Edinburgh Festival Programme 2024 Seeks Deeper Human Connections

Submitted by edg on Fri, 8 Mar '24 7.21am
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It’s not an Edinburgh Festival, unless everybody is invited. At a time where people and arts organisations are struggling to make ends meet, as shown by the struggles in recent years of the Festival Fireworks Concert, the Edinburgh International Festival is looking to broaden its audience and bring people closer to Festival artists.

A spirit of inclusiveness has always been an important tenet of the festival, something Festival Director, Scottish violinist and first-time mother-to-be Nicola Benedetti seems to take to heart.

This is the second Edinburgh International Festival under Benedetti’s helm and in this year’s theme “Rituals That Unite Us” it seeks to build on last year’s enquiring theme “Where Do We Go From Here?”.

“As we join forces with the world's greatest artists and bring them here to Edinburgh, we do so with a deeper dedication to our audience,” says Benedetti, who is expecting her first baby in the Spring. She plans to perform and be working in August for the Festival.

“This year the Edinburgh International Festival inaugurates new and reimagined rituals, honouring tradition and innovation, to bind us closer together. We invite you to seek and gather with us this August – there is always something new to discover.”

Festival 2024 Opening Event

The Edinburgh Festival Opening Event will be a large-scale, mass event for around 10,000+ people, organised by production company Pinwheel and sponsored by whisky company Macallan. 

Full details for the event have yet to be announced, but Pinwheel says it will draw on the “extraordinary” and “hidden” Edinburgh, looking “to revel in the richness of our heritage, to celebrate the spirit of this place and to establish new rituals that strengthen our connection to one another and our place in the world”.


The Philharmonia Orchestra, the Bamberger Symphoniker and São Paulo-based artist collective Ilumina will be in residency throughout the run of the Festival (2-24 August) allowing for greater community interaction beyond the more formal concert setting of the Usher Hall.

The Philharmonia will perform Verdi’s Requiem (conducted by Santtu-Matias Rouvali) and the International Festival’s Closing Concert, Strauss’s Capriccio (conducted by Sir Andrew Davis), with Malin Byström.

The Bamberger Symphoniker is in residence with conductor Jakub Hrůša for three performances that include works by Brahms, Dvořák and Hans Rott, and a family-friendly explainer event, Beyond the Score, taking a deep dive into Dvořák’s New World Symphony.

Plump up the Beanbags

Amongst the 161 performances by 2000 artists, this year’s Festival programme will feature more beanbags concerts, including by the likes of the European Union Youth Orchestra, with conductor Gianandrea Noseda. Ilumina will perform two beanbags concerts where audiences are provided with insights into the collective's creative process. Illumina will also be performing Brazilian music at the Hub.

Folk ensemble Barokksolistene will be mixing things up when it transforms the Usher Hall into a 17th-century English tavern for The Alehouse Sessions, complete with sea shanties, folk-favourites, beer (and beanbags).

Other initiatives include an all-ages family concert, a participatory dance and music work outside The Scottish Parliament, and post-show talks with artists in The Hub.

The Hub, that striking gothic church building at the top of the Royal Mile, will be returning with an expanded programme as the International Festival’s home and ‘green room’. The Hub will also be open to the public for informal dining, drop-in rehearsals and “Up Late” performances.

Digital EIF

The EIF digital experience continues to evolve with a virtual reality “experience” filmed within the Philharmonia Orchestra, and a willingness to experiment is further on evidence in a site-specific promenade opera with Scottish Opera in the National Museum of Scotland.

The Philharmonia also present the UK premiere of Julia Wolfe’s Fire in my Mouth, a multimedia performance conducted by Marin Alsop, with the National Youth Choir of Scotland.
The EIF also plans to build on the community engagement with a youth “takeover day”, community Culture Clubs that involve a shared meal and a performance, and pop-up performances in NHS healthcare settings.

Dynamic Pricing

General booking for the 2024 International Festival opens on Thursday 21 March, with tickets currently on-sale to EIF Members and supporters. Like last year, ticket prices are being set dynamically, meaning that the programme only lists base prices and adjusts their price according to demand. High culture that the EIF has become renowned for doesn’t come cheap. Critics have said dynamic pricing inflates Festival ticket prices and shrinks audiences.

Yet, while the price of concert-going might be the equivalent of a weekly grocery bill for some, the Festival is promising that half of all tickets for the 2024 International Festival will be sold at £30 or under, with free tickets available for young musicians.

A limited number of £10 Affordable Tickets will be available for every performance in the 2024 programme: 

“Enter promo code INVITED at checkout to claim this offer. Subject to availability, no proof of eligibility required,” says the web site.

There are 25 accessible performances, including ten audio described performances, five BSL interpreted performances, and nine captioned performances, with concessionary tickets from 30% to 50% off all full price tickets, with options for a free essential companion ticket where required.


Given Benedetti’s background it’s perhaps no surprise that music dominates this year’s programme. However, in the theatre department, there will be two world premieres from Scottish creatives: The Fifth Step, a new play written by David Ireland, directed by Finn den Hertog and starring Scottish actor Jack Lowden; and the stage adaptation of Amy Liptrot’s bestselling memoir, The Outrun, by playwright Stef Smith, director Vicky Featherstone and Edinburgh’s own The Royal Lyceum Theatre Company.

The seven theatre productions also includes Internationaal Theater Amsterdam bringing their grungy and erotic Penthesilea to Edinburgh for its UK premiere.

Opera and Choral

There’s fresh productions of much-loved operas including Opéra Comique’s production of Bizet’s Carmen with Gaëlle Arquez in the title role; Komische Oper Berlin’s production of Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro, directed by Kirill Serebrennikov and a new production of Stravinsky’s Oedipus Rex by Scottish Opera takes over the National Museum of Scotland, performed in promenade with a 100-strong community chorus from across Scotland.

A two-part opening weekend will explore different ways of telling the same iconic story, with two distinct interpretations of the Passion: Latin and Afro-Cuban mixes with contemporary classical music in the Scottish premiere of Osvaldo Golijov's La Pasión según San Marcos.

The BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, with the Edinburgh Festival Chorus, will provide a new take on Johann Sebastian Bach's masterpiece, the St Matthew Passion, in Mendelssohn’s 1841 (later) version. Ryan Wigglesworth conducts.

Contemporary Music and Dance

The contemporary music programme is now a festival staple and carries a range of musical styles this year: singer-songwriter Cat Power; indie-pop sensation Bat for Lashes; polymath composer and piano personality Chilly Gonzales; beloved orchestral-pop group The Magnetic Fields; one of the most famous voices in African music, Youssou N’Dour; the 80-piece contemporary Scottish GRIT Orchestra; South London electronic singer-songwriter Tirzah; a blend of West African folkloric music, the sounds of Black London and the London jazz scene with Balimaya Project; and a signature mix of electronic and soul from New Zealand-born Jordan Rakei.
A programme of leading Celtic musicians includes Irish quintet Goitse, an International Festival debut from Welsh folk band VRï and the 25th anniversary of Fèis Rois’ Ceilidh Trail.

Dance is on the scant side with three productions this year. Look out for Brazilian dance company Grupo Corpo who return to the EIF after 14 years “to summon Brazilian history, culture and spirituality” in two UK premieres at the Playhouse.

There's also the World Premiere of Aakash Odedra’s Songs of the Bulbul, a mediative exchange between the Indian classical dance Sufi Kathak and Islamic poetry.

In Crystal Pite and Jonathon Young's new piece Assembly Hall, the lines between reality and myth blur as a struggling society of medieval re-enactors attempt to salvage their struggling society at their annual AGM in a community hall.

Politicians said

Culture and Communities Convener, Councillor Val Walker said: “It’s particularly encouraging to see initiatives such as making free tickets available for young musicians, and £10 Tickets available for all performances. Given we are in the midst of a challenging cost of living crisis and our festivals have a key role in providing us all with opportunities to enjoy exceptional and entertaining experiences, these will hopefully contribute towards the goal of choice and access for everyone in our city. The International Festival is an integral part of the Capital’s cultural calendar and as a Council we’re proud to support it.”

Kaukab Stewart, Scottish Government Minister for Culture and International Development, said: "As we raise the curtain on another Edinburgh International Festival, we’re reminded of the power of art to unite and inspire us all. More than 2,000 artists from 42 countries will exhibit their talents, and these extraordinary performances from a diverse range of cultures and traditions reaffirms Scotland's place as the perfect stage to host major events."

Arts and Heritage Minister Lord Parkinson said: "For more than three quarters of a century, the Edinburgh International Festival has provided a platform for the world-class music and performing arts we are so proud to have in this country, as well as for brilliant artists and musicians from across the globe. The millions of people who flock to Edinburgh to enjoy and take part in it each year enrich our lives and fuel our shared economy. That's why the UK Government is so proud to support it."

“The arts have a unique power to bring us together, and to help us see the world through others' eyes. I'm delighted that, this year, the International Festival will focus on the rituals that unite us – and look forward to seeing the diverse and dynamic work that theme inspires."

Iain Munro, Chief Executive, Creative Scotland said: “Nicola Benedetti continues to drive the Edinburgh International Festival programme forward in her second year as Director with another inspired artistic offering. This year’s thematic focus on unity and togetherness provides opportunities to blur the lines between artist and audience, promoting connection and communal experience in our increasingly divided world. The International Festival continues to earn its reputation as a shining light in the global cultural calendar by uniting people through great art.”

Read more on the Edinburgh International Festival