Created with Sketch. Artboard Created with Sketch. Created with Sketch.
Xenos Production Shots © Jean Louis Fernandez 01

Paying tribute to the First World War's centenary

Blog

100 years after WWI, parts of our programme reflect on past sacrifices and instill hope for continued international unity. 

Championing harmony over strife is at the very heart of the International Festival. It was founded in 1947, two years after the Second World War ended, to unite artists from different countries that had only recently been wrenched apart by conflict. This year we mark the centenary of the end of the First World War by again inviting performers and audiences from all over the world to Edinburgh. 

Connecting with the past

Inspired by materials found at the Imperial War Museum, the hybrid classical composer Anna Meredith and Olivier Award winning design group 59 Productions have created a multimedia composition that draws connections between the reality of the First World War and life today.

Self-censorship, propaganda, codes, and machines are all themes as relevant now as they were to the young soldiers sending telegrams from the trenches. Meredith and 59 Productions explore these in a specially commissioned orchestral score weaved together with digital artworks that will be projected onto the outside of Usher Hall.

The finished piece will launch the International Festival at Standard Aberdeen Investments Opening Event: Five Telegrams on 3 August, and was also broadcast at the BBC Proms – the first time that our two organisations have worked together.

Co-commissioned by Edinburgh International Festival, BBC Proms and 14-18 NOW: WW1 Centenary Art Commissions.

Giving voice to untold stories

Of the 4 million men mobilised by the British Empire, 1.5 million came from India. The army of sepoys' contribution to Britain’s war effort was the largest in terms of man power, yet their history is largely invisible, in part because many were semi- or non-literate and so left relatively few traces of themselves in diaries and letters. 

Some were buried where they fell, far away from their homes, and those who did return were often viewed as traitors for fighting with their colonial rulers. In the words of ground-breaking choreographer Akram Khan, they were “estranged from their own histories, homelands and countrymen, becoming xenoi” (which translates as “stranger”). 

For the final full-length solo piece of his career, XENOS, Khan resurrects the ghosts of these Indian soldiers on 16-18 August. Using his signature combination of classical kathak and contemporary dance, he explores the story of a shell-shocked sepoy trapped in a trench, standing at the porous border between East and West, the present and the past.

Kadamati | Photo: Kios Miah
Expressing unity through dance

Choreographed by Khan, Kadamati is a companion piece to XENOS that draws on themes of identity, migration, connection, and hope to mark the end of the First World War.

Hundreds of local participants from different backgrounds and abilities will perform the dance in synchronicity, making an overtly visible gesture of diversity and unity in the forecourt of Holyrood Palace on 22 August.

Produced in collaboration with 14-18 NOW, Edinburgh International Festival, Théâtre du Châtelet, and Théâtre de la Ville, Kadamati is a community-based project that will cross borders to engage people across two cities in Edinburgh and Paris. 

The idea of having mass bodies performing in a ritualistic way, in different locations, reflects a beautiful part of where we have evolved to today.

Akram Khan on Kadamati

Lest we forget

One of the composers being performed by the Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra on 16 August is Prokofiev, whose Sixth Symphony invokes the somber remembrance that comes with newly restored peace. The melancholy tone of the first movement, played on violins, oboes, and horns, never truly leaves us, as it returns to haunt the third movement’s more joyful mood. Composed in 1947, it was written as an elegy for the Soviet victims in the Second World War.

Lise Davidsen accompanies the Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra | Photo: Ole Jorgen Bratland Statoil Soprano

Now we are rejoicing in our great victory, but each of us has wounds that cannot be healed. One has lost those dear to him, another has lost his health. These must not be forgotten.

Prokofiev

Unearthing a lost artist

Still marked by shrapnel and stained with mud from the Somme, the manuscripts by Cecil Coles, an emergent composer from the early twentieth-century, could have been lost forever if not for his daughter Penny Catherine Coles’ perseverance. 

They were eventually rediscovered in George Watson’s college in Edinburgh, where they had travelled a long way from the heart of war. Transcribed in the trenches, often with hand-drawn lines when manuscript paper was short, Coles' compositions bear the physical mark of combat – parts of his final suite “Behind the Lines” are still incomplete, having been destroyed by shellfire. 

His life, and what many now believe would have been a major musical career, was tragically cut short by a sniper while he was carrying injured soldiers away from combat. On 9 August The National Youth Orchestra Scotland will pay tribute to this great composer, gone too early but whose music has, luckily, been rescued from obscurity.

Other news

blog

2019 Playlist #11

A flavour of what you can expect from this year's Virgin Money Fireworks Concert featuring the Scottish Chamber Orchestra and mezzo soprano Catriona Morison.

news

Leith Academy meets Beatbox Academy

On the curriculum this week – beatboxing.