Classical music isn’t just where you think it is. There are festivals in all manner of locations beyond where you would guess. If you thought Baroque music would be hard to find in Florida, or that all the Britten was in Britain, we’ve got a lot of news for you. Here we’ve put together just a few highlights in classical festivals coming up in the months ahead.
Spanning the art forms and lasting a whole month, Hong Kong Arts Festival is a spectacular thing indeed. Opera highlights include Einstein on the Beach and Hing-yan Chan’s Heart of Coral, and a ballet pick is ten performances from American Ballet Theatre. Several programmes from the Australian Chamber Orchestra and chamber music from Quatuor Ébène are just a few of the significant concert events also programmed. Maybe most eye-catching, though, is a “Britten 100 Project” – three concerts devoted entirely to Benjamin Britten in his centenary year, perhaps puncturing the myth once and for all that Britten is an exclusively British phenomenon.
It may not be till August, but Grafenegg festival is already worth browsing – there will be a spectacular number of top performers, from artistic director and pianist Rudolf Buchbinder (four times) to the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra as well as two concerts from the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra with soloists Anne-Sophie Mutter and Yuja Wang. Composer in residence this year is Brett Dean, who will be giving masterclasses as well as hearing a number of his own pieces in action – including the première of a newly-commissioned Trumpet Concerto, with the resident Tonkünstler-Orchester and Håkan Hardenberger. It’s major music, but in a surprising location, set in the grounds of an Austrian castle, with the spectacular open-air Wolkenturm auditorium as the orchestral concerts’ futuristic home.
The Mozartwoche Salzburg, running for a week from late January, has a truly remarkable programme both in terms of the artists involved (Rattle, Aimard, Jansen, Vienna Phil), and the music being played. There is a central thread of Mozart running through it, but the festival seems not so much restricted to Mozart’s music as inspired by it: a staged production of Lucio Silla, a teen work of Mozart’s, is counterpointed to concert performances of both J.C. Bach and Pasquale Anfossi’s operas on the same subject, for instance. There is also a focus on the music of Johannes Maria Staud, with seven concerts featuring his music, including one with Ensemble Intercontemporain and George Benjamin.
A fairly new event on the British festival scene is the fourth Brandenburg Choral Festival, which has already started and runs all the way through to May. Seventy-one choirs will be performing in ten central London locations. It’s pretty tough to pick out individual highlights from as sizeable and varied a programme as theirs (though Suzi Digby’s Creation and some Britten from Tiffin Boys’ Choir both look very exciting) – suffice it to say that you will not be wanting for choral music in London in the first five months of 2013, whatever you want to hear.
Heidelberg Spring Festival comprises a standalone String Quartet Festival in January as well as the festival proper in March, both in the beautiful city where Schumann chose music over a career in law, which was also inspiration for figures as diverse as Goethe, Turner and Mark Twain. As well as a top set of performers (Joshua Bell and the Academy of St Martin in the Fields, Grigory Sokolov, the exciting young organist Cameron Carpenter), the festival hosts a Lied Academy taught by Thomas Hampson, making it a top location for blossoming singers as well as listeners.
Off the beaten track
Likewise combining beautiful surroundings, top professional stars and an emphasis on nurturing emerging talent is Sommets Musicaux de Gstaad, a festival set in three beautiful churches in and around Gstaad, a glamorous town and ski resort that attracts the cream of Swiss high society. This year has a focus on the cello, with the renowned Mario Brunello mentoring eight young cellists as well as performing himself; each will each give a recital, which in all cases will include a new short piece by composer in residence Nicolas Bacri. It’s an escape not just from the city, but from the classical music festival mainstream, with a different set of names to those you’ll find elsewhere but certainly no compromise on quality. And there’s room for performances from Elisabeth Leonskaja and Andreas Scholl as well.
Another chance to enjoy classical music in the snow is offered by the Vinterfestspill, in the central Norwegian town of Røros. It’s an old copper mining town known for its local gourmet food, and the range of snow-based activities on offer in the area is (almost) enough to tempt one away, momentarily, from their excellent and quirky selection of concerts, organised by the artistic director, Nash Ensemble violinist Marianne Thorsen. Appearances from the Trondheim Soloists look particularly intriguing, as does a performance of Peter Maxwell Davies’ Cinderella.
Scandinavia is home to several more enticing festivals as well: the Savonlinna Opera Festival, running from July to August, brings top-quality opera to this beautiful and historic Finnish town. They’re celebrating both the Wagner and Verdi anniversaries in 2013, as well as Saint Saëns’ Samson et Dalila, and there’s a children’s opera (The Seal) as well. They are also welcoming the Mikhailovsky Opera company for two productions in the final week. Oslo International Church Festival, meanwhile, will host such performers as The Tallis Scholars, the Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra, and a closing concert from the Gabrieli Consort & Players, and will welcome a fantastically diverse range of music both old and new.
Iceland Symophony Orchestra’s Tectonics festival has the emphasis strongly on the new. In Reykjavik’s stunning Harpa Concert Hall, this three-day festival will focus on experimental music and art, challenging conventions and breaking some new concert-hall ground. The Orchestra’s music director is Ilan Volkov, who will lead the way with avant-garde legend Christian Wolff as guest of honour, reprising the collaboration which also resulted in the remarkable John Cage Night at last year’s BBC Proms.
If you can’t make it to any of this year’s Schubertiade, the brilliant, mammoth celebration of Schubert’s music which happens throughout the year in the Austrian towns of Hohenems and Schwarzenberg, then the St Barnabas Schubert Festival will cater for those Schubertophiles stuck in London in late January. Twelve hours of Schubert’s chamber music will be played by a total of 55 different musicians in St Barnabas Church in the west London borough of Ealing.
While there’s plenty going on across the board, perhaps particularly impressive is the number of festivals specifically celebrating Baroque music, all of which are curated with real care. London alone has two of note in the spring: the London Handel Festival arrives in March and April, and Lufthansa Festival of Baroque Music is in Westminster in May.
The London Handel Festival, directed by Laurence Cummings, has a habit of thinking outside the standard Handelian box, particularly when it comes to dramatic works. No Giulio Cesares here, but rather a staged Imeneo, the oratorios Il trionfo del tempo e del disinganno and La Resurrezione, Telemann’s Orpheus, and Johann Adolf Hasse’s Lucio Papirio Dittatore with lesser-known Baroque specialists Ensemble Serse. The LHF is also all about promoting new talent in early music: it features a large number of London conservatoire stars, and hosts the famed Handel Singing Competition. Last year’s winner, mezzo Anna Starushkevych, is performing in four events there this year. Besides regular concerts the festival offers curated walks to learn more about Handel and the areas of London related to him, from visiting Hawksmoor's finest churches to discovering how Handel upset the authorities and discovered the infamous slum of St Giles.
Lufthansa Festival features a number of important international Baroque stars – Gabrieli Consort & Players, a solo recital from harpsichordist Andreas Staier – and they are being drawn together around the theme of nature. Hence, we will have pastoral lute songs and duets with lutenist Elizabeth Kenny, the festival’s first Four Seasons for 20 years, and various lectures and walking tours as well.
Two more Handel festivals take place in Germany: the Göttingen International Handel Festival, happening this May, also headlines with Cummings, who will conduct a première staged production of Siore, Re di Persia, a work never before heard in Göttingen despite the town’s close association with Handel’s operas. This opera ties in to the festival’s theme: “Orient”, which will also see the ensemble La Tirata explore western Europe’s phase of “Turkomania” in a carefully arranged chamber recital. There is something from yet further east in the form of Ensemble Babar Layar, bringing their gamelan to the festival, to perform Javanese music and a personal Handel tribute.
Handel Festival Halle, meanwhile, is in early June and boasts perhaps the most direct link to its featured composer, taking place in the town of his birth. Its theme of “Power and Music” allows for another varied line-up, with productions including Almira, Alessandro and Judas Maccabaeus alongside numerous instrumental concerts. A particularly enticing event is Il Pianto d’Orfeo, a dance project including music by four Baroque composers, which is being performed by the Lauttern Company. Boston Early Music Festival offer another chance to hear Almira if you happen to find yourself on the other side of the Atlantic this June, and the rest of the festival welcomes such Baroque luminaries as Dame Emma Kirkby, Hilliard Ensemble and Jordi Savall; as ever, it’s not to be missed for those enthusiastic for this repertoire.
For those who like their Baroque music with a palm tree or two, though, there is surely nowhere better to be than Coral Gables, Florida, for the 14th International Tropical Baroque festival. This year it has an Italian flavour, either through its performers or their repertoire – even local group Brass Miami are playing an all-Italian programme at the yearly Fireworks Concert. More highlights include a brace of concerts from the ensemble Fuoco e Cenere and their director, violist Jay Bernfeld, and one from Le Poème Harmonique, who will be transporting their audience “From the Streets to the Palaces” of 17th-century Venice. As if anyone needs to be transported from Florida, at a festival timed to take place in the sun.