Wednesday, 24 August 2016

Edinburgh Festival 2016 - Edinburgh International Festival

Edinburgh International Festival 2016

I only realised a couple of years ago that the Edinburgh Festival is a whole pile of festivals all happening at the same time. The fringe, the art festival, the book festival, the gardening festival (I made one of those up). The main Edinburgh International Festival has a much more focused and normally highbrow atmosphere. This year the world of alternative popular music has elbowed its way into the International Festival with Mogwai, Young Fathers, Sigur Ros, God Speed You! Black Emperor and Karine Polwart in the programme alongside the likes of the Russian National Orchestra and Scottish Ballet. Several of these concerts it was impossible for me to get to from Glasgow and others were sold out very quickly. I made do with a couple of Edinburgh jaunts to wonder around the galleries, catch some fringe theatre and book readings. There is only so long I can join the Edinburgh festival-going crowd before I want to scream though. There is a particular demographic that fills the city in August, and it feels like a good proportion of them will all trudge to the Henley Regatta and Glyndbourne at other times of the year.

I did make it to two International Festival events at the Usher Hall. A concert by a Swedish Orchestra and one by a Senegalese superstar. 

Hello Edinburgh

Usher Hall, Edinburgh

Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra - Usher Hall

Beethoven Piano concerto No. 1 in C major Op 15
Mahler Symphony No. 9

English conductor Daniel Harding, led the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra at the Usher Hall on Friday night. First up was Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 1, which was actually the third piano concerto he had written, but the first to be published. Written by the 26 year old Beethoven he performed the piano himself on the first performances of the piece. As you would, he has written the best parts for himself and Russian pianist Daniil Trifonov took this role. His performance was mesmeric, without being overly showy and flamboyant. At times hunched over the keyboard with his face inches from his fingers I fear he has an old age filled with back pain ahead of him if he keeps that up, but his playing was fantastic.

After the interval the orchestra had to pause for a while until someone silenced an electronic alarm (getting a round of applause when they managed). Mahler's 9th Symphony is often described as a contemplation on death and the first movement was indeed very dramatic. I found the rest of the evening rather colourless after that and a bit disjointed. Beautiful crisp playing throughout, particularly the strings, but the music didn't sing out to me.

Summer in Scotland

Youssou N'Dour - Usher Hall

One of the greatest figures in African music, "Senegalese superstar" Youssou N'Dour was in the incongruous setting of the stuffy Usher Hall on Wednesday night. His appearance was like a slash of light and warmth in a cold, wet Scottish summer. His audience were a refreshing change from the majority of Edinburgh crowds that I've been sat amongst this week, with many black and younger people dressed up to the nines mixed up with the usial Edinburgh Festival white, middle class, elderly audience.

I have seen him play once before, but that was 26 years ago now, a brief set in a Wembley concert for Nelson Mandela, so I was greatly looking forward to seeing him here tonight with his band in full flow. The band were impressive, 10 musicians and an acrobatic dancer and two singers backing him. With four of them on percussion rhythm was to the fore.

Youssou N'Dour at the Usher Hall 

Youssou N'Dour himself is a slight figure, out front in his shiny white suit, with a voice that's uniquely his. A few songs in we were given a piece of impromptu Scottish cabaret as ushers tried (ineffectually) to usher an obstreperous man away from the front row, where he had planted himself. They needn't have bothered as Youssou soon had sections of the crowd on their feet and dancing at the front of the stage and in the aisles. He slowed things down for a bit with "7 Seconds" before whipping the crowd up again as the tumbling dancer started jumping over the head of the djembe player, who was now draped in a Senegal flag from the crowd.

A captivating performance. Would love to have seen him in a more relaxed venue. Maybe next time.

Look. Youssou even brightened up the Edinburgh weather 

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