Edinburgh International Festival: The 2021 line-up
Laura Mvula, Nadine Shah, Anna Meredith, Damon Albarn, Karine Polwart, Floating Points, Kathryn Joseph, Caribou and tUnE-yArDs are just some of the highlights from the eclectic lineup of music coming to Edinburgh as part of the International Festival
Oh, how we’ve missed the electricity and communal thrill of live performance. After over a year of empty stages, we’re tremendously excited to see the festivals and venues we love revealing their plans to make the tentative steps back to something close to normality. We’re particularly excited for Edinburgh to once again overflow with art with the return of the Edinburgh International Festival this summer, which is back with a global celebration of music, theatre and dance taking place 7-29 August.
“The programme we are announcing today represents a carefully organised return to live performance,” says Fergus Linehan, EIF’s director. “It is a collaborative effort between those who live in our city, our artists, the team at the festival, our donors and stakeholders and all who will be coming along to our performances.”
As ever, Linehan and his team will be bringing a world-class selection of work to the Scottish capital, with 170 performances announced this morning, covering everything from classical music and opera to star-studded theatre, dance and spoken word. We’re particularly excited about the eclectic contemporary music lineup, which features an enticing blend of brilliant Scottish artists alongside international talent.
Anna Meredith, Damon Albarn
First to catch the eye are two recent Scottish Album of the Year Award-winners and Skinny favourites: Anna Meredith and Kathryn Joseph. Meredith helped open EIF back in 2018 with the stunning audiovisual piece Five Telegrams, and the composer will be back again this year to perform music from her second album, FIBS. Meanwhile, Joseph will provide beautiful ballads from her debut Bones You Have Thrown Me and Blood I've Spilled and its follow-up, From When I Wake the Want Is.
You’ll find more uber talented female voices on the bill with the soulful Laura Mvula, who’ll be bringing her brand of 80s new wave-inspired dance-pop, and Nadine Shah, who’ll be getting the chance to perform tracks from her fourth album, Kitchen Sink, in Scotland for the first time. Widely regarded as the voice of young African womanhood, Malian actress, musician and social activist Fatoumata Diawara, we’re told, will be tackling subjects such as “the pain of emigration, the struggles of African women and life under the rule of religious fundamentalists” with her first EIF performance.
Damon Albarn will be back at EIF this year accompanied by a band and string section. Expect performances of some of the iconic songs he’s recorded as part of Blur and Gorillaz, as well as from The Nearer the Fountain, More Pure the Stream Flows, his current musical project inspired by the landscapes of Iceland, which he completed during lockdown and we’re tod explores “themes of fragility, emergence and rebirth”. And electronic music producer, DJ, and musician Sam Shepherd aka Floating Points will bring his euphoric live show to Edinburgh.
Folk, jazz, dance and trip-hop
Modern UK jazz will be well-represented at EIF this year with performances from Kokoroko, Moses Boyd and The Comet is Coming – the latter returning to Edinburgh with their explosive cosmic jazz rave. Scottish trad-heads, meanwhile, can look forward to Inverness-born fiddle player and composer Duncan Chisholm, Glasgow instrumental folk band RURA, instrumental trad trio Talisk, Gaelic supergroup Dàimh, all-female Scottish-English collective the Kinnaris Quintet, and Glasgow’s Breabach, who’ll be bringing their double bagpipes, Gaelic vocals and step dancing to EIF.
Other Scottish performers to look out for are Erland Cooper, who’ll be performing his lauded 'Orkney trilogy' at EIF, Glasgow-based four-piece Tide Lines, and Edinburgh literary collective Neu! Reekie!, who no doubt have cooked up one of their signature cross-culture shindigs. Plenty of international performers are sure to get a warm welcome in the Scottish capital too, including California art-pop duo tUnE-yArDs, Canadian electronic artist Caribou, and Gambian multi-instrumentalist and composer Sona Jobarteh. We’re also promised a tantalising collaboration between Ballaké Sissoko, the Malian master of the kora, and Vincent Ségal, the French cellist and trip-hop artist.
Classical music, theatre
Most of the contemporary music programme will be hosted at a new pop-up venue at Edinburgh Park, while the University of Edinburgh’s Old College Quad is the destination for the trad music strand. This represents just a fraction of what EIF has on offer, though. Elsewhere in the programme, Nicola Benedetti will be in residency with three performances: a solo show titled The Story of the Violin, as part of the Benedetti Baroque Orchestra performing Vivaldi and alongside a specially selected ensemble of musicians and actors for a performance blending theatre and music to bring to life Stravinsky’s The Soldier’s Tale.
As ever, EIF will be bringing some of the UK's great orchestras to town. The BBC Symphony Orchestra premieres Anna Clyne’s PIVOT, a new work inspired by an old Edinburgh folk music venue; The Royal Scottish National Orchestra performs Mendelssohn’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream; and The Scottish Chamber Orchestra – under Kazushi Ono – presents Ravel, Prokofiev and two Japanese pieces inspired by the beauty of the natural world. The Chineke! Orchestra, the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, the London Symphony Orchestra and the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra will also perform.
We're also looking forward to EIF favourite Alan Cumming, who'll be in Edinburgh with the first UK performances of his new show, Alan Cumming Is Not Acting His Age, and Scottish Opera's new production of Falstaff. A theatre highlight, meanwhile, looks to be the world premiere of Enda Walsh’s Medicine; Irish actor Domhnall Gleeson takes the lead in a play that, we’re told, looks at society’s relationship with mental health.
Another must-attend is, of course, EIF's opening night celebrations. Proceedings kick off on 7 August with a free, large-scale fire night-walk from French artist collective Compagnie Carabosse – we’re told this grand opening “combines elaborate fire sculptures and live traditional Scottish music against the backdrop of the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh”.
This won't be a typical EIF, though. As well as the above much of the above taking place in new outdoor venues, the spectre of COVID-19 means measures such as social distancing, shorter performances with no intervals and audience seating bubbles will all be in place. However, if you're not ready to venture into crowds just yet, you can still experience the festival remotely, with free online access planned for 21 full-length performances.
Linehan hopes this eclectic EIF lineup will be a chance to put the grim COVID world behind us: “While so much has been written and said about the challenges of the past 15 months, it is now time to look to the future and to the brilliant musicians, actors, dancers and poets who are getting ready to perform in Edinburgh this August.
"None of us can be certain of what the coming months will bring,” he adds, “but we are committed to working together on returning to the joy of live performance."
EIF takes place 7-29 Aug; general booking opens on Fri 11 Jun
For full programme details and tickets, head to eif.co.uk