A fascinating day at Edinburgh Castle – behind the scenes of the Virgin Money Fireworks Concert

I made it to the Edinburgh Castle, finally, after all those years in this wonderful city. But I didn’t just go as a tourist, I was there to have a look behind the scenes of the Virgin Money Fireworks Concert, the big finale of the Edinburgh International Festival, and my personal highlight for this Sunday. Having experienced Speed of Light while blogging for the Festival, I was now down on the list for a special treat, a music workshop with people from the Scottish Chamber Orchestra, followed by a half-an-hour long tour taking me behind the scenes of the fireworks, with loads and loads of pyrotechnics. And yes, after all that excitement and education I had the whole day to finally explore the castle and enjoy the views.

SCO Connect WorkshopAfter being treated to a student ticket for the castle, which made me feel young again, we were off to the first part, a Scottish Chamber Orchestra Connect workshop about the music of the fireworks. Although being a small group, the mix couldn’t have been better. There was me, son of a music teacher, retired DJ, arts marketer and photo geek, in the same room with kids, mums, dads and, most importantly, the friendly SCO staff. For the next hour we would learn more about the fireworks music, why it had been chosen, but most importantly, having the chance to give it a go myself. I could see myself sitting in the Princess Street Gardens tonight with the little wooden frog in my hands and accompanying the orchestra in Walton’s Suite from Henry 5. Maybe not, but I can now share my musical knowledge with fellow fireworks watchers and listeners. Pete and Lawrence from the SCO did a stunning job delivering a workshop that brought out the inner child in me, but most importantly, sparked my strong interest in music again. We got to know more about instruments, and why the pieces of music were chosen for this particular fireworks concert. Vaughan Williams Fantasia on Greensleeves was chosen as well-known tune which supposedly was written by Henry VII (although never been proven), Walton’s Orb and Sceptre as it was used for Queen Elisabeth’s coronation in 1953, Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet featuring the Dance of the Knights, and finally Walton’s epic music from Henry V. Music for dancing knights, doomed lovers and kings and queens, all chosen years ago for tonight’s concert. And our own score for Henry V (pictured), composed in less than five minutes, right up there with the big names.

Edinburgh Fireworks behind the scenesAfter the music came the pyrotechnics, with a short break in the middle. We were met at the fences to be taken down to the cave underneath the One O’Clock Gun, where the spectacle is planned in its final stages. For what the audience experiences tonight, months and months of careful planning are needed, both from the Scottish Chamber Orchestra and Pyrovision, the company behind the bangs. It was fascinating to see how many wires and explosive devices are needed, but even more fascinating was to get a glimpse at the script for tonight and and explanation on how it all works. Steve from Pyrovision showed us the match which makes it all happen, and the magic yellow box to control the fireworks. And we even got the chance to test the yellow box, with a tiny bang. The only question out of bounds was the money question, but one might presume that this is not a cheap undertaking.

Edinburgh CastleAfter so much inspiration it was time for a coffee and cake, before experiencing the rest of the castle first-hand. And a stint to the Edinburgh International Festival box office to get my ticket for tonight. Getting behind the scenes of the Fireworks concert made me realise how important it is to support those events, they ain’t happen out of the blue. Seeing the passion all those people behind the scenes put in their work makes the ticket price of £12.50 seem marginal. If I would have had the choice between castle and fireworks concert, with the latter one being the cheaper option, my choice would have been clear: Fireworks. Even better I get to see both of them, to end a stunning week of performances at the Festival, worth supporting.

And speaking about Speed of Light earlier: I managed to end my day with walking up to Arthur’s Seat with a friend again to enjoy a warmish summer’s night and runners painting pictures on the Salisbury Crags. It couldn’t have been a better day!

Pictures from the Scottish Chamber Orchestra Connect workshop can be viewed on Flickr here

Pictures from behind the scenes at the fireworks can be viewed on Flickr here

Pictures from Edinburgh Castle can viewed on Flickr here