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Edinburgh Festival: Artists from 70 countries, including Ukraine, come together for the return of a ‘sold out’ festival – Angus Robertson MSP

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This is the month in which we open our doors to the world to show our city, as well as to provide spaces for artists from all over the world, from all walks of life, to play, play, sing, debate, tell, dance, play, entertain and sometimes even confuse the global audience.

There is joy and relief that Edinburgh’s world famous August festivals are back ‘in full’. But, it is important to realize that the program offering is about 80% of 2019, which is similar to the levels seen in 2014.

Of course, there hasn’t been a single in-person show in 2020. In 2021, only ten percent of shows were able to perform. It makes it all the more extraordinary that 80% of 2019 levels were achieved in such a difficult environment.

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It is a huge testament to the dedication, perseverance and professionalism of those who run our festivals for getting them to where they are today, and I extend my deepest thanks to them for protecting and guiding the centerpiece of Scottish culture through this period.

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Ukrainian Freedom Orchestra: Waging a war with music

In recognition of this, I hope and trust that the citizens of Scotland’s capital will mobilize in force to support the festivals. Indeed, with 40% of Edinburgh’s expected audience, local appeal is stronger than ever, with around 1,000 Scottish shows and over 3,000 from 70 countries around the world.

Scots are expected to make up around 60% of the audience; 40% come from further afield, three-quarters from the rest of the UK and a quarter from abroad.

Pianist Anna Fedorova of the Ukrainian Freedom Orchestra takes part in a rehearsal with the Warsaw Opera before their international tour (Photo: Wojtek Radwanski/AFP via Getty Images)

As always, festivals are here to be enjoyed by those of all ages, tastes and budgets. Between the International Festival, Fringe and others, there are over 55,000 free tickets plus street performers and plenty of “pay what you want” offers.

Of course, there are new considerations to juggle. Covid safety, access to transport and the cost of living crisis mean that many may make different choices to attend all, some or any of the festivals. But bookings are booming and the lure of Edinburgh Festivals is hard to resist.

So far I have had the privilege of attending the opening of the visual arts festival and look forward to the International Festival kicking off at BT Murrayfield on Friday, along with the galas, launches and the openings of ten other festivals.

Assembled by the Metropolitan Opera of New York and the Polish National Opera, the Ukrainian Freedom Orchestra includes recent refugees, Ukrainian members of European orchestras and leading Ukrainian musicians and performers, including soprano Liudmyla Monastyrska and pianist Anna Fyodorova.

This is particularly relevant as the city of Edinburgh begins to welcome war refugees from Ukraine aboard the cruise ship Victoria, where they will receive temporary accommodation and provisions while more suitable longer-term accommodation is found.

I wish everyone who organizes, watches and performs at all the festivals this year the best, and I look forward to enjoying as many of them as possible.

Angus Robertson is the SNP MSP for Central Edinburgh and the Secretary for Constitution, External Affairs and Culture

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