THE Edinburgh festival is a global phenomenon – an arts juggernaut that has earned the capital a spot on the international culture map and which generates hundreds of millions of pounds each year.
But the relentless expansion of the various festivals that make up the annual event has not been problem free, with recurring gripes from locals about cost, crowds and the damaging effect of short-term lettings.
Nevertheless, festival leaders readily acknowledge that the jamboree would not be what it is today without broad support from residents and businesses.
Now, amid preparations for its 75th anniversary, organizers of the Edinburgh International Festival (EIF), which was created in the aftermath of the Second World War to provide “a platform for the flowering of the human spirit”, have revealed plans to give away more than 35,000 tickets as a massive “thank you” to the city’s residents.
Bosses have revealed that free events are to be staged at venues such as Murrayfield Stadium, Murrayfield Ice Rink, Princes Street Gardens, the Edinburgh Playhouse and the Usher Hall.
They will form a three-week extravaganza to recognize the welcome the Scottish capital has given to the rest of the world since the EIF’s inaugural appearance in 1947.
The programme, supported by the Scottish Government and the city council, is aimed at recognizing the “dedication and hard work” of all of the city’s residents in recent decades.
The line-up includes an opening night at Murrayfield which will feature live music, theatre, acrobatics and dance.
And a gala performance by Philadelphia Orchestra on the festival’s final weekend will be staged at the Playhouse and beamed live into the Ross Bandstand arena in the gardens.
EIF director Fergus Linehan said: “As the festival prepares to celebrate its 75th anniversary, we wanted to acknowledge the dedication and hard work of so many of the city’s residents who have contributed to the festival over the years.
“We’re delighted that tickets for several our most ambitious 2022 productions will be completely free of charge.”
The EIF will also be staging a free concert by the Ukrainian Freedom Orchestra (UFO) on August 6.
Gathered together by New York’s Metropolitan Opera and the Polish National Opera, the UFO includes recent refugees and Ukrainian members of European orchestras, as well as leading Ukrainian musicians and performers. Among them are soprano Liudmyla Monastyrska and the pianist Anna Fedorova.
With Russia’s invasion of Ukraine continuing, Peter Gelb, the Met’s general manager, and Waldemar Dabrowski, director of the Polish National Opera, has said previously that they hoped the UFO’s performances would be a way of realizing the potential of music as a “weapon against oppression”.
Organizers at the EIF said the event would have particular poignancy given that Edinburgh and the Ukrainian capital Kyiv are twin cities.
They added that tickets for the various free events would be made available over the next few weeks.
The plans have been welcomed by Scottish Government ministers and city chiefs.
Edinburgh City Council leader Cammy Day said: “This is a very special year for the festival. Not only does it see a full and exciting program of artists and companies from across Scotland and the world, it’s also marking its 75th year.”
Mr Day added: “The free program is dedicated to the residents of Edinburgh and these 35,000 tickets are a wonderful way to celebrate this important milestone.”
Culture Secretary Neil Gray said: “We’re delighted to support the festival’s opening and closing events this year, along with the special appearance of the Ukrainian Freedom Orchestra, all of which are free.
“MACRO, the Australian/Scottish opening spectacle at Murrayfield, is a wonderful example of the cultural collaborations at the heart of the festival.
“I hope people in Edinburgh, which is twinned with Kyiv, and across Scotland will take this opportunity to hear the Ukrainian Freedom Orchestra and to show our support for the Ukrainian community in our city as well as the people directly affected by the war.”