Professor Joe Goldblatt
When Sir Rudolf Bing founded the Edinburgh International Festival in 1947, one of the first cables he sent was to his friend Bruno Walter who was the former highly esteemed and world renowned maestro of the Vienna, Austria Philharmonic Orchestra. Walter had been removed from his post following the Anschluss (the political union of Germany and Austria in World War II). The Germans did not want a Jewish artist conducting Austria’s leading orchestra.
The departure of Walter broke the hearts of his musicians because of their long term successful partnership. Therefore, when Bing announced he was launching a festival to provide a platform for the flowering of the human spirit in Edinburgh, he knew he needed a unique attraction to stimulate ticket sales for his new enterprise. He simply asked Bruno Walter if he would like to reunite with his orchestra upon the stage of Edinburgh’s Usher Hall at the opening night concert. Walter accepted and before a sold out audience a world acclaimed festival was born.
Some may argue that as we continue to navigate the global pandemic and now face the recent conflict in Ukraine, the world is at a similarly precarious tipping point just as it was in 1947. Therefore, just as Sir Rudolf Bing called upon Bruno Walter to generate excitement among ticket buyers, I believe that similarly, the selection of Nicola Benedetti to serve as Director Designate of the soon to be 75 year old Edinburgh International Festival is also a stroke of genius and that Bing is shouting bravo from the heavens above about this wise decision.
International festivals in the post pandemic period must naturally evolve and I believe that Miss Benedetti is just the artist to help accelerate this evolution. A musician since the age of four, she has been performing for over 30 years in concert halls all over the world and working with the world’s most accomplished conductors, musicians and artist managers. Her North Ayrshire upbringing has prepared her to help shape a festival that is both international in scope and that also embraces the customs and sensitivities of her fellow country men and women.
Much has been made about Nicola Benedetti becoming the first female director of the Edinburgh International Festival. While I believe this is important, I am reminded of the statement made by the first female Vice President of the United States upon her election to office. Kamala Harris said, “While I may be the first woman in this office, I will not be the last, because every little girl watching tonight sees that this is a country of possibilities.”
For the previous 74 years the selection of a director for one of world’s most prestigious arts festivals has been historically marked by seeking a safe pair of male hands, often from England, sometimes from Europe and more recently from Australia. However, the recent appointment of Nicola Benedetti demonstrates to me and others that the Edinburgh International Festival is now finally ready to confidently accept the reality that the next 75 years will require a vision from both the board and their director that is bolder, informed by local sensitivity and knowledge, and is committed to curating a festival for all of Scotland as well as all of the world. Nicola Benedetti has the professional experience, personal skills, and deep commitment to educating new artists and their audiences that is needed to insure our unique platform for the flowering of the human spirit is stronger and while rising higher in quality shall also become more accessible to all citizens.
Therefore, I believe that the spirit of Bing and Walter will be more deeply embedded in future festivals through the leadership of this talented musician and educator who is deeply committed to educating artists and their audiences. The human spirit, as Bing and Walter so well knew and personified, flourishes when artistic leaders such as Nicola Benedetti seize with both hands the opportunity to reimagine and reinvent what it means to create a festival not only for the elite, but for all citizens who value music, dance, and drama.
As we begin to carefully and slowly exit a dark pandemic period and move with uncertainty into the future with the Ukraine conflict trying to suppress our hopes and dreams, I am confident that with the appointment of this violinist from North Ayrshire, the world of culture will rise exponentially and with it human society will begin to flourish once again, just as Bing and Walter once dreamed in this, our inspiring capital city.
Professor Joe Goldblatt is Emeritus Professor of Planned Events at Queen Margaret University and is the author, co – author and editor of 40 books in the field of planned events. To read more about his views visit www.joegoldblatt.scot