Six of the best: Seaside Festivals

Helen Wallace discovers some hidden treasures for your holidays

Six of the best: Seaside Festivals

Yes, it is possible to combine world-class classical music with some serious sea-swimming, and even surfing. Here are six of the best, but there are plenty of bracing opportunities for the hardier wild-swimmer at festivals in Aberystwyth, St Magnus, Deal, Cape Cod, and the Baltic Sea Festival in Stockholm. Still time to get in that last salty dip before the summer ends – on the Amalfi Coast and in Aldeburgh.



We couldn’t have a seaside festival list without Aldeburgh, the quaint resort on Suffolk’s unspoilt coast and former home of Benjamin Britten. Not that we’re talking fine sands and good snorkelling. The town beach is famously pebbly, and you may not want to linger long in the north sea, though it’s generally held that Sizewell nuclear power station up the coast takes the edge off the chill... Aldeburgh Music now operates a high-quality music programme all year round, so you can taste the first spring shock at Easter (‘Sacred and Profane’ in 2016), dive into the waves in June for the main festival, refresh yourself in between August’s Snape Proms or take a final plunge in November (Britten Weekend).

Tip: If it’s sand you’re seeking, drive up the coast to the secluded Covehithe beyond Southwold. (Snape Proms run until 31 August)


Carmel Bach Festival (near Monterey, California)

Just down the coast from Monterey, the old artist’s colony of Carmel is now the holiday haunt of Silicon Valley staffers and Hollywood executives, home to a magnificent white-sand beach and the Point Lobos Nature Reserve where seals bask, pelicans sail lazily by and, if you’re lucky, you can spot a sea otter at play. The three-week Bach Festival is a venerable institution, now under the direction of British oboist and conductor Paul Goodwin, and its Festival Orchestra and Chorale attracts fine players from all over the world, eager to spend a couple of weeks surfing and whale-watching (alongside the Bach, of course). Concerts take place in the airy Carmel Mission Basilica, and combine Bach favourites with classical symphonic music and opera performances. Look out for next year’s line-up. (16-30 July, 2016)


Pesaro (Marche, Italy)

If warm waters and coloratura set your pulse racing, head to Rossini’s charming hometown Pesaro on Italy’s Adriatic coast. The Rossini Opera Festival runs throughout August, presenting operatic rarities by the corpulent maestro alongside those of his contemporaries, featuring up-and-coming bel canto singers and the odd major star like Juan-Diego Flórez, all in the opulent Teatro Rossini. Productions may not exactly be cutting edge, but neglected scores are faithfully restored and the singing is top notch. Here you can buy the latest critical editions alongside Rossini-themed mugs, keyrings and baby clothes. Most of the operas weigh in at four hours plus, so pace yourself, and leave time to enjoy the lido Italian-style: serried ranks of sunbeds and umbrellas, espresso at the ready, toilets and showers on tap. If that all gets too claustrophobic, head north for the harder-to-reach beaches of Parco Naturale del Monte San Bartolo. (throughout August)


Ravello (near Naples, Italy)

Ravello stands 335m up atop the craggy Amalfi peninsula south of Naples, its concert stage jutting alarmingly out of the cliff-side gardens of the Villa Rufolo – identified by Wagner himself as Klingsor’s enchanted garden. It makes for some hair-raising concerts (I recall the London Symphony Orchestra's music was once torn off by a particularly stiff breeze) but offers spectacular views of the Gulf of Salerno and setting sun. The programme runs throughout the summer and features prestigious visiting ensembles (this year sees the Mahler Youth Orchestra, Berlin Philharmonic, orchestras of La Scala, Mariinsky and the European Union Youth Orchestra). As André Gide observed, it may be ‘closer to the sky than the seashore’, and there’s a hell of a lot of steps to be walked down to get to the shore, but the turquoise waters of the Mediterreanean could not be clearer or more inviting than here. (runs until 5 September 2015)


08 16 Luigi Piovano e Sir Antonio Pappano from Ravello Festival on Vimeo.



Violinist-violist duo Henning Kraggerud and Lars Anders Tomter are current directors of Risør, a fabulous midsummer festival featuring Norway’s finest musicians. Expect to see Leif Ove Andsnes, Vilde Frang, and the Norwegian Chamber Orchestra alongside high profile soloists (this year Joshua Bell dropped in). It’s a lovely white-washed fishing village on the western flanks of Oslo Fjørd, and a stop on the Hurtigbøt’s route down south. This is very much Norway’s Riviera, where Edvard Munch holidayed (in tiny Kragerø) and produced some of his least agonised paintings. Rocky coves and myriad islands made of Moomin-smooth granite have attracted sun-seekers for decades, and the weather is a lot more clement than you’d find further south in Scotland. Waters are clear, sea-life plentiful but watch out for the bloom of colourful jellyfish that can move in later in the summer… (28 June-3 July 2016)


West Cork

Truly, the beaches of West Cork take some beating – provided the sun comes out, and if it’s ever going to it’ll be that first week in July, which is when the West Cork Chamber Music Festival takes place in Bantry Bay. Fine, white sandy emptiness and azure, clear waters where the odd dolphin leaps. Test the waters at the blissfully named Inchydoney and Owenahincha in the Clonakilty area, or the famous Garinish in Bantry Bay itself. Concerts are held in intimate St Brendan’s church and in the candle-lit library of Bantry House, with its majestic setting overlooking the bay. Five concerts, three masterclasses, talks and instrument-making workshops take place over nine days, with the whole town given over to rehearsals. This year featured Till Felner, Arcangelo, Barry Douglas and the Borodin, Vanbrugh, Signum and Beyounes Quartets. (2016 dates announced in December)

  • Article Type: | Blog |
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