15,000 free tickets to the epic outdoor digital and live performance were snapped up by audiences joining the International Festival for its annual opening event.
Anna Meredith composed the 25- minute work structured in five movements, each one focused on an aspect of communication during World War One, with some surprising similarities drawn to contemporary communication. Collaborating closely with Meredith, Richard Slaney of 59 Productions created and directed the multi-media show with spectacular light and projections mapped onto the façade of Usher Hall.
The first movement Spin, explored the disparity between reality and public communications and the impact of that distorted reality during the First World War. Vivid colours created ribbons which spiralled over the building fusing into a hypnotic clock ticking away to the relentless building score by Meredith. The words Brave, Magnificent, Success and Increase flashed up faster and larger before spiralling out of control.
Performers emerged scattered among the audience in the second movement, Field Postcards, echoing the voices of the young men writing home from the Front. The movement opened with strands of fiery light running up the front of Usher Hall flowing in a rich and gentle wash of voices and music into words from telegrams – I am well, I am wounded – layered across the building to the emotional and poignant score.
Redaction, explored the impact of the reduction and redaction of personal communication from the frontline. Strips of brightly coloured projections were peeled back one by one, as black blocks interrupted the bold colours until there was just the skeleton of the idea left, illustrated by spare euphonium chords played live by two young players positioned within the crowd.
Strong geometrical shapes also dominated the fourth movement Codes which explored visual codes, patterns and the deconstruction of mass information – each informing the frantic rhythmic energy of the score, with virtuosic antiphonal trumpet and snare ensembles going hell for leather either side of the hall, and eye-catching strobes broadcasting outwards from the very top of the Hall.
The final movement, Armistice, underlined the magnitude and weight of the conflict, an eerie stillness starts with solo cello lines which build as sound and light grow to a huge emotional climax before disappearing into a hollow resolution as the young performers processed into the light.
Katie Murphy (21), one of the young people who signed up to be part of the flashmob described the experience: “It was brilliant. It was exhilarating . I’ve never performed in front of that many people before, and I can’t get over the opportunity. It’s also been so amazing working with people who care so much about their job.”
Tsanislava Andreeva (25) added: “It was outstanding. The opportunity to work with so many people was brilliant. I also graduated from the Edinburgh College of Art so to wear something made from a graduate was a huge honour, as I appreciate the hard work gone into it. It was an absolutely incredible experience.”
In addition to the young people who took active roles in realising every aspect of the event, over 2,000 young people came to experience the event from across the city, including those who were supported by the International Festival team to overcome significant barriers to enjoy the experience, with some making the journey into the city centre for the first time.
Fergus Linehan, Director of the Edinburgh International Festival said:“Tonight’s performance was an extraordinary partnership between Aberdeen Standard Investments, Scottish Government’s Year of Young People, 14-18 NOW, the University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh College of Art and BBC Proms, but at the heart of it was the remarkable vision of Anna Meredith and Richard Slaney who delivered an evening which I am sure will live long in the memories of the 15000 people who were here with us tonight.”
59 Productions’ Richard Slaney, Director of Five Telegrams, said: “Opening the 2018 International Festival with Five Telegrams was a privilege and a profoundly emotional experience. Bringing the talents of local young people right to the heart of the show, amongst the 15,000-strong crowd, was particularly thrilling to watch. Their performances gave the show an unexpected, moving, but most importantly, hopeful dimension. It felt like the perfect way to kick off this year’s Festival.”
Anna Meredith, composer of Five Telegrams, said: “It has been such a privilege to work on such a massive project with incredible partners and collaborators. It’s been over a year of intense work for myself and Richard and it was important to find the right way into this piece, but I am so proud of what we came up with. I am proud of how strong it is and our belief in the creative energy and relevance of this. Thank you to the International Festival for being so creative with this reimagined new version, and I’ve been blown away by the energy passion and commitment of the participants, musicians and choir members, it has been so moving. It has been daunting and exciting to have had such a huge audience and I hope they can take as much or as little away from it as they want and it offers, see it at face value or dive under the skin of it like Rich and I have. That is one of the wonderful things about it.”
Paul Bush OBE, VisitScotland’s Director of Events, said: “We were delighted to once again support the opening event of the world-renowned Edinburgh International Festival as part of Scotland’s Year of Young People 2018 celebrations. Marking the first co-commission for 59 Productions and Scottish composer Anna Meredith, Five Telegrams provided capacity audiences with a bold, visually innovative and thought-provoking feast for the senses.”
“Events of this scale and ambition not only reinforce Scotland as the perfect stage for events but they enable opportunities for wider participation, collaboration and dialogue. Our support enabled young people with the opportunity to play a central role both behind the scenes and on the night itself and I’m sure their experiences of being part of a world-class event will ensure a lasting legacy.”