Classical music festivals offer sumptuous summer entertainment

This year, the lineups for the standout classical music festivals around the country and the world are an exiting treat for classical enthusiasts. From California to New York to Salzburg, conductors like Esa-Pekka Salonen, Lorin Maazel, and Alan Gilbert will lead ensembles such as the Vienna Philharmonic, Boston Symphony, and the New York Philharmonic. 

Hoang Dinh Nama/AFP/Getty Images/Newscom
Music Director Alan Gilbert of New York Philharmonic teaches performance skill to Hanoi Conservatory students as he conducts students playing Beethoven's Symphony No. 7 at the conservatory in Hanoi on October 14, 2009. Gilbert will direct the New York Philharmonic at the Bravo! Vail Valley Music Festival from June 26-August 3.

There are specific times when I wish I had a teleporter/something that travels at the speed of light. A lot of the time these moments come along when I’m running late or when I’m feeling especially lazy. But the majority of the time, it’s when I want to be in multiple places at once. Technically that would be impossible, but I would definitely get close. One of those times is definitely right around now—summer music festival season.

 This year, the lineups for the standout festivals around the country (and world) are worthy of this said machine. From California to New York to Salzburg, conductors like Esa-Pekka Salonen, Lorin Maazel, and Alan Gilbert will lead ensembles such as the Vienna Philharmonic, Boston Symphony, and the New York Philharmonic. Music by HK Gruber, John Cage, Bruckner, Alban Berg, Peter Brook, and many, many others will fill the stages. The festivals that are available this year bring together these great performers and music seamlessly. Instead of jumping from venue to venue, atmosphere to atmosphere, steady streams of performances are what make these festivals some of the most exciting classical events of the year.

   The west half of the US is bursting with summer music festivals that, judging by the programs, all are worth visiting. The Colorado Music Festival (June 25-August 5) at the Chautauqua Auditorium in Boulder is studded with classical stars, such as the soprano Kelley O’Connor and violinists Henning Kraggerud and James Ehnes, as well as jazz icons like Marcus Roberts and Chris and Dave BrubeckPatrick Zimmerli, the jazz-classical hybrid composer, will have his “Festival Overture,” commissioned by the CMF, premiered. Marcel Tyberg's (1893-1944) completion of Schubert’s “Unfinished” Symphony 67 years after its completion will be performed. The Brubecks will also hear their work, “Ansel Adams: America,” the one movement symphonic tribute to the photographer, performed at the festival.

Also in Colorado is the Bravo! Vail Valley Music Festival (June 26-August 3) in Vail Valley. Pianist Anne-Marie McDermott is the artistic director of the festival for the first time this year, and three resident orchestras are taking the stage: the New York Philharmonic, the Philadelphia Orchestra, and the Dallas Symphony OrchestraGabriel Kahane, the New York-ian composer/singer-songwriter (his piece “Craigslistlieder” is for sure worth a listen, as are many others) is the composer-in-residence. The festival is organized into ten different themes, some of them being “Beethoven: Architect of Humanity,” “Golden Twilight: The Music of Mahler,” and “Big Music for Little Bands.”

 Further west is the Ojai Music Festival (June 9-12) in Ojai, California. Though the festival is short compared to others, it packs a lot into one weekend. The soprano Dawn Upshaw is the director of the festival for its 65th  season, and she’s brought along the Australian Chamber Orchestra, Peter Sellars, the percussion group red fish blue fish, and many other performers. Maria Schneider will perform works TBA with her orchestra, and her commissioned piece, “Winter Morning Walks,” will be premiered by the Australian Chamber Orchestra, Upshaw, and conductor Richard Tognetti (the ACO and Tognetti will perform works by other composers throughout the weekend, including Crumb, Webern, Scelsi, Bach, and Tognetti himself). George Crumb’s “The Winds of Destiny,” from his American Songbook IV, will be premiered as a staged work staged by Peter Sellars.

 The east half of the US is also going to be seeing some wonderful festivals this summer. The Lincoln Center Festival (July 5-August 14) is the first of two festivals at Lincoln Center (the second  is the Mostly Mozart festival) and features theater, music, dance, opera, and visual art. Directed by Nigel Redden, the festival focuses on innovative programs and bringing unique works to viewers. This year, the premiere of Peter Brook’s direction of Mozart’s “The Magic Flute” is at the front of the program. Brook has changed the story and moved around the music to create a modern, youthful version of the classic; because of this new version, the LCF performance is being called "A Magic Flute." Another part of the festival that is sure to draw large audiences is the Cleveland Orchestra’s “Bruckner: (R)evolution.” The orchestra’s program will include symphonies by Bruckner.  As conductor Franz Welser-Möst “freshly reimagines” Bruckner’s music, he will be “illuminating” it with works by John Adams. The Royal Danish Orchestra will perform, as will Tom Zé. Poul Ruders’s opera, “Selma Jezková,” based on Lars Von Trier’s film Dancer in the Dark, will also have its North American premiere.

The Glimmerglass Festival (July 2-August 23) will also be held in New York but will have a much less metropolitan feel than the LCF.  “Carmen,” “Medea,” “Annie Get Your Gun,” “A Blizzard On Marblehead Neck,” and “Later the Same Evening” will be performed throughout the two months at Glimmerglass’ Alice Busch Opera Theater. “A Blizzard on Marblehead Neck” was composed by Jeanine Tesori as her first operatic composition. The work will be premiered at Glimmerglass and is about an episode in the playwright Eugene O’Neill’s life. “Later the Same Evening,” composed by John Musto, is a one-act opera that was inspired by five Edward Hopper paintings. If you live, or are visiting, Illinois, you’ll want to check out the Ravinia Festival (July 27-August 19) in Highland Park. The Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s summer residency is having its 75th  anniversary, and they’re bringing in James Conlon as the music director. He will conclude a Mahler Cycle with “Das klagende Lied” and will also present Puccini’s “Tosca.” Lang Lang and André Watts will be featured in performances of Liszt, to commemorate his bicentennial, as well as works by Berlioz, Wagner, and Brahms. The CSO will perform Beethoven, Tchaikovsky, and the score to “The Lord of the RingsThe Fellowship of the Ring.” A commission from Nico Muhly for the 5 Browns and commissions from Rufus Wainwrightwill also be performed.

But the majority of concert goers don’t live in America. The lineup of festivals from Europe is equally astounding and worth looking at. The Grafenegg Festival (August 19-September 7) in Austria is presented at the Grafenegg Castle and grounds. The Tonkünstler Orchestra will be the orchestra-in-residence, and The Paris Orchestra, Vienna Philharmonic, Royal Concertgebouw, Pittsburgh Symphony (with Anne-Sophie Mutter, who was the NYPhil’s artist-in-residence this season), Israel Philharmonic, Seoul Philharmonic, and Philadelphia Orchestra (with Janine Jansen) will be the other featured ensembles with Rudolf Buchbinder as the artistic director. HK Gruber will be the festivals composer-in-residence, lead the three-day composer-conductor workshop “Ink Still Wet,” and have his “Northwind Pictures” premiered.

Another Austrian festival, the Salzburg Festival (July 27-August 30), is characterized in Gramophone Magazine as “the Big One—the festival to which most other European festivals aspire…” The festival this year will include conductors Riccardo Muti, Christian Thielemann, Esa-Pekka Salonen, Ingo Metzmacher, Pierre Boulez, Gustavo Dudamel, Daniel Barenboim, and Sir Simon Rattle (that’s pretty dang superstar). Verdi’s “Macbeth,” Strauss’s “Die Frau Ohne Schatten,” Janáček’s “The Makropulos Affair,” Stravinsky's "Le Rossingnol," Tchaikovsky's "Iolanta," and Mozart’s “The Marriage of Figaro,” “Don Giovanni,” and “Cosi fan tutte” (the three operas in which Mozart collaborated with Lorenzo Da Ponte) will be the chosen works for the operatic section of the festival. The music program “The Fifth Continent” will include Nono’s “Prometeo,” Cage’s “Ryoanji,” Salvatore Sciarrino’s “Macbeth,” and Feldman’s “Neither.” Mahler symphonies and songs will also be performed. The resident Vienna Philharmonic will perform along with the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra, Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Berlin Philharmonic, and others.

And, of course, we can’t forget the (BBC) Proms (July 16-September 11). Since the Proms, which is a collection of daily classical concerts (over 70) in London’s Royal Albert Hall, are so immense and jam-packed with countless performers and orchestras, it’s almost impossible to overview them—definitely go to the Prom website to see what interests you if you are able to attend. A few concerts that look exciting to me are Prom 5 (Messiaen, Dusapin, Beethoven), Prom 30 (Gabriel Prokofiev), Prom 34 (Bridge, Holt, Dupré, Saint-Saëns), Prom 36 (Reich), Prom 43 (Copland, Bax, Barber, Bartók, Prokofiev), and Proms Saturday Matinee 4 (Tippett, Tavener, Gubaidulina)—though, if the opportunity to attend every single one arose, I would take it in a second.

Elena blogs at Neo Antennae.


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