REVIEW – Virgin Money Fireworks Concert, Princes Street Gardens

Virgin Money Fireworks Concert, Princes Street Gardens

Sunday 4th September 2011

Across the city people wait for the event that will fill the sky above Edinburgh castle, stationed where there are screens and speakers or just a grand view and a radio. In Princes Street Gardens, on a bench near a large screen and a large speaker, with Castle Rock looming promisingly above, a couple from Brazil here especially for this Fireworks Concert that ends the Edinburgh International Festival enthuse about the beauty of Edinburgh and the friendliness and culture of her people. The city’s Scottish Chamber Orchestra tunes up while test flares from the castle mark the concert countdown, already greeted by cheers that punctuate the excited murmurs of the thousands gathered in the gardens.

Now the young girl who won a competition to start the concert, the first to be sponsored by Virgin Money, appears on the screen – you can see her concentration as she stands ready, box with button in hand. Garry Walker raises his hands, ready to conduct and . . .

The first notes punch out – Glinka’s Overture to ‘Ruslan and Ludmila’ – and volleys of colour shoot into the sky against the background of the castle. As the notes soar and waltz, so too do the stars and fans of the fireworks, in glorious pink-reds, gold and silver, with accents of green, in sparkles and whizzes beautifully timed with the music, building to a glorious crescendo of red and orange blooming right over the gardens, reaching down for you. This is real ‘3D‘ viewing!

In keeping with the 2011 EIF theme, the closing concert has an exotic flavour with music inspired by Asia, Arabia and the East. Announcements before each section help place the music, that rousing opening coming from an opera where the hero saves his lady from an evil wizard – especially apt for magic exploding above your head. Next comes Sibelius’ Belshazzar’s Feast, the Oriental Procession piece, where you can feel “the opulence and the foreboding of the writing on the wall”. The first quiet strains start small stars along the castle walls which build in a beautiful continuous flow of “opulent” multi colours, joined by orange and pink lit smoke, with green, red and silver sparks, fountains spraying and golden rain falling, until all too suddenly, “forebodingly” only the smoke is left, drifting silently away.

Now you witness a “caravan crossing the Asian desert and disappearing” as Borodin’s In the Steppes of Central Asia twines its way around the gardens, with gentle flares and fountains, green stars and gold sprinklers above. Fans of the musical ‘Kismet’ can recognise the lilting refrain of this source for Sands of Time playing with stronger notes and rocketing blooms, sparkling streams crossing each other and the repeated soothing flow of those firework fountains. Now the concert’s iconic and glorious waterfall cascades in brilliant light over the rocks before the caravan fades into the green smoked distance, orange fountains against black night the dying embers of its passage.

Time for the dances! Nielsen’s Blackmoor’s Dance from his ‘Aladdin Suite’ brings excitement and long rockets and sprays, busy purples, reds and greens, silver and gold sparks and explosions of green and blue, groupings and golden fans, swirling twists and fireflies in a frenetic canopy of movement. A rather long break follows this, for re-setting after such wonders, perhaps, but then the familiar beauty of Tchaikovsky’s ‘The Nutcracker’ paints a subtly drawn and fascinatingly coloured picture. With coffee from Arabia, fanned flames are thrown from points along the castle’s walls, pulsing in marvellous rhythm to this Arabian Dance against orange-gold smoke, the colours and tambourine rattles practically creating the aroma of rich coffee. The very recognisable trots of the Chinese Dance bring us tea in a delightful multitude of red stars shooting up and across, before another break (and passing train) leads us into the Trepak, the Russian Dance, another favourite for many, here bringing sweet candy canes of red and green sparks and golden rain, very quick, full of leaps and twirls, and very well-synced.

The final piece now (with groans at that announcement), and it’s back to Borodin and more fantastic movement in his Polovtsian Dances from the unfinished ‘Prince Igor‘. Those who know ‘Kismet’ will hear ’A Stranger in Paradise’ in this quiet start, small gold and pink flames and flares leading into flickering smoke. White and green single stars shoot up, fountains flow, sparking across the rocks, green and pink whirls join the strengthening dance (a spot of Kismet’s Not Since Nineveh tantalises) then golden rain and a great smoke canopy, slim fountains, multi colours, fading and returning, teasing and satisfying with great exploding flowers balanced against single stars, criss-crossing and slow dancing, swells and sparkles, silver and gold, white and blue, glittering trails and glorious bursts. Flakes fall, dotting the eager upturned faces and the night sky becomes an explosion of mesmerising light, the booms felt through your very flesh. This is the Edinburgh International Festival Finale.

For such an evening of glorious music and spectacular fireworks (over 100,000), even the Edinburgh weather co-operates, just making sure that you appreciate such generosity by starting the first drops of teasing rain as the last sparks of airborne fire light the city. While you make your way out of the gardens, in communion with the others with whom you have shared this experience, you hear someone say that this was the first time they were in the gardens for the concert – and they would now never see it from anywhere else. You smile and plan for next year.

By Danielle Farrow

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