Edinburgh International Festival opening event review: The Harmonium Project, reviewed by The Scotsman’s Ken Walton.
I can think of no more breathtaking an opening to an Edinburgh International Festival than Friday’s late-night son et lumière spectacular, which saw the Usher Hall facade explode with colour in accompaniment to a pre-recorded performance, by the Edinburgh Festival Chorus and RSNO under Peter Oundjian, of John Adams’ choral symphony, Harmonium.
This kind of presentation isn’t new to Scotland – the Lammermuir Festival did something similar with Tantallon Castle a few years ago. But it was a master stroke by the new EIF boss Fergus Linehan, to turn the 50th birthday celebrations of the Festival Chorus into something more than a straightforward anniversary concert.
Around 19,000 people crowded into Festival Square on Lothian Road. There was an unintentional delay as the sky over the famous dome lit up to the closing torrent of fireworks from the Tattoo, presenting an accidental pyrotechnic fanfare to the main action. But when the start button was eventually pressed, and the motorised opening of Adams’ score emerged above the expectant chatter, all eyes were on the Usher Hall as it burst into life.
Adams’ music was the perfect choice: hardcore 1980s American minimalism, with texts by John Donne and Emily Dickinson that bear the same transcendental luminosity. The composer, himself, said he wished to create an image of “human voices riding upon waves of rippling sound”.
The creative team of 59 Productions, Edinburgh University’s School of Informatics and Edinburgh College of Art, took their visual lead from that.
The Usher Hall seemed to take on living form. As the musical tempi ebbed and flowed, so did the bending sea of images on its walls. At one euphoric moment, the dome seemed to spin as if set to take off into the clear night time sky. One Steven Spielberg moment among many. Mesmerising.
The Festival Square
Published in The Scotsman on Monday 10 August 2015
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