London 2012 Festival kicks off around the UK
6/21/2012 10:31:47 AM -
A fireworks display, an inflatable Stonehenge and Jude Law will help launch the London 2012 Festival later.
The 12-week nationwide festival will bring together artists from around the world, with opening night performers including pop star Pixie Lott and conductor Gustavo Dudamel.
The five headline events include artist Jeremy Deller's inflatable Stonehenge, which comes to Carmarthen, Wales.
A pyrotechnics show will also light up the Cumbrian skies at Windermere.
The fireworks spectacular coincides with the arrival of the Olympic Torch Relay earlier in the day, and marks the world premiere of French street arts company Les Commandos Percu's new production, On the Night Shift.
In Northern Ireland, The Peace One Day Global Truce Countdown Concert takes place in Londonderry, where ambassador Jude Law will host performances from the likes of Pixie Lott, Imelda May and Newton Faulkner.
The Big Concert will see The Simon Bolivar Symphony Orchestra of Venezuela perform an open air concert against the backdrop of Scotland's Stirling Castle.
Led by one of the world's most renowned conductors, Gustavo Dudamel, they will be joined by 450 children from the notoriously troubled estate of Raploch in Stirling.
The children are part of The Big Noise - a classical music project based on Venezuela's inspirational El Sistema movement, that has helped street children from slum areas.
"This is beautiful," said Dudamel. "How music has changed this community, with the commitment of the children, the passion that they have, the discipline?
"We are so proud to be here, so happy and so honoured. It's really something big".
Fans can watch the concert live on BBC Four from 2100 BST.
The launch night will also see The City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra perform the UK premiere of Jonathan Harvey's Weltethos.
Deller's bouncy castle Stonehenge, entitled Sacrilege, will be inflated at the National Botanical Gardens in Carmarthen, before touring the UK.
More than 130 events take place in the festival's opening weekend alone, including the Radio 1 Hackney Weekend, headlined by Jay-Z and Rihanna.
Around 100,000 people are expected at the free London gig, which takes place over Saturday and Sunday.
'Value for money'
The London 2012 Festival will see more than 25,000 artists from all 204 Olympic nations take part in events across the UK.
But the current economic climate means the event's £55m price tag has attracted plenty of criticism. Festival director Ruth Mackenzie maintains it is "pretty good value for money", calling it "a once-in-a-lifetime event".
"I assure you, for a 12-week festival over the entire United Kingdom, compared to the budget for just three weeks in Edinburgh or the two weeks in Manchester, frankly it's a pretty small investment," she said.
Other highlights include comedian and musician Tim Minchin performing at The Eden Project in Cornwall and an exhibition of Olympic and Paralympic posters at London's Tate Britain in London.
Artist Martin Creed will mark the opening day of the Games on 27 July by asking people across the UK to ring a bell for three minutes from 8am.
The "large-scale artwork" will be led by the Royal Navy and bellringers, but everyone will be encouraged to get involved with anything from doorbells to bicycle bells.
'Uniting the country'
Yorkshire poet Ian McMillan has written Cycle Song, a brand new opera celebrating Scunthorpe's rich cycling history.
Next month's show will feature a community cast of 1,700 performing alongside professional opera singers and aerial artists.
McMillan admits he is gripped by Olympic fever and even has tickets for the basketball and hockey, but he says it is hard for people around the UK not to write the event off as a "London thing".
"We know it is a London thing but I think the whole country's involved in the cultural bit of it and that should be the excitement," said McMillan.
"But isn't it a shame that they call it the London 2012 Festival?" he added.
"Surely it would be better to call it the 2012 Festival? We don't need the word London, we know where it is!"
However, Festival director Mackenzie said one of the key aims of the London 2012 Festival is to unite the country and make them all feel part of the Olympic celebrations.
She told the BBC: "It is really important that Northern Ireland, which doesn't have any of the sporting events, has the opening event for the London 2012 Festival, along with Stirling in Scotland, and our friends in Birmingham and in Wales."