August 14, 2010 / 1:48 PM / in 7 years

South American rhythm sets beat at Edinburgh fest

EDINBURGH (Reuters) - The throb and rhythm of Latin America helped launch this year’s Edinburgh International Festival, with a sell-out performance of American composer John Adams’s Nativity oratorio “El Nino.”

“El Nino” -- the Christ Child -- was the festival’s opening concert on Friday night in the refurbished Usher Hall, an appropriate start to a program focused on music, theater, song and dance from the Americas and across the Pacific Ocean.

The International Festival (EIF), started in 1947, combines with the Fringe, already a week old, and the International Book Festival, which opened its doors on Saturday.

Together they provide one of the world’s biggest and most diverse annual celebrations of the arts.

Australian Jonathan Mills has explored various aspects of the performing arts since taking over as the EIF director in 2007. This year, he said, the festival was following the sun westwards.

“El Nino” received a warm ovation from the audience and reviewer Michael Tumelty gave it three stars in The Herald newspaper.

He described the oratorio -- which has echoes of Handel along with a well-integrated Latin American beat -- as “a ‘Messiah’ for modern times.”

However, he criticized American James Conlon, who was conducting the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra and is musical director of the Los Angeles Opera, for lacking coordination in a piece of “precision-tooled music.” The singers came in for high praise, with Jamaican bass Willard White “in towering form.”

The program in the next few days includes Carl Heinrich Graun’s opera “Montezuma,” marking the clash between the Aztec and Spanish empires, George Gershwin’s opera “Porgy and Bess” and two of Samoan choreographer Lemi Ponifasio’s dances depicting the impact of civilization and its garbage on the seas.

The EIF offers a range of music, dance and theater productions through its closing concert on September 4, with a traditional fireworks display set to music the following night.

The Festival will pay a tribute on September 1 to conductor Sir Charles Mackerras, who had been due to conduct before his death in July. His relationship with the EIF dated back 56 years and he was appointed honorary festival president two years ago.

Following the formal tribute, the Sydney Symphony Orchestra -- with which Mackerras had a 60-year association -- will play Elgar under the baton of Vladimir Ashkenazy.

Editing by Michael Roddy

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