If all had gone according to plan in 1946, the Edinburgh
International Festival would have never existed.
It would have been the Oxford International Festival.
But Edinburgh was chosen - 50 years ago this year - partly
because it was hardly damaged by World War II bombs, and partly
because the city itself proved willing to take a daring financial
The Scottish capital was also a romantic, historic, if rather
remote, city of great beauty.
And it belonged to a country that had long been more conscious
of its links with the rest of Europe (including even the Germanic
countries with which the whole of Britain had been so long at war)
than England was then or is now.
This Europeanism certainly helped to ensure the festival's
success in bringing together practitioners of the arts from all
over the world, regardless of politics, language, culture, or
religion. From the start, it was intended to be a "whole world"
festival. It was unashamedly idealistic.
This annual three-week culture bash, which began Aug. 11 and
runs through Aug. 31, claims to be the largest arts festival in the
world today. So far this year, tickets sales have increased by 15
percent over last year. But the festival is also one of many in a
world gone festival crazy.
In its first year, it was pretty much without competition in a
Europe still attempting to rise from the ashes of World War II. It
has grown and changed under the baton of eight different directors
and survived financial crises and varying degrees of local dissent
It has spawned an "unofficial" "Fringe" of uncontrolled
proportions and character. Street happenings burgeon; it is a
melange of anything from rank amateur to extreme professional. It
is efficiently programmed, so far as it can be, as are the film
festival, jazz festival, and book festival.
Poetry and literature have also made their mark over the years.
This year, for the first time, an "inaugural lecture" has been
started by Edinburgh University - though talks, master classes,
readings, and discussions have often been staged, successfully
bringing to the main event some sort of debate and informal
participation by festivalgoers.
Yet, for all this additional activity, the "official" core, the
main festival, with its basic allegiance to the classic genres of
opera, ballet, theater, and the classical concert, has remained
surprisingly almost intact. It is also surprisingly successful in
spite of ever-rising ticket prices and surprisingly still thought
of as the real reason for the festival's continuity.
The visual arts have also been involved from the start -
somewhat peripherally - but the directors have mostly seen the
festival as a thing of the performing arts. This bias, definitely
true of current director Brian McMaster, who began in 1992, has
often been a controversial issue. It is left largely to the
Scottish National Galleries to stage - or not to stage -
exhibitions worthy of the festival's high aims.
Directors have had to strike one particularly difficult balance
probably never envisaged by the early organizers of the event. …