Amongst the twinkle of festive lights and the sound of soulful buskers in Old-Town, The Edinburgh Award 2023 was presented at the City Chambers to our Festival Director, Nicola Benedetti.
Widely attended by her family, friends, colleagues, and staff members from the International Festival, the presentation on 5 December celebrated her invaluable contributions to the city. It featured uplifting speeches from the Lord Provost, Keith Skeoch (the Chair of our Board), and Nicola herself. Speaking about her connection to Scotland's capital, she brought back many fond memories:
My relationship to Edinburgh is long and meaningful. My first ever performance here was in fact aged fourteen, in the Usher Hall as part of a fantastic concept called Children’s Classic Concerts, sparking for me what would become a lifelong dedication to the connection between music and education.
At the age of 16, Nicola won the BBC Young Musician of the Year, the final of which was held in Edinburgh's Usher Hall.
Edinburgh has held unsurpassed significance for me... [for] nearly twenty years, countless performances and school visits and trips to the city later, and now I have the opportunity to contribute to the long and rich history of the Edinburgh International Festival. This has been and is one of the greatest gifts of my life.
Each gift in our life, such as the role of Festival Director or a recognition such as this award, serves as a propellor - and an opportunity for choice.
Each gift holds the potential for responsibility to others, that you choose to serve and grasp, or not.
Each gift is a reminder of our place in a lineage of contributors to bettering life for ourselves and for others; a reminder of the collective potential we have when we all consider – in our own unique way - our civic and moral duty.
After the speeches, Nicola was presented with an engraved Loving Cup from the Lord Provost. Her handprints were also set in stone at the City Chambers.
As part of this celebration, The Edinburgh Makar, Hannah Lavery wrote a poem especially for the event:
Candle in the Darkness
For Nicola Benedetti
Art is a light in the dark
and we’re in such dark times now.
We tasked you to use it (and what an ask that is)
to bring us to hope.
Hope like a whisper about some place
we once knew. Hope like an old landmark
lost to us, in nettle and thistle. Hope like landfall
in a raging sea. We made you, our captain,
using constellations like a symphony,
a map, a beacon, a candle in the darkness
& in all this darkness, we ask you to guide us,
to lead us back to the hope found in gathering together,
in shared moments that bring us to an old knowing,
a renewed empathy, that takes us back
to where we can see each other again.
The Edinburgh Award has been awarded to many outstanding individuals in its 17-year history including Nobel-prize winner Peter Higgs, ground-breaking scientist and human rights activist Sir Geoffrey Palmer and former Festival Director Fergus Linehan. The full list of past winners can be viewed on the City of Edinburgh Council's website.
Nicola finished her speech with a pledge and a message for those beyond the chambers,
My receiving of this honour is a signal to us all, that this historic institution and therefore this city understands the weight and importance of arts and culture. I’m here today to acknowledge and serve the history of this award with a personal pledge, and I have my colleagues here as witnesses: my commitment to this aspect of Scottish life will deepen year after year. I’m in this for the long haul.
But this following message is for those not in this room. What we so casually, and perhaps erroneously, call ‘arts and culture’, is in fact a thing so inextricable from our aspirations as a city, and as a country, that we leave this part of human creation out of our goal, our vision and our trajectory at our peril.
This city has the accumulation of all styles and variations of human creation living and breathing in its walls and on its streets. We have the opportunity to stand on the shoulders of giants.
Let’s not scupper it. And let’s walk it together.
We are so looking forward to our 2024 Festival and beyond. We hope to see you there!