Four score and two years ago, well, just less than two altogether, if we're being truthful, two Edinburgh based brothers established a website to review things that the Edinburgh International Festival was putting on. The only difficulty was finding a name for the thing. Where's Runnicles? was one of our principal complaints about 2007's festival (and, indeed, 2008's, the other being the absence of Mackerras, which was rectified last year).
In the time that's passed since then, our complaint has been steadily chipped away at, first as he was named the new chief conductor of the BBC Scottish (his first season is due to be unveiled shortly), followed by not one, but two concerts with them. However, all that action has been in Glasgow. Today, with the release of the 2009 Programme, marks the announcement of Donald Runnicles' first concert in Edinburgh since our foundation (you'll need Flash to view the link, via twitter, the festival, follow them here, promise a PDF download soon). On Monday the 31st August he will join the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra for a programme that includes Strauss's Don Quixote and Brahms' double concerto. I can't wait.
But, of course, the Edinburgh festival is about more than just Donald Runnicles. One of the things I like about Jonathan Mills, who must now be feeling fairly settled as he announces his third programme, is that he aims for a more coherent vision, thematically. What, then, are the themes this year?
Well, it's Handel's 250th birthday and that means opera (which Radio 3 are celebrating quite pathetically - yes it's great they're doing all the operas, but splitting them an act a day as they have been is just useless). It's been a complaint in recent years that we could have had more, not so this year. Granted, much of it is in concert, but one mustn't quibble. For the first time in a while the opening concert comes from the SCO with Judas Maccabaeus (what a shame Handel supremo Charles Mackerras is not on hand to kick start the celebrations). There is also Rinaldo and Acis & Galatea.
Elsewhere in opera, Verdi's Macbeth makes a return, last seen with Mackerras, the SCO and Violetta Urmana in 2003. This time round it's the BBC Scottish and David Robertson, who did such a fine job with Meistersinger in 2006. Wagner is supplied by a concert Flying Dutchman from the Hamburg State Opera. There is some opera on stage, including a new work St Kilda and Handel's Admento Re di Thessaglia. Interestingly, though, nothing from Scottish Opera themselves.
There's also a fair bit of ballet and theatre, but mostly beyond my knowledge to comment on at this stage, though I may well give one or two things a try.
At Greyfriars (and, honestly, extremely steeply priced for one hour in unreserved seating, some of which has no visibility at all) is a series of early evening Bach cantata concerts. Masaaki Suzuki is here on 25th August and, the one I shalln't miss, so too is Carolyn Sampson on 2nd September (she gave a stunning recital at Aldeburgh last year). One last bit of Bach comes in the final week at the Usher Hall with Gardiner on much surer ground than he has been recently with Brahms.
Things aren't perfect, and one does detect the influence of strained purse strings. The big European orchestras are notable in their absence. So too, more puzzlingly, are the big youth orchestras - where is the Gustav Mahler Jugendorchestra? Mendelssohn's Elijah is surely an odd choice, given the SCO did it here only a few months ago. It's a shame, too, that Sakari Oramo and the Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra aren't returning after their blinding concert last year.
However, we do have Orchestre des Champs-Elysees with two programmes and the Philharmonia under their new chief conductor Esa-Pekka Salonen, in a programme including Janacek's sinfionietta and his own piano concerto. Speaking of Janacek, Charles Mackerras, the master of that composer, is here on 26th August with the SCO to perform Haydn's Seven last words of our saviour on the cross. Mahler too makes a return, not heard since 2006, with Zinman and the Zurich Tonhalle (who have received rave reviews, but whose Mahler I've found rather ordinary); oddly, they play the fourth symphony, which is the last one we heard at a festival (then from Rattle and the Berliners). There's a fair bit of Brahms this year, more than we've seen since Mackerras's 2003 cycle. In addition to Runnicles, Metzmacher brings the Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin for a programme including the fourth symphony.
But I've not mentioned our third local orchestra. The RSNO have some treats in store for us too - Deneve is on sure ground (after his superb Faust earlier this year) for Berlioz's Romeo et Juliette. Earlier in proceedings, they will play a programme of new music by Scottish composers under Paul Daniel.
In the Queen's Hall what we, sadly, don't see is the return of the Jerusalem Quartet. A pity, since I was hoping to be able to show solidarity with them after the quite shameful way they were treated least year (shameful and stupid - I know a lot of people, sympathetic to the Palestinian cause, who were strong in their condemnation of the protesters and felt they'd shot themselves squarely in their feet, not least because two members of the Quartet work with Barenboim's West-Eastern Divan Orchestra). However, we do get Christian Zacharias, the Arditti and Emerson Quartets, and Britten's Phantasy Quartet.
Perhaps rather obviously, and as it did in 2003 (we've seen 2003 a lot in this piece, did Mr Mills gain some inspiration from that programme?), the firework concert is all Handel, including Zadok the Priest and part of the firework music, sadly this won't be in the original wind orchestration. The closing concert, the previous evening, features Mark Elder and the Halle for The Dream of Gerontius.
All in all, I can't wait.
Update - 27/3/09
PDF brochure now available for download here.