Hard to Be Soft: A Belfast Prayer for Edinburgh Int Festival 2019

Hard to Be Soft: A Belfast Prayer announced for 2019 Edinburgh International Festival

The Edinburgh International Festival has announced its 2019 festival programme, which promises to bring the best of theatre, music, and dance from across the world to Scotland’s capital. The global celebration of culture will include performances of ‘Hard to Be Soft: A Belfast Prayer’, from 21-23 August at the Royal Lyceum Theatre, as part of the festival’s You Are Here series – a new season of theatre, dance, and music, which offers audiences the opportunity to travel the globe in the company of artists who are challenging the status quo, asking where we are and where we are going.  

Hard to Be Soft: A Belfast Prayer, is a dance piece, about – and for – the people of Belfast. Created by Northern Irish choreographer and dancer, Oona Doherty, with music by DJ David Holmes (Killing Eve, Hunger) and produced by Prime Cut Productions, Hard to Be Soft looks behind the masks of violence and machismo to the inner lives of Belfast hard men, and strong women. 

Cast in four episodes, Hard to Be Soft features solos from Doherty herself, a warrior-like hip-hop dance group, and a choreographed wrestling match for a male duet. Using rich, sometimes unsettling imagery from Belfast street-life and religious ritual, and set inside a massive, gleaming cage, it contrasts shocking power with meditative stillness. 

The 2019 Edinburgh International Festival will take place from Friday 2 August to Monday 26 August, welcoming artists from around the world to Scotland’s ‘Festival City’. Audiences from over 80 nations are expected to travel to be part of Edinburgh’s global celebration of culture, featuring 93 events across 17 venues.

The 2019 International Festival opens with a special concert, presented by the LA Philharmonic, as part of the orchestra’s three-concert residency at the Festival. They kick off the Festival in spectacular style on Friday 2 August, with the Aberdeen Standard Investments Opening Event: LA Phil at Tynecastle

The event is a free outdoor family-friendly performance celebrating movie music, in particular the music of John Williams and Golden Age Hollywood movies, presented by the LA Phil’s Music Director, Gustavo Dudamel. The orchestra also gives two Usher Hall concerts, performing Mahler’s 2nd Symphony and the European premiere of John Adams’s new concerto, Must The Devil Have All The Good Tunes? with Chinese pianist, Yuja Wang. 

Scottish artists and ensembles featured include all of Scotland’s national performing companies – Scottish Ballet, Scottish Opera and the National Theatre of Scotland, Scottish Chamber Orchestra, Royal Scottish National Orchestra and BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra – alongside Dunedin Consort, Birds of Paradise Theatre Company, and National Youth Choir of Scotland, with Scottish soloists, including Karen Cargill and Catriona Morison. 

You Are Here is a new season of theatre, dance and music, which offers audiences the opportunity to travel the globe in the company of artists whose performances give us fresh perspectives and insights into the world around us, asking where we are and where we are going.  Artists include Serge Aime Coulibaly (Burkino Faso), Ifeoma Fafunwa (Nigeria), Robert Softley Gale (Scotland), Milo Rau (Switzerland), Oona Doherty (Northern Ireland) and Marcel Khalife (Lebanon).

In dance, Scottish Ballet gives the world premiere of The Crucible, a new ballet with choreography by Helen Pickett. Three contrasting dance works form part of the You Are Here series: Kalakuta Republik, inspired by the life of afrobeat pioneer and activist, Fela Kuti, from Burkina Faso-born choreographer, Serge Aimé Coulibaly; and Canadian Cas Public Bring 9, inspired by Beethoven’s ninth symphony, and created by Choreographer Hélène Blackburn, for performer, Cai Glover, who overcame a hearing impairment to become a professional dancer. 

Theatre includes Peter Gynt, a co-production between the International Festival and the National Theatre of Great Britain in a new version of Ibsen’s iconic story, from writer David Hare, directed by Jonathan Kent and starring Scottish actor James McArdle. Sydney Theatre Company brings the European Premiere of Kate Grenville’s The Secret River, and Internationaal Theater Amsterdam bring British director, Robert Icke’s contemporary setting of Sophocles’s Oedipus

Sir Ian McKellen returns to the International Festival with a new production celebrating his 80th birthday, Ian McKellen On Stage, and one of the UK’s best-loved performers, Stephen Fry comes to the International Festival for the first time with Mythos, a trilogy of three performances, based on his best-selling book. 

In an extensive opera programme, the International Festival presents the European premiere of Missy Mazzoli’s Breaking the Waves, in a new co-production from Opera Ventures and Scottish Opera; the UK premiere of Barrie Kosky and Komische Oper Berlin’s production of Eugene Onegin; and Wagner’s Gotterdammerung, the culmination of the International Festival’s landmark presentation of the Ring cycle, with an international cast of soloists led by American soprano Christine Goerke. Other major soloists appearing in the opera programme include Sondra Radvanovsky, Iestyn Davies, Asmik Grigorian and Sydney Mancasola. 

In classical music, world-leading orchestras perform, with concerts from the Los Angeles Phil, Orchestra and Chorus of Deutsche Oper Berlin, London Symphony Orchestra, Shanghai Symphony Orchestra and the Orchestra de Paris, amongst others. On the podium, acclaimed conductors include Sir Andrew Davis, Gustavo Dudamel, Sir John Eliot Gardiner, Daniel Harding, Sir Antonio Pappano, Sir Simon Rattle and Donald Runnicles. Celebrated soloists performing alongside Chinese pianist Yuja Wang include Scottish percussionist Colin Currie, Canadian pianist Angela Hewitt and American cellist Alisa Weilerstein. A special series of five concerts, supported by the Scottish Government’s Festivals Expo Fund, celebrates the career of Scottish composer and conductor Sir James MacMillan in his 60th birthday year, culminating in the world premiere of his Symphony No.5 Le grand inconnu.

In contemporary music, the International Festival returns to the Leith Theatre with a second series of concerts, following the success of 2018’s Light on the Shore season. Bands and solo artists appearing include Anna Calvi, Connan Mockasin, Efterklang, Sharon Van Etten, Jarvis Cocker, Teenage Fanclub, Kate Tempest, Neneh Cherry and This is the Kit. Other contemporary artists appearing include Amadou & Mariam with the Blind Boys of Alabama, Marcel Khalife and Shooglenifty. 

Experiential events see the International Festival partner with two of Edinburgh leading art spaces. Canadian artistsJanet Cardiff and George Bures Miller present Night Walk for Edinburgh, a one-on-one video walk in which the audience are guided by a specially created film through Edinburgh’s Old Town and Trisha Brown: In Plain Site in which the late US choreographer’s short dance pieces are staged amongst the landscape of West Lothian sculpture park Jupiter Artland.

The International Festival ends on Monday 26 August with the Virgin Money Fireworks Concert, which launches over 400,000 fireworks into the sky above Edinburgh Castle, choreographed to live music from the Scottish Chamber Orchestra.

Fergus Linehan, Festival Director commented: 

At the end of the first Edinburgh International Festival in 1947, conductor Bruno Walter wrote that the Festival has succeeded because “it was of the utmost importance and most to be desired that all the ties, which had been torn, should be re-united”. The 2019 International Festival launch is framed against a backdrop of division and confusion. With artists and audiences from all over the world gathering to celebrate each other’s music, theatre, dance and art, we hope that the 2019 International Festival will offer a refreshing dose of generosity, inclusiveness and optimism”.

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