Edinburgh festival slashes ticket prices to increase youth participation | Edinburgh festival 2024

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Nicola Benedetti, the Edinburgh festival director, has slashed ticket prices, increased youth participation and added more “beanbag concerts” in a renewed effort to broaden the art festival’s appeal.

Benedetti, a Grammy-award winning violinist, said this August’s Edinburgh international festival would offer a new “audience manifesto” designed to make the event more open, affordable and immersive.

The event, which features opera classics such as the Marriage of Figaro, contemporary Brazilian dance from Grupo Corpo and the singer-songwriter Cat Power’s recreation of Bob Dylan’s Royal Albert Hall concert in 1966, will incorporate a range of price cuts.

More than half of the tickets will cost £30 or less, with £10 tickets on offer for every performance, while 2,000 free tickets will be distributed to young people. A half-price ticket offer will be extended to under-18s, those with disabilities or hearing impairments and to neurodivergent festival-goers.

That manifesto, she said, required the international festival to “deliver the deepest possible experience of the highest quality of art to the broadest possible audience”.

The festival, the world’s longest-running, had to recognise it was competing for the attention of audiences being constantly offered a “dazzling” array of often quick-fix entertainment on mobile phones and streaming services, she added.

More concerts would feature beanbags instead of stalls seating, and tickets would be dispersed among musicians. Young musicians will be invited to rehearsals. To improve accessibility, there would also be greater use of British Sign Language and audio descriptions.

Benedetti, 36, became the first woman and the first Scot to direct the international festival in 2022 when it celebrated the 75th anniversary of its founding in the aftermath of the second world war in 1947.

Her arrival coincided with the cost of living crisis, the Ukraine war and the festival’s attempts to emerge from the Covid pandemic; all three crises forced the city’s August festivals, which include the fringe and book festivals, to reassess their roles.

She said the festival needed to respond intelligently to the competition from digital media which saturated modern life and the algorithms that polarised people, and recognise too that people were affected by tragedies overseas, a reference to the wars on Gaza and in Ukraine.

“It is my role to constantly look outside the world of the festival and go what is the climate of today?” she said. “I believe you need to shake up your environment in order to encourage people to be less fearful of what it is they should and shouldn’t do within the home of Edinburgh international festival.”

Benedetti said she sought to build on last year’s proposition, “Where do we go from here?”, by embracing three themes discussed by the South Korean-German philosopher Byung-Chul Han in his book The Disappearance of Rituals. Those themes were: new rituals, the game of life and death, and the art of seduction.

The festival’s purpose was to provide an antidote to the “increasingly transactional way that we live today” that Byung-Chul had identified, she said. “He speaks to the importance of collective experience to bind us closer together.”

This year’s event, which presents 161 performances featuring artists from 42 countries, has avoided direct references to the wars in Ukraine and Gaza. She said the festival’s role was to “take a step back” and examine the underlying causes of conflict with “calm, considered, careful maturity.”

The Edinburgh international festival runs from 2–25 August; tickets go on general sale at noon on 21 March.

Five highlights

Bamberger Symphoniker, an orchestra with roots in the 18th century, reinstated in 1946 by musicians from Prague and Bavaria in the ruins of postwar Europe, will perform Hans Rott, Antonín Dvořák and Josef Suk.

Carmen, Georges Bizet’s opera about love and jealousy, will be performed in its original form by the Parisian opera house Opéra-Comique.

The Brazilian company Grupo Corpo offer two British premieres, including Gil Refazendo, a homage to one of the godfathers of modern Brazilian music, Gilberto Gil.

Vicky Featherstone, the former director of the National Theatre of Scotland, directs The Outrun, an adaptation of Amy Liptrot’s bestselling memoir about recovering from a decade of addiction, set in Orkney and London.

Contemporary music
Natasha Khan, the uncompromising art pop musician and Mercury prize nominee better known as Bat for Lashes, performs her forthcoming album The Dream of Delphi.

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