists, was canceled last year due to the coronavirus pandemic. However, the events will take place in three pavilions across Edinburgh from August 7th to 29th, Fergus Linehan, the festival’s director, said in a telephone interview.
The pavilions will be purpose built to maximize airflow and allow social distancing, he added.
The festival program will be released in June, Linehan said; The organizers are still waiting for a decision by the Scottish government on how many people will be allowed to participate. But the ongoing pandemic and the limits it has placed on international travel mean it will have a different taste than normal.
“In terms of the people on stage, we’re not going to be flying in a big dance company from the US or an opera company from Paris,” Linehan said. “But there are individual artists.”
The festival, which began in 1947 with the aim of uniting people through culture after World War II, is known for large-scale performances, especially great classical and operatic works. At the 2019 Festival, for example, the Orchester de Paris with epic pieces by Beethoven and Berlioz as well as several presentations by the Komische Oper Berlin were performed. That will change this year too. “We can’t have that many musicians on stage, and we can’t have these big choral pieces,” Linehan said, but he insisted that smaller works would be just as exciting and innovative.
Many performances are streamed for free to international audiences, he added.
Coronavirus cases have fallen rapidly in Scotland this spring thanks to an expanded lockdown and a strong vaccination program. As of Monday, only 199 new cases were reported out of a population of around 5 million people, according to the Scottish government, and there were no deaths within 28 days of a positive test.
However, there are still many restrictions, including for cultural life. Museums cannot reopen until April 26th. Other cultural activities cannot resume until May 17th at the earliest, and even then only with a small audience.
The Edinburgh International Festival is one of the many art events that usually take place in the city each summer. The organizers of the festival insist that the others will perform in some form as well.
A spokeswoman for the seedy Edinburgh Festival Fringe, which typically features thousands of small theater and comedy shows, said in an email that organizers are working towards an event for August 6-30. It is still unclear whether the edge is “digital, personal, or both,” she added.
The Edinburgh International Book Festival will also continue with face-to-face events from August 14th “if circumstances permit,” a spokeswoman said in a telephone interview.
The Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo, a popular parade series of bagpipe performances by armed forces from around the world, also continues. It started selling tickets last October but hasn’t provided any updates since then. On Tuesday, the organizers did not respond to a request for comment.
Linehan hoped the announcement of the International Festival would give confidence to other events to move forward with the plans. His festival won’t make any money, he said, but it didn’t matter. “This is a really significant moment for us,” said Linehan, adding, “It’s really important that we perform live again.”