Best classical music festivals in America

Long Play Festival

Brooklyn, NYC


5-7 May

Described as ‘Bang on a Can’s supercharged musical ride through the right now’, the three-day prequel to July’s MASS MoCA festival barely pauses to draw breath.

Over 50 concerts showcase the exuberant diversity of contemporary music – starting with the redoubtable Meredith Monk whose vocal ensemble joins forces with Bang on a Can All-Stars. The JACK Quartet wraps music by Christopher Otto and Catherine Lamb around Xenakis’s Tetras, while the Philip Glass Ensemble revisits Glassworks and Act II of The Photographer.

May Festival

Cincinnati, OH

19-27 May

The May Festival has been putting a spring in Cincinnati’s choral step for 150 years now, and the 2023 anniversary edition also coincides with Juanjo Mena’s last season as principal conductor.

He’s not going quietly, though – the concluding work is Mahler’s gargantuan ‘Symphony of a Thousand’. Alongside Bach’s Magnificat (given its US premiere at the 1875 Festival), he conducts the world premieres of works by James MacMillan and James Lee III; and nestling between Barber and Copland, Marin Alsop turns the clock back to a festival premiere from 1937 as she conducts excerpts from Robert Nathaniel Dett’s The Ordering of Moses.

Spoleto Festival USA

Charleston, SC

26 May – 11 June

A port city, Charleston has never been a place for navel-gazing. Instinctively it looks outwards, and the 47th incarnation of a festival nourished by its distinctive vibe draws on artists from over ten countries. From Australian physical theatre troupe Gravity and Other Myths to Scottish Ballet’s reimagining of The Crucible, Spoleto isn’t just about music, but with composer Gian Carlo Menotti as its founder, it does loom large.

Menotti himself was the librettist for Barber’s opera Vanessa, part of a varied programme that includes the US premiere of Philip Glass’s Symphony No. 14. The Festival Orchestra is newly showcased, and in historic Dock St Theater, chamber music thrives.

Ravinia Festival

Highland Park, IL

6 June – 10 September

‘The Sound of Summer’ is how North America’s oldest music festival likes to style itself and, wrapped around the resident Chicago Symphony Orchestra, jazz, pop, blues, and country music find a fired-up following.

Last year chief conductor Marin Alsop introduced a mini ‘Breaking Barriers’ festival focused on women conductors. 2023 swivels the spotlight onto women composers, with works by Alma Mahler, Florence Price and Augusta Read Thomas.

Boston Early Music Festival

Boston, MA

4-11 June

Biennial Boston was ‘virtual’ for its most recent incarnation in 2021, but normal service is resumed in an ebullient edition that champions women as composers, performers and operatic heroines. Henry Desmarest’s 1694 Circé is the ‘Centrepiece Opera’, and the chamber opera choice is Francesca Caccini’s Alcina. As well as the Festival Exhibition and Fringe, an adroit concert series includes Hildegard of Bingen from Tiburtina Ensemble and a celebration of Barbara Strozzi.

Ojai Festival

Ojai, CA

8-11 June

When it comes to choosing artistic directors, Ojai has a pedigree second to none. Schoenberg, Stravinsky and Boulez form part of an illustrious history that has also embraced top soloists and ensembles.

This year, Rhiannon Giddens covers all bases. As a composer she premieres a work distilled from her opera Omar, and she teams up with Francesco Turrisi for a programme of vocal music spanning the Baroque to Appalachian ballads. The festival finale samples music from the Americas, Asia, the Middle East and Europe. Quite some itinerary!

Music Academy

Santa Barbara, CA

12 June – 5 August

The Music Academy of the West might have ditched its geographical signifier, but otherwise it’s invigorating business as usual. Three chamber music series and over 70 public masterclasses are spliced with orchestral concerts conducted by, among others, Osmo Vänskä and Hannu Lintu. Mary Birnbaum directs a production of Puccini’s La bohème, and writer Alex Ross makes his academy debut as speaker-in-residence.

Caramoor Festival

Katonah, NY

17 June – 6 August

The Caramoor estate doesn’t squander its top-drawer assets. The 80 acres of parkland, Spanish Courtyard, Venetian Theater and intimate music room seduce Hudson Valley culture vultures with a year-round programme.

In summer, however, the ante is upped. Francesca Caccini’s Alcina and Handel’s bucolic Acis and Galatea are complemented by Baroque ensemble Ruckus; Brooklyn Rider ventures into Shostakovich, Golijov and Pinto-Correia; and pianist Hélène Grimaud and cellist Alisa Weilerstein are guests of the Orchestra of St Luke’s.


Lenox, MA

22 June – 27 August

Tanglewood doesn’t like to do things by halves. As its 85th season unfolds, nearly 50 artists are making debuts in a festival featuring over 30 living composers. And what’s fondly known as the ‘shed’ (home to the Boston Symphony Orchestra) can comfortably accommodate 5,000 concertgoers.

More intimate are Ozawa Hall and the new Linde Center for Music and Learning. Conducted by Andris Nelsons, Wynton Marsalis has the first orchestral word; and while Mozart’s Così fan tutte and Handel fly the operatic flag, the Festival of Contemporary Music champions the new.

Bravo! Vail

Vail, CO

22 June – 3 August

Never mind an American in Paris. What price a Frenchman in America? Pianist Jean-Efflam Bavouzet teams up with artistic director Anne-Marie McDermott in one of the chamber concerts that leaven the orchestral firepower of the Philadelphia Orchestra, New York Philharmonic and Dallas Symphony.

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This season also welcomes back the Academy of St Martin in the Fields and there are world premieres from Anna Clyne and Nina Shekhar. In the Donovan Pavilion, meanwhile, Classically Uncorked’s wine-tasting raises a glass to John Cage and George Crumb.

Bard Summerscape and Music Festival

Annandale-on-Hudson, NY

23 June – 13 August

Neatly circumventing last year’s celebrations for the 150th birthday of Vaughan Williams, the music festival component of Summerscape devotes two August weekends to exploring the English composer and his world. 2021 promised a French operatic rarity: Chausson’s Le roi Arthus. Another king continues Bard’s royal progress this summer as Jean-Romain Vesperini directs Saint-Saëns’s four-act Henry VIII.

Colorado Music Festival

Boulder, CO

29 June – 6 August

Colorado’s programme is a masterclass in mixing the new, the nearly new and the classic. Built in 1898, the wooden Chautauqua Auditorium acts as the festival hub and welcomes 2023 residencies from violinist Joshua Bell and composer John Corigliano.

Premieres include Adolphus Hailstork’s symphony JFK: The last speech, and the Rachmaninov anniversary prompts two concerts reliving his years in the US. The JACK and Brentano quartets make their festival debuts, and conductor Peter Oundjian salutes Corigliano with a half-century composer portrait.

Aspen Music Festival and School

Aspen, CO

29 June – 20 August

With a clutch of orchestras, homegrown opera and solo and chamber recitals galore, Aspen’s summertime living might not be easy, but it’s certainly rewarding – and capacious! Over 400 events clamour for attention in a 2023 festival themed around ‘Adoration of the Earth’ – cue Haydn’s The Creation at the close, Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde, and Crossing Open Ground, a new work by John Luther Adams.

Renée Fleming returns to co-direct the Opera Encounters series; artistic director Robert Spano conducts Mozart’s Idomeneo; and for those seeking peak performance, ‘Music on the Mountain’ dispenses choice chamber music from the summit of Aspen Mountain.

Oregon Bach Festival

Eugene, OR

30 June – 16 July

Although the young JS Bach famously made a round trip of some 500 miles to hear Buxtehude, Oregon’s 2023 ‘wanderlust’ is spurred on by the Santiago de Compostela pilgrimage of Joby Talbot’s Path of Miracles and the mountainous ascent of Richard Strauss’s Alpine Symphony. Bach’s Magnificat magnifies the opening night, and his Well-Tempered Clavier and six organ sonatas are performed by Angela Hewitt and Paul Jacobs. Yet, from Schubert lieder to choral Penderecki, the programme is unrepentantly eclectic. The Emerson Quartet stops by on its farewell tour, and Vaughan Williams’s Sea Symphony anchors the finale.

Santa Fe Opera

Santa Fe, NM

30 June – 26 August

Though the open-sided Crosby Theater affords peerless vistas of a New Mexico night sky, it isn’t just Santa Fe’s breath-taking natural setting that leaves the festival feeling on top of the world – last year’s International Opera Awards named it ‘festival of the year’ and it is riding high.

Inspired by de Chirico and Hitchcock, a new Keith Warner production of Puccini’s Tosca opens the season with the title role shared between Leah Hawkins and Angel Blue; Nicholas Brownlee is the Dutchman as Wagner’s The Flying Dutchman makes landfall after a festival absence of 35 years; artistic director Harry Bicket conducts Debussy’s Pelléas et Mélisande; and Dvořák’s fairy-tale Rusalka brings down the curtain.

Grand Teton Music Festival

Jackson Hole, WY

30 June – 19 August

New last year were an opera initiative and Sunday’s Matinee Piano Recitals. Both were so well received they’re back – 2023’s opera is Puccini’s Madam Butterfly. Artistic director Donald Runnicles conducts Strauss’s Ein Heldenleben and premieres a new work by Kareem Roustom; concerto soloists include Marc-André Hamelin (Ravel) and Alisa Weilerstein (Barber); and Independence Day should light up the sky with ‘Patriotic Pops’ and fireworks.

Maverick Concerts

Hurley, Woodstock, NY

1 July – 10 September

Latin Voices proliferate as the US’s longest-running chamber music festival takes up summer residence in its barn-like woodland home. Artistic director Alexander Platt has assembled an eclectic collection of artists for a cross-genre celebration of Hispanic and Latin traditions. Among the performers are Cuarteto Latinoamericano, the Pablo Ziegler Jazz Tango Trio, pianist Ursula Oppens and the Danish Quartet.

The 80th birthday of Afro-Cuban-American composer-conductor Tania León is not forgotten; and the New York premiere of Jorge Amado’s recent Cello Quintet illuminates a Maverick playlist embracing JS Bach and Villa-Lobos, Shostakovich and Ginastera.

Blossom Music Festival

Cuyahoga Falls, OH

1 July – 9 September

For over half a century, the rolling lawns and airy pavilion of the Cleveland Orchestra’s summer home have been welcoming visitors. Blossom exudes a liberating informality – a place, this year, to catch an orchestrally accompanied movie such as Jurassic Park, or savour an evening of R&B classics with Capathia Jenkins.

But that’s not the whole story. Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony fires the starting pistol; and nestling among the classical evergreens are John Adams’s Century Rolls, a suite from Elena Langer’s Figaro gets a Divorce and William L Dawson’s Negro Folk Symphony.

Glimmerglass Festival

Cooperstown, NY

7 Jul – 20 August

Hugging the north shore of Lake Otsego, the intimate Alice Busch Opera Theater is anticipating the ‘best of all possible worlds’ this summer. Leonard Bernstein’s fizzing take on Voltaire’s satirical Candide is revived and leavens the tragic love stories of Puccini’s La Bohème and Gounod’s Roméo et Juliette. But Glimmerglass is also on a crusade: Handel’s 1741 hit Rinaldo is a tale of knightly derring-do that features artist-in-residence Anthony Roth Costanzo in a new production by Louisa Proske.

Festival Napa Valley

Napa Valley, CA

8-23 July

With tuition-free academies, imaginative education programmes and a mission to nurture young artists, there’s more to Napa’s festival summer than good food, wine-tasting and the caress of the Californian sun. Anniversary Rachmaninov is woven through the Festival Orchestra’s concerts which also include the premiere of a work by composer-pianist Yang Bao, Lera Auerbach’s ‘Vessels of Light’ Symphony and Stravinsky’s Petrushka. And under Constantine Orbelian, Donizetti’s Don Pasquale is Napa’s opera of choice.


Menlo, CA

14 July – 5 August

Never a festival aimed at the merely passive listener, Music@Menlo enters its 21st season eager as ever to nourish the inquisitive ear. And for 2023, ‘Beethoven Unfolding’ is the topic animating its café conversations, masterclasses, encounter lectures and sophisticated programming. At the festival’s Beethovenian heart is a cycle of the complete string quartets played in chronological order by the Calidore Quartet, and the cycle unfolds across a parallel timeline sequence of chamber concerts tracing developments from the Baroque to the present day. Biographer-composer Jan Swafford makes his festival debut exploring ‘Beethoven’s Workshop’.

Cabrillo Festival of Contemporary Music

Santa Cruz, CA

30 July – 12 August

Having steered Cabrillo to its current pre-eminence, Ellen Primack steps down this summer. She leaves cherished, however, with the world premiere of a specially commissioned work from Anna Clyne. Seventeen composers are represented this year – 14 of whom are California-bound. Conductor Christian Mācelaru spearheads a team of guest artists including Colin Currie and a cohort of fellow percussionists, while double bassist Xavier Foley in tandem with violinist Eunice Kim premieres a new work of his own.

Sun Valley Music Festival

Sun Valley, ID

30 July – 24 August

It’s no small irony that Sun Valley’s festival pavilion is located on Dollar Rd. Like other festivals, it musters its own orchestra, attracts international soloists and under music director Alasdair Neale has catholic tastes when it comes to programming. All the concerts, however, are free! Pianist Yefim Bronfman, mezzo Sasha Cooke and violinist Augustin Hadelich are among those gilding a 2023 edition that ranges over Mahler’s Symphony No. 5 and Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring as well as contemporary repertoire by Michael Abels, Mason Bates and Michael Tilson Thomas.

Best Canadian classical music festivals

Stratford Summer Music

Stratford, ON, Canada

20 July – 13 August

From alfresco stages and Musicbarge to the industrial environs of Factory 163, the venues for violinist Mark Fewer’s enterprising festival are as varied as the music on offer. East meets West as Autorickshaw and the Penderecki Quartet fuse Bollywood and Indian classical music with the western tradition; Tom Allen and friends are in pursuit of JS Bach; and back at the Factory, Messiaen’s Quartet for the End of Time sounds the apocalypse.

Ottawa Chamberfest

Ottawa, ON, Canada

20 July – 3 August

From sunrise concerts through Midday Matinées to the late-night Chamberfringe series pushing the envelope with anything from Afro-Cuban influence to Scandinavian folk tunes – not forgetting a side helping of comedy and film – Chamberfest enlivens Ottawa’s summer with a steady stream of events. Perhaps torrent would be a better word. Some 120 concerts colonise the city’s churches, theatres, museums, galleries and open spaces. Check the website for full details.

Tuckamore Festival

St John’s, NL, Canada

7-29 August


Buttressed by programmes supporting young artists and composers, Tuckamore is on a mission to foster talent as well as enjoy it in the chamber concerts that, from Bannerman Gazebo to the Cathedral of St John the Baptist, criss-cross St John’s. Gearing up this year are the Pacific Quartet, pianist Marc-André Hamelin and the SHHH!! Ensemble.