After a two-year wait, here we are. Open to the elements of Scotland within one of three newly constructed Edinburgh International Festival venues, The Opening Concert is a merit of dedication, adoration, and the intimacy of live, in-person music and performance. Behind the revelry and fanfare, and beneath the Lord Provost’s golden chain, beats a sense that this concert stands for more than a mere return, but a beacon and proof of the arts industry’s resilience.
Evocative of the city’s folk music blood, Anna Clyne’s opening may prove a struggle to the ear expecting an acute piece. Rather, Pivot is an amalgam of sorts — a concoction of the merry melodies of Scottish dance halls with the opening parade of brass. Dipping, the back-and-forth form changes introduce an element of movement, a contemporary decision that draws a richer engagement and command of attention. An eruption of jubilation, this opener pays tribute not solely to the event itself, but to the talents and prospects of Clyne’s position as a New York-based composer.
It comes as little surprise to acknowledge the BBC Symphony Orchestra for their precision and timing, but to adapt to a newly constructed venue with partially unknown acoustics is a discernible achievement. Under the guiding eye of conductor Dalia Stasevska, The Opening Concert’s orchestral prowess pertains to some of the finest flourishing hands possible. Carrying the next piece, Botticelliana, Stasevska fuses the gentleness of painter Botticelli with an assortment of warming strings and harps, balanced out by the infrequent twinkle of woodwinds and percussion.
That said, separation between vocalist and orchestra is an impossibility, and equally a sin by all accounts. Though individually Rosie Aldridge, Felipe Manu and Michael Mofidian possess enviable vocals the world over, in melding with the orchestra, grievances emerge. In closing with Stravinsky’s Pulcinella, the clash of vocals and instruments comes to a distinct point of contention where the blending of harmonies is stifled. Detachments are felt around the venue as the story falls out of pace with the rhythm. Trying to together all aspects of the vocalists and instrumentals causes the narrative of the performance to take third seating.
Despite this discordance interfering with the concert’s flow, the solo performances achieve a tighter connection between vocal and instrument — Aldridge’s enrapturing Se tu m’ami garners an immediate sense of appeal and praise with her powerful mezzo-soprano. The men equally play their part, carrying the more concentrated energy — peppy and cocky — as the cadence infuses itself with Manu and Mofidian playing the parts of two lovers with gusto.
Basking in as regal a purple as possible, the stage is set for the concert with a clean aesthetic, neither detracting from the orchestra nor interfering with the acoustics. But the niggle is present, the lack of something illustrious to draw together the successes and masquerade the blemishes.
An ingenious opening that will inspire a generation of emerging musicians and idealists gives way to more hopeful numbers and trip hazards expected with traditional concerts. But truthfully, what a wonder to hear the song of the Festival City once more. After too long a period of silence, the International Festival reignites the passion longings audiences have craved for.