Wednesday 30 December 2009

Some random guesswork about the 2010 Edinburgh International Festival programme

The other day brought a glossy flyer through the door from the Edinburgh International Festival. My brother has already noted the rather tenuous grasp of history that it displays, so I'll confine myself to talking about the titbits of programming information it gives away, which are:

No, there's not a problem with your screen (do not adjust your television set). The flyer basically tells us nothing. McMaster used to give us some detail of the artists he had booked up and which weeks they were coming (though he usually held some surprises back). However, ever since Mills took over in 2007 this practice has ended. The change is unhelpful. For example, my parents usually come up for a week or so and it would be useful for them to have some idea of what's on a little way out.

Contrast this with the Aldeburgh festival who recently sent round some advance details of their festival next June. We know, for example, that Leon Fleisher is going to be there (though, unhelpfully, not which week, so I still can't book my holiday).

What we do know about EIF 2010, however, is that there is a new world and pacific rim focus. Therefore, one can have a little fun making some guesses that probably bear as much relation to fact as the horoscope does to my life (I'm still waiting for the romantic text message I was promised the other week).

My first prediction, and I'm really pretty confident about this, is Gustavo Dudamel. He's an up and coming conductor hailing from Venezuela. He heads both the LA Philharmonic and also the Gothenburg Symphony (though I doubt he'll be coming with the latter). Now, Mills has had him twice before, added to which his third orchestra, the Venezuelan Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra, are very much flavour of the month. I don't gamble, but I'd be tempted. From this point on it gets rather more speculative.

Of course, a new world theme would allow one of the great US orchestras to fit in nicely (though they're all a bit strapped for cash just now, and are doubtless extremely pricey at the best of times). I'd love to see either the New York, Chicago, Cleveland or Atlanta orchestras, not to mention the fact one Donald Runnicles has a strong association with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra (he is their principal guest conductor) - they could also bring their magnificent chorus, an ensemble so fine the Berlin Philharmonic imported them recently.

I mentioned in passing in another piece that we don't see enough women conductors. However, if the theme is America, that's the perfect excuse to bring the superb Marin Alsop to Edinburgh. And what better work to bring her for than Bernstein's wonderful and unique Mass. She's recently recorded it with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, so ideally we might get them, however I've also heard her do it to great effect with the London Symphony Orchestra too. Failing that, she's worked with the RSNO before and I'm sure they'd do a great job together on this. Mills has form on Bernstein: after all, he opened his first festival with Candide. Mass would open the 2010 festival in style.

And what of those other dazzling artists hailing from the Americas: there is Daniel Barenboim, there is Leon Fleisher, coming to Aldeburgh this summer, and many more besides? The American theme would be the perfect excuse to give Rachel Barton Pine her International Festival debut - she's blown me away on her previous visits to Edinburgh and is disappointingly absent from British concert halls this season. Mills could do a lot worse than rectify this.

Going further afield, I suspect a visit from an Australian Orchestra is pretty unlikely as the cost is doubtless crazy. That said, it does seem we may be getting Opera Australia with Bliss, a new opera by Brett Dean and Amanda Holden (if this Australian media report is anything to go by). The budget for importing opera is thin enough as it is, and with Scottish Opera in such a state that they've only made one contribution in Mills' entire tenure, one does have to question if this is really the best call.

One thing I am willing to bet is that this will not be the year the Gustav Mahler Jugendorchester returns (Mills has clearly not heard these talented individuals play - I can think of no other good reason why he keeps turning them down - the more so as they must be quite a cost effective booking in these straightened times). I don't know to what extent this sort of thing is considered by Mills, and doubtless this is unscientific, but everyone I mention the ensemble to, many of them longstanding supporters of the festival, is baffled by their continued absence. The tone of the flyer also leads me to worry that once again we may see a year without any of the really great European orchestras: wither Berlin, Vienna, Dresden, the Concertgebouw or the Bavarians? Will ever see Sakari Oramo and his magnificent Finns again?

It is, however, entirely possible that we may see either Pierre-Laurent Aimard or the Mahler Chamber Orchestra. It's not immediately clear how either would fit into the stated theme, but Where's Runnicles spotted Mills at an Aldeburgh Festival concert given by them back in June.

My big worry is that there is one thing I don't see fitting neatly into the theme: Mahler. Mills anyway doesn't much seem to care for the composer (a pity as he's a reliably big draw and in Donald Runnicles we have one of the finest Mahler conductors going). 2010 is the composer's 150th birthday, so given last year we had no shortage of anniversaries, by rights it should be a bumper year. Even better, it is the centenary of the premiere of Mahler's epic eighth symphony, the Symphony of a Thousand (and the only one I've never seen live). How about this for an opening or closing concert: Runnicles, BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra and the Festival Chorus (augmented) to perform the eighth (Christine Brewer, that superb American soprano, could solo, perhaps mezzo Joyce DiDonato too). To make it even more perfect programming, one has only to note that the Festival Chorus was formed specifically to do this very work and that Donald Runnicles sang in the boys choir on that occasion. To say it has to be done is bit of an understatement. It's also worth noting that Jansons and the Concertgebouw are touring Mahler's third symphony this summer. Another golden opportunity. Will the festival seize it?

Actually, there is one thing we do know for certain, thanks to this interview with Charles Mackerras - he will be doing Idomeneo (with, my sources indicate, the Scottish Chamber Orchestra and Chorus). Mackerras and the SCO have a glorious history of concert opera at the festival, though if this is to be their last, I wish they'd chosen a greater Mozart opera.

Anyone else who cares to hazard a guess is welcome to do so via the comments below (should the festival themselves wish to shed some light, we're happy to publish any nuggets they might wish to publicise).


Anonymous said...

The fact that the EIF Chorus are already rehearsing Mahler 8 should give you a clue!


Tam Pollard said...

Thanks Iain - that's fabulous news! (My choral sources are in the SCO Chorus so I hadn't heard that.)

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