Edinburgh International Festival

The Edinburgh International Festival is an annual festival of performing arts in Edinburgh, Scotland, over three weeks in August. By invitation from the Festival Director, the International Festival brings top class performers of music (especially classical music), theatre, opera and dance from around the world to perform. The festival also hosts a series of visual art exhibitions, talks and workshops.

Edinburgh International Festival
Royal Scottish Academy building decorated for the Festival in 2013
Date(s)2019: 2–26 August (exact dates vary each year)
Location(s)Edinburgh, Scotland
Patron(s)Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother (1947-1952)
HM Queen Elizabeth II (1952–2017)
Earl of Forfar (2017–present)


The idea of a Festival with a remit to "provide a platform for the flowering of the human spirit" and enrich the cultural life of Scotland, Britain and Europe took form in the wake of the Second World War. The idea of creating an international festival within the UK was first conceived by Rudolf Bing, the General Manager of Glyndebourne Opera Festival, the arts patron Lady Rosebery, theatre director Sir Tyrone Guthrie, and Audrey Mildmay (wife of John Christie) during a wartime tour of a small-scale Glyndebourne production of The Beggar's Opera.[1]

Rudolf Bing conceived of the festival to heal the wounds of war through the languages of the arts. This is its principal raison d'etre. It was first financed by Lord Roseberry with the £10,000 winnings of his horse Ocean Swell that won the only two major horse-races run in wartime including the Jockey Gold Cup in 1944. This sum was matched by Edinburgh Town Council and then some money in turn was matched by the Arts Council of Great Britain formed by Lord Keynes at war's end. Bing also co-founded the Festival with Henry Harvey Wood, Head of the British Council in Scotland, Sidney Newman, Reid Professor of Music at Edinburgh University, and a group of civic leaders from the City of Edinburgh, in particular Sir John Falconer.

Bing had looked at several English cities before shifting his focus to Scotland and settling on Edinburgh, a city he had visited and admired in 1939. In particular, Edinburgh's castle reminded him of Salzburg where he had been the festival director before the war. Harvey Wood described the meeting at which the idea was hatched:

The Edinburgh International Music of Festival and Drama was first discussed over a lunch table in a restaurant in Hanover Square, London, towards the end of 1944. Rudolf Bing, convinced that musical and operatic festivals on anything like the pre-war scale were unlikely to be held in any of the shattered and impoverished centres for many years to come, was anxious to consider and investigate the possibility of staging such a Festival somewhere in the United Kingdom in the summer of 1946. He was convinced and he convinced my colleagues and myself that such an enterprise, successfully conducted, might at this moment of European time, be of more than temporary significance and might establish in Britain a centre of world resort for lovers of music, drama, opera, ballet and the graphic arts.

Certain preconditions were obviously required of such a centre. It should be a town of reasonable size, capable of absorbing and entertaining anything between 50,000 and 150,000 visitors over a period of three weeks to a month. It should, like Salzburg, have considerable scenic and picturesque appeal and it should be set in a country likely to be attractive to tourists and foreign visitors. It should have sufficient number of theatres, concert halls and open spaces for the adequate staging of a programme of an ambitious and varied character. Above all it should be a city likely to embrace the opportunity and willing to make the festival a major preoccupation not only in the City Chambers but in the heart and home of every citizen, however modest. Greatly daring but not without confidence I recommended Edinburgh as the centre and promised to make preliminary investigations.[2]

Wood approached Falconer, who enthusiastically welcomed the initiative on behalf of the city. As it was too late to finalise arrangements for 1946, plans were made for the following year. The first International Festival (and the first "Festival Fringe", although not known as such in the first year) took place between 22 August and 11 September 1947. The Festival has since taken place every August.

The first Festival concentrated mainly on classical music, a highlight being concerts given by the Vienna Philharmonic, reunited with their erstwhile conductor Bruno Walter who had left Europe after the Nazi occupation of his homeland.[3] The Festival's first dramatic success came in the following year when an adaptation of Sir David Lyndsay's The Thrie Estaites was performed to great acclaim for the first time since 1552 in the Assembly Hall on the Mound.[4] The British Army's desire to showcase itself during the Festival period led to the independent staging of the first Edinburgh Military Tattoo, featuring displays of piping and dancing, in 1950. This annual event has come to be regarded as an integral part of the official festival, though it continues to be organised separately.[5]


In 1999, the Festival opened a new central box office and information centre in The Hub, a converted church on Castlehill, directly below Edinburgh Castle. Originally built as the Tollbooth Church (1842–44) to house the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, its tall gothic spire is the highest point in central Edinburgh (outside of the Castle) and a landmark visible for miles around.

The Edinburgh International Festival was brought forward to coincide with the Fringe in 2015.[6]

Festival venues

The principal venues of the Festival are:

Festival directors

Other festivals in Edinburgh

About ten other festivals are held in Edinburgh at about the same time as the International Festival. Collectively, the entire group is referred to as the Edinburgh Festival. Most notable of these is the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, which started as an offshoot of the International Festival and has since grown to be the world's largest arts festival. The Edinburgh International Film Festival also began in August 1947 with a programme of documentary films. In the 1990s this festival moved into June. The 1966 Writers' Festival begun by John Calder, Richard Demarco, Jim Haynes, founders of the Paperback Bookshop and Traverse Theatre, eventually led to the Edinburgh International Book Festival also staged in August. The result is festivals with more than 2,500 performances and events per day in Edinburgh in August, many times bigger than the next biggest arts festivals anywhere in the world, in a major city where uniquely for a month Culture is said to be bigger than shopping.

World Premieres

The following works received their world premiere at the Edinburgh International Festival:

Date of premiere Work Creator/composer Presented/performed by
28/08/2003 There Where She Loved


Christopher Wheeldon San Francisco Ballet
13/08/2010 Caledonia Alistair Beaton National Theatre of Scotland
02/09/2010 Quimeras Paco Peña Paco Peña Flamenco Dance Company
26/08/2011 Kings 2 Ends Jorma Elo Scottish Ballet
22/08/2012 Since it was the day of Preparation... Sir James MacMillan William Conway, Brindley Sherratt, Hebrides Ensemble, Synergy Vocals
27/08/2013 Festival City Tod Machover Royal Scottish National Orchestra, Peter Oundjian
12/08/2016 Hommage à Kurtág Mark Simpson Mark Simpson, Antoine Tamestit, Pierre-Laurent Aimard
16/08/2016 Anything That Gives Off Light Jessica Almasy, Davey Anderson, Rachel Chavkin, Brian Ferguson, Sandy Grierson The TEAM, National Theatre of Scotland
27/08/2016 Swans Kissing Rolf Wallin Danish String Quartet
04/08/2017 Meet Me at Dawn Zinnie Harris Traverse Theatre Company
04/08/2017 Flight Oliver Emanuel based on the novel Hinterland by Caroline Brothers Vox Motus
08/08/2017 The Divide Parts 1 & 2 Alan Ayckbourn The Old Vic
17/08/2018 Correspondances Peder Barratt-Due Eivind Ringstad, David Meier
03/08/2019 The Crucible Helen Pickett, Peter Salem Scottish Ballet
07/08/2019 Total Immediate Collective Imminent Terrestrial Salvation Tim Crouch National Theatre of Scotland
10/08/2019 Quickening (2018 version) Sir James MacMillan The King's Singers, Royal Scottish National Orchestra, Edinburgh Festival Chorus, RSNO Junior Chorus, Ed Gardner
14/08/2019 Red Dust Road Tanika Gupta based on the book by Jackie Kay National Theatre of Scotland, HOME
17/08/2019 Symphony No 5 'Le grand Inconnu' Sir James MacMillan Scottish Chamber Orchestra, The Sixteen, Genesis Sixteen, Harry Christophers

See also


  1. Fifield, Christopher. Ibbs and Tillett: The Rise and Fall of a Musical Empire. Ashgate, 2005: p. 263
  2. G. Bruce, Festival in the North: The story of the Edinburgh Festival, London: Robert Hale, 1975, p. 18.
  3. Bruce, Festival in the North (1975), p. 20.
  4. Bruce, Festival in the North (1975), pp. 25-6.
  5. Bruce, Festival in the North (1975), p. 31.
  6. Severin Carrell (8 May 2014). "Edinburgh international festival moves dates for 2015 as part of shakeup". The Guardian.

Further reading

  • Bruce, G., Festival in the North: The Story of the Edinburgh Festival. Hale, 1975.
  • Miller, E., The Edinburgh International Festival, 1947 – 1996. Scholar Press: Aldershot, 1996.
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