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All eyes on the world's biggest arts gala

Edinburgh is set to take centre stage for the annual celebration of musical, stage and literary talent

The statistics for the Festival of British Youth Orchestras in the Festival of British Youth Orchestras are, as usual, impressive: 54 concerts in Edinburgh and Glasgow involving more than 1,500 young musicians.

The majority are aged between 12 and 18, but the participants seem to get younger with each passing year. Indeed, this year the festival is laying claim to having the youngest Fringe performer, 6-year-old Natasha Petrovic, who will play violin and dance with Malden Young Strings. And all the members of the East Dunbartonshire Primary Schools Orchestra, who will be playing in Glasgow, are under 12.

It is not only young performers who will be featured. This year also sees performances of two works composed by 17-year-olds. St Mary's Music School in Edinburgh will put on "A Monochrome Tale", a music theatre piece written by Duncan Strachan, a Dundee pupil at the school. It will be presented as part of a semi-staged double bill with Purcell's "Dido and Aeneas".

The Lydian Orchestra from Kent will feature James Long's "kaleidochimera", a saxophone concerto written for another teenager, Michael Grant, the winner of the Sevenoaks Young Musician of the Year competition last year.

Challenging repertoire is another regular feature of the festival, and this year is no exception. The biggest challenge faces the Halle Youth Orchestra. It will perform Scottish composer James MacMillan's masterly but demanding "The Confession of Isobel Gowdie", the work which made MacMillan's reputation when first presented at the Proms in 1990 .

The festival's director, Susan White, is on maternity leave, so Hester Lean, the administrator, is holding the fort in her absence.

She points out another new inclusion this year. "The Glasgow programme has a concert that we are calling "A Celebration of Scots Traditional Music, Song and Dance", which has been put together by the Ayrshire Fiddle Orchestra with a number of other groups. That will be quite different from anything we have done before, and it is nice to see different things coming into the festival," she says. "I can't see us ever doing rock bands, though. I don't know if Central Hall could cope!"

In addition to the regular wide selection of orchestras, both classical and jazz, chamber ensembles and concert bands, the programme includes youth choirs, although they are not being presented as a festival within the festival as they were last year.

"The idea of a choir festival is still in our minds," Ms Lean explains, "but we don't really know how that might develop in terms of getting further funding, which we haven't been able to do so far. Even if we can't do a fully-fledged choir programme, we hope that we can retain a choral presence in the festival."

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