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August 2015
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16 Summer Music Festivals You Should Visit


Though the ‘regular’ performance season has ended, you don’t have to stop enjoying live performances. Summer festivals across the globe allow you to experience great performances with the artists you love all year long. Here are 15 festivals you should check out this summer. Can’t hop on a plane to Provence? Don’t worry. WFMT is taking you to festivals all around the world all month long. Tune into Mornings with Carl Grapentine weekdays at 9:00 for a musical trip to Montréal, Salzburg, and beyond.

1. Festival International d’Art Lyrique d’Aix-en-Provence


The Festival d’Aix-en-Provence was founded in a postwar burst of creative activity in France that also led to the establishment of the Cannes Film Festival and the Festival d’Avignon. Though other classical programming is included as part of the festivities, the highlight of Aix-en-Provence in the summertime has always been the operas produced by the Festival. It is ranked alongside Bayreuth, Salzburg, and Glyndebourne as one of Europe’s great opera festivals, and draws tens of thousands of attendees from around the world each year.

2. Aldeburgh Festival


The Aldeburgh Festival was founded by residents (and musical power couple) Benjamin Britten and Peter Pears in 1948, intended to be “a modest festival with a few concerts given by friends.” Since then, the Aldeburgh Festival has grown to become one of the UK’s most popular musical getaways. Aldeburgh is a small coastal town in Suffolk that was the basis for the setting of Peter Grimes, Britten’s most famous opera. In fact, in 2013, the Aldeburgh Festival staged an open-air performance of Peter Grimes on the very beach that inspired the opera.


3. Bang on a Can Summer Music Festival


Affectionately called “Banglewood” by its participants, Bang on a Can is a contemporary music festival which takes place in the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art in North Adams, MA. Since 2002, the festival has been run by the eponymous new music organization, with artistic directors David Lang, Julia Wolfe, and Michael Gordon at the helm. Daily performances are given in the Museum galleries and are free to visitors with admission.


4. Bard Music Festival and SummerScape


Held on the campus of Bard College in New York, the Bard Music Festival is unique in its microscopic focus on the works of just one composer per season. Lectures and presentations accompany these performances to contextualize the music played, and at the end of each festival, a commemorative book about the composer is published by Princeton University Press. Bard SummerScape, an arts festival which runs in tandem with the music festival, features other works that further illuminate the subject of the music festival. Now in its 26th season, this year’s festival spotlights the work of Carlos Chavez.


5. Bayreuth Festspiele


From the beginning, the Bayreuth Festspiele was the brainchild of composer and impresario Richard Wagner, whose works are at the center of the festival. He even supervised the design and construction of the Festspielhaus, where all performances take place. When the first Bayreuth Festival was put on in 1876, it was an immediate hit among Europe’s musical elite. It’s been popular among opera aficionados ever since: the average wait for tickets is 10 years (!).


6. The BBC Proms


The BBC Proms is perhaps one of the most accessible summer music festivals – at least via broadcast. For years, daily Proms concerts have been broadcast by BBC Radio, and more recently, televised on the BBC network. After their initial air-date, many concerts enjoy a second life on YouTube, making Proms performances available to music lovers all over the globe. The Proms are named after the public “promenade concerts” given in pleasure gardens during the 18th and 19th centuries. For some, the Proms is more than a concert: it’s a way of life. The most dedicated attendees are called “Prommers,” known for waiting in line – often for many hours – to buy cheaper, standing-room-only tickets.


7. Carmel Bach Festival


The Carmel Bach Festival, in Carmel-by-the-Sea, California, has been going strong since 1935. One of the nation’s oldest and longest running music festivals, the Carmel Bach Festival offers a laid back alternative to those who enjoy early music, but who feel that early music festival can often be a bit dry and dusty. You can hike Big Sur by day and attend candle lit concerts in the historic Carmel Mission Basilica, built in 1771, by night. The Festival currently hosts two weeks of performances featuring some of today’s most established early music professionals from around the world in large scale concerts and intimate chamber recitals. This year, opera returned to the Festival, with a semi-staged performance of Mozart’s beloved opera The Magic Flute.

8. Festival Pucciniano


The Festival Pucciniano is to Puccini as Bayreuth is to Wagner. In other words, it’s a summer festival dedicated entirely to the operas of Puccini. The festival is held in an open-air performance space in Torre del Lago, Italy, overlooking Massaciuccoli Lake. The festival’s location that is special on two counts: not only did Puccini write some of his most famous operas there, but he is interred at the house in which he worked and lived, called the Villa Puccini. According to the festival’s website, Torre del Lago’s locals adored Puccini so much that Torre del Lago was renamed Torre del Lago Puccini.


9. Festival Virée classique OSM

OSM Maison symphonique

“Classical music for all” is the mantra of the Orchestre symphonique de Montréal (OSM)’s summer festival – Festival Virée classique OSM. Over the course of just a few days in August, over 200 musicians perform 30 concerts, each lasting 45 minutes – an appropriate length of time for classical beginners and seasoned aficionados. Each year, OSM Music Director Kent Nagano kicks off the festival with a free open-air concert at Olympic Park. The OSM Classical Spree Festival promises to expose today’s major classical performers to a wide audience in one of the world’s centers for art, music, and culture.


10. Glyndebourne Festival Opera


Held on the grounds of a scenic, 16th-century English manor house in East Sussex, Glyndebourne Festival Opera is one of the world’s most popular opera festivals. Before the formal establishment of the Festival, operas were staged salon-style in the manor’s organ room. A 300-seat auditorium was constructed for the opening festival in 1934, and it only continued to expand over the years. Now, performances are given in a large, free-standing opera house built on the grounds in 1994.


11. Lucerne Festival


Since 1938, the Lucerene Festival has been held in the heart of Switzerland. During World War II, it provided an outlet for artists who did not wish to perform in music festivals in Nazi Germany. Many visiting orchestras play at the festival, but most performances are put on by its resident orchestras, the ad-hoc Lucerne Festival Orchestra and Lucerne Festival Strings. In 2004, Pierre Boulez added a pedagogical element to the festival with his creation of the Lucerne Festival Academy, which trains musicians in the performance of contemporary music.


12. Ojai Music Festival


Ojai Music Festival is one of the more adventurous music festivals out there, and one of the briefest. For only four days in June, performances and symposia are given which emphasize contemporary music, underperformed works, and other novelties. But Ojai was not always this way: it’s hard to believe now, but it was originally imagined as a “Salzburg Festival of the West.” It remains one of the most famous music festivals of its kind in the world, having drawn esteemed living composers like Thomas Ades and Oswaldo Golijov as resident artists, among many others.


13. Pacific Music Festival


The Pacific Music Festival was founded by Leonard Bernstein at the very end of his life, in 1990. Held in Sapporo, Japan, the purpose of the festival is partly pedagogical. Performers from major international orchestras flock to the festival to provide a month of instruction to pre-professional musicians. Together, professionals and students give concerts together, be it in the festival orchestra or in chamber groups.


14. Salzburg Festival


Held annually in Mozart’s birthplace, the Salzburg Festival is considered one of world’s most prestigious music festivals. Operas, plays, and performances crowd the five- to six-week-long festivities in a series of highly polished and publicized performances every year. A yearly tradition is the staging of Austrian writer Hugo van Hoffsmanthal’s play Jedermann, which kicked off the inaugural festival in 1920.


15. Santa Fe Opera and Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival


Since its inception in 1957, Santa Fe Opera has been one of the premier summer opera festivals in the United States. Because of its founding philosophy of adventurous and commissioned programming, the festival has become particularly known for its U.S.- and world-premiere productions. But the Santa Fe Opera is not the city’s only music festival: the Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival also runs from mid-July to mid-August, and shares its operatic counterpart’s propensity for new and commissioned works.


16. Spoleto – USA and Italy


The Spoleto Festival is truly one-of-a-kind, because it’s not just one festival – it’s two! Appropriately, the European festival – held in Spoleto, Italy – is called the Festival dei Due Mondi (Festival of the Two Worlds), a name given by Italian-American founder and composer Gian Carlo Menotti. He searched for a city to hold the twin festival, and picked Charleston, South Carolina in 1977.  Many a household name played at the Spoleto festivals early in their careers, including Renee Fleming, Sviatoslav Richter, Jacqueline de Pre, Joshua Bell, Emmanuel Ax, and the Emerson String Quartet.

  • Sonia Csaszar

    Thank you, Carl! Great idea to bring these festivals in the morning time. The best excuse to postpone going to the exercise room!

  • Jeffro Smith

    What an incredible way to mix media. I love the current Studs Terkel Radio Archive, and I’m excited for what comes next.

  • Elaine Sweeney Pagels

    Bravo….what a collaboration!

  • Rip Van Wiseacre

    “Terkelian” is a wonderful adjective.