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Read some of the past tales helping to shape this year's programme in our blog celebrating 70 years of the International Festival.

This year the Edinburgh International Festival celebrates 70 years of unifying artists and audiences from across the world.

At the time of the inaugural International Festival, Sir John Falconer, the Lord Provost of Edinburgh said: "History will dictate if the year 1947 has been a focal point in the history of our city." A 70-year history of hosting the world's artists ensued, igniting further festivals too, forming and distinguishing Edinburgh as the world's Festival City.

With two weeks to go until the 70th celebrations of the International Festival begin, we are revisiting some stories from our past that have helped shape this year's anniversary programme. Read some of the tales in this blog to get you excited for the weeks to come and make sure to visit our new website to discover even more stories.

Standard Life Opening Event: Bloom

Way back in 1947, after the devastation of World War II, Sir John Falconer – Lord Provost of Edinburgh and the International Festival’s first Chair – spoke of his ambition that the inaugural Edinburgh International Festival should ‘provide a platform for the flowering of the human spirit’.

The immersive Standard Life Opening Event: Bloom embodies this ambition, celebrating our joyful 70-year journey, from the darkness and division of the post-war years to today's explosions of colour and spectacle. Find out full details here.

The Opening Concert

This year’s Opening Concert begins with the first work of the first International Festival concert in 1947, Haydn’s ‘Surprise’ Symphony. The Edinburgh Festival Chorus joins the concert for the choral splendours of Mendelssohn’s radiant Lobgesang.

The most notable achievement of the 1965 Festival, and Festival Director Lord Harewood's most enduring legacy, was the founding of the Scottish Festival Chorus, later renamed the Edinburgh Festival Chorus. They made a sensational debut with the Scottish National Orchestra for the Opening Concert that year, performing Mahler's monumental Symphony No. 8.


Co-commissioned by, and unveiled to the UK at the Edinburgh International Festival, Greek was performed in the Leith Theatre in 1988. Now a modern opera classic, Mark-Anthony Turnage’s blazing opera redefined what opera can be overnight and returns to the International Festival this year in a co-production between Scottish Opera and Opera Ventures.

Based on the in-your-face stage play by Steven Berkoff, Greek gives the ancient myth of Oedipus a contemporary resonance in which racism, police violence, strikes and inner city decay combine in an apocalyptic vision of a divided Britain.

Spirit of ’47

The British Council, itself founded to foster understanding amongst the people of the world, was a co-founder of the International Festival in 1947. Seventy years on from the first International Festival, we join forces with them again to re-ignite the Spirit of ’47.

The Spirit of ’47 is a co-curated programme marking the founding partnership that gave birth to the Festival city and celebrates the depth and quality of international cultural collaboration in today’s world. The programme includes appearances from Anoushka Shankar, Paul Auster, Benjamin Clementine, the Royal Court Theatre and many more. Explore the full Spirit of ’47 programme.

The Divide

The Divide receives its premiere this August in a co-production between The Old Vic, Edinburgh International Festival and Karl Sydow. The Old Vic, the oldest British theatrical organisation, performed at the first International Festival in 1947 and then appeared many times over the following decade.

The Divide is an extraordinary new work by one of the UK’s greatest storytellers, Alan Ayckbourn. Spread across two separate parts, The Divide is a tale for our own turbulent times that unflinchingly examines a dystopian society of brutal repression, forbidden love and seething insurrection.


One of Shakespeare’s most famous plays, Macbeth, has been performed in many different ways over the 70 year history of the International Festival. Verdi’s operatic version was the very first opera to be performed at the inaugural International Festival in 1947, and returns in 2017 with a major new production by resident company Teatro Regio Torino.

Explore some of the great productions of Shakespeare's and Verdi's Macbeths over the years on our new storytelling website, celebrating 70 years of the International Festival.

Festival Firsts

This year we also celebrate the International Festival's 70th anniversary in a concert of Festival Firsts. Sir James MacMillan conducts three masterpieces of 20th century music which all received their world premieres at the International Festival.

In 1960, Sir William Walton’s Symphony No. 2 received its world premiere at the International Festival, performed by the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra and conducted by John Pritchard. Epiclesis, a concerto for trumpet by Sir James MacMillan, premiered at the 1993 International Festival. Various other works by MacMillan have also been heard for the first time at the International Festival over the years.

Project R.E.B.E.L

Ten years into the International Festival, renowned violinist and conductor Yehudi Menuhin led the way in taking the International Festival to new venues around the city to reach out to new audiences, including young people. It was the first of numerous performances, workshops and programmes designed to engage local young people.

In 2015, the International Festival established a special three-year residency with Castlebrae Community High School. The special relationship between the school and the International Festival sees the transformation of the school gym hall into a Festival venue to host Boy Blue Entertainment’s Project R.E.B.E.L this year.

Mariinsky & RSNO

In 1962, Benjamin Britten came to Edinburgh to conduct The English Opera Group's production of his The Turn of the Screw. Shostakovich was here as a special guest for performances of 25 compositions over three weeks. It was during those three weeks the two towering composers of the 20th century first met.

In 2017, Mariinsky & RSNO, two great orchestras come together to perform works by Britten and Shostakovich, to celebrate the meeting of these two composers at the Edinburgh International Festival.

Read memories from Shostakovich at the Usher Hall in the 1960s over on the new storytelling website.

A black and white image of Valery Gergiev conducting
70th Anniversary Celebration Concert

The 2017 International Festival’s Usher Hall concerts come to a resplendent conclusion in a very special concert celebrating 70 years of artistry and virtuosity at the Edinburgh International Festival.

Bringing together live music, archive film, interviews and unique memories, this is your chance to join in celebrating one of the world’s most influential festivals – through the music that has featured in it, and the revered figures who have performed in it.

Join the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, conductor Martyn Brabbins and renowned Scottish mezzo soprano Karen Cargill for a performance of works by Mahler, Vaughan Williams, and Ned Bigham and Gerry Fox in the 70th Anniversary Celebration Concert.

The story doesn’t stop here…

Explore the new storytelling website to discover more stories from 70 years of the International Festival.

But before you go delving in to the stories and memories of festivals past, we finish with a word from Bruno Walter - one of the world's greatest 20th century conductors who performed in the inaugural year - which we think perfectly captures the spirit of the International Festival…

0 Stars

What you have seen here in Edinburgh is one of the most magnificent experiences since the war. Here, human relations have been renewed.
Bruno Walter, 1947

Here’s to the next 70 years of the Edinburgh International Festival.

More on our 70 years

Book your tickets now

Standard Life Opening Event: Bloom – 4 & 5 August | St Andrew Square
The Opening Concert – 5 August | Usher Hall
Greek – 5 & 6 August | Festival Theatre
Spirit of ‘47 – 6-16 August | Various Venues – click here for full details of all Spirit of ’47 events.
The Divide – 8-20 August | King’s Theatre
Macbeth – 18-20 August | Festival Theatre
Festival Firsts – 19 August | Usher Hall
Project R.E.B.E.L – 19 & 20 August | Castlebrae Community High School
Mariinsky & RSNO – 23 August | Usher Hall 70th Anniversary Celebration Concert – 27 August | Usher Hall

Photo credits:

2017 Launch Party © Clark James
Scottish Chamber Orchestra © Marco Borggreve Edinburgh Festival Chorus © Clark James Minefield © Tristram Kenton
Anoushka Shankar © Jamie-James Medina
Sir James MacMillan © Hansvander Woerd Krump Buck Amp © Jonnie Malachi
2017 Launch Castlebrae © Aly Wight
Valery Gergiev © Alberto Venzago
Karen Cargill © K K Dundas

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