16 best classical music festivals in Europe: what's on this year?
With operas, concerts and music festivals returning to concert halls and venues across Europe we pick out some of the festivals you might want to grab tickets for
It’s with very great pleasure that we feature this guide to the best classical music festivals in Europe. The last two seasons have been particularly challenging for live music making, due to the Covid-19 pandemic, and many festivals have been forced to downgrade activities or cancel performances altogether.
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It’s hugely gratifying, then, to see most events back up and running at full capacity in 2022, in what promises to be a summer of top-notch musical activity. We’re greatly looking forward to what this festival season has to offer – and please do get in touch to share your own experiences over these next exciting months.
Europe's best classical music festivals
Best classical music festivals in Germany
11 May – 10 June
Tel. +49 (0)351 6560 6700
There’s magic in the air for the 45th edition of Dresden Festival’s month-long jamboree, corralling some 1,500 artists and a swathe of historic venues in its 66 concerts. Opening night features a multi-media production of Mozart’s The Magic Flute directed by Roman Coppola; and there’s more sorcery from Thomas Adès who premieres a suite from his opera The Tempest. With cellist Jan Vogler as the festival’s artistic director, ‘Cello Mania’ returns, culminating in a ‘Long Night of the Cello’ mustering nearly 20 cellists including the likes of Mischa Maisky, Gautier Capuçon, Sol Gabetta, Pablo Ferrández and Sheku Kanneh-Mason.
Halle, Germany, 27 May – 12 June
Tel. +49 (0)345 565 2706
His statue looms large over Halle’s market square, and for 100 years the town of his birth has hosted a bespoke festival. For its centenary, Christian Curnyn conducts a new production of Orlando; Il Pomo d’Oro uncages ‘Handel’s Bestiary’; and a clutch of gala concerts showcase the likes of Philippe Jaroussky (as conductor), countertenor Iestyn Davies and Jordi Savall’s Le Concert des Nations.
Leipzig, Germany, 9-19 June
Tel. +49 (0)1806 999000 345
Who knew? In only two years the Johann Sebastian Bach Forest has planted six hectares with over 33,000 trees. And it’s not just the Forest that’s cultivating sturdy rootstock. Leipzig ’22 is looking at Bach’s own musical roots in the works of Buxtehude, Reincken, Bruhns and, in his anniversary year, Schütz. The 300th birthday of the Well-Tempered Clavier entices Angela Hewitt and András Schiff; and under the motto ‘We are Family’, the entire Bach clan is celebrated by artists including John Eliot Gardiner’s Monteverdi Choir, Les Arts Florissants and Amsterdam Baroque.
Munich, Germany, 19 June – 31 July
Tel. +49 (0)89 2185 1025
Serge Dorny is the incoming artistic director of Bavaria’s annual summer operatic frenzy. He certainly cuts a dash with his opening choice: Penderecki’s The Devils of Loudun. A Straussian foursome includes Capriccio (premiered in the National theater 80 years ago) and, to end, Die Frau ohne Schatten. Other 20th-century operas include Shostakovich’s The Nose and Britten’s Peter Grimes. Away from the operatic stage, ‘on song’ are Christian Gerhaher (three times over), Jonas Kaufmann and Anja Harteros.
Leipzig, Germany, 20 June – 14 July
Tel. +49 (0)341 1261 261
JS Bach isn’t Leipzig’s only musical son. The newly married Schumanns lived here, and their friend Felix Mendelssohn spent a dozen years as Gewandhauskapellmeister. But Richard Wagner was actually born in the city, and Leipzig’s opera festival is indulging itself in a three-week chronological presentation of all 13 of his operas – save for the Ring, which is performed on four consecutive nights.
Best Czech festivals
Prague, Czech Republic, 12 May – 3 June
Tel. +420 461 049 232
Smetana’s Má Vlast might be mandatory to launch a Prague musical spring, but the festival has never been proprietorial. This year, national pride is entrusted to Daniel Barenboim and his West-Eastern Divan Orchestra, and they’re not the only visiting orchestral heavyweights. Andris Nelsons conducts the Vienna Philharmonic and François-Xavier Roth prioritises versatility, with Debussy from his period instrument orchestra Les Siècles, not to mention conducting Janáček and Strauss with Gürzenich-Orchester Köln. Freiburg Baroque makes Bachian common cause with Vox Luminis, while Klangforum Wien rounds off the contemporary music strand.
Best classical music festivals in Norway
Bergen, Norway, 25 May – 8 June
Tel: +47 55 21 06 30
Bergen wears its 70 years lightly. After the opening al fresco sing-along, it’s down to business with the world premiere of an orchestral arrangement of Taylor Mac’s A 24-decade history of popular music, described as a ‘mash-up of music, history, performance and art that were popular throughout the country from 1776 to the present day’. The Bergen Philharmonic also engages in a bit of time travel, in the company of Roomful of Teeth, in Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring and a new work by Caroline Shaw. Strauss’s Salome and a stripped-down operatic take on Dante’s Purgatorio offset piano music in Grieg’s parlour, and an evening of Grieg, Strauss and Wagner from Norwegian soprano Lise Davidsen.
Best classical music festivals in Ireland
Lismore, Ireland, 31 May – 6 June
To the season of mists and mellow fruitfulness belongs Ireland’s most famous opera festival: Wexford. But in summer, Lismore Castle is the hub for an ambitious relative newcomer. The Irish Baroque Orchestra and CoisCéim Dance Theatre under conductor Peter Whelan perform the Vienna version of Gluck’s Orfeo ed Euridice, while in the converted barn at Dromore Yard, pianist Giovanni Bellucci unpacks the Orpheus myth.
Best classical music festivals in France
Paris, France, 31 May – 3 July
Tel. +33 (0)1 4813 1210
Dividing its musical largesse between the lofty Gothic basilica – final resting place to many French kings and queens – and the Napoleonic Maison d’éducation de la Légion d’honneur, Festival Saint-Denis demonstrates a nose for musical royalty. Stabat Mater settings by Rossini, Pergolesi and Poulenc are threaded through a programme during which Patricia Kopatchinskaja multitasks as violinist and vocalist in Schoenberg’s Pierrot lunaire; and, at the piano, Simon Rattle partners Magdalena Kožená and friends in works by Chausson, Stravinsky and Janáček.
Best classical music festivals in Italy
Ravenna, Italy, 1 June – 21 July
Tel. +39 (0)544 249211
‘Sacred and profane’ is the Ravenna watchword as Azio Corghi’s Between flesh and heaven issues an opening night summons to a festival remembering the centenary of Pier Paolo Pasolini. Mozart’s Don Giovanni will have something to add in the autumn as part of a Da Ponte trilogy. But summer’s harvest includes Brahms from Iván Fischer’s Budapest Festival Orchestra, Ian Bostridge singing Britten and, planting themselves firmly on the side of the angels, Riccardo Muti and his Cherubini Youth Orchestra bowing their heads in prayer alongside Mozart, Vivaldi and Verdi.
Best classical music festivals in Iceland
Reykjavik, Iceland, 1-19 June
Tel. +354 561 2444
Having collaborated with Iceland Opera on February’s sadly abandoned production of Wagner’s Die Walküre (it would have been Iceland’s first), Reykjavík’s biennial festival steps up a gear with June’s focus on the new. Mixing music with visuals, the Spektral Quartet gives the Iceland premiere of Anna Thorvaldsdóttir’s Enigma, and soprano-conductor Barbara Hannigan joins the Iceland Symphony Orchestra for a collision of Ives, Schoenberg, Berg and Gershwin.
Best classical music festivals in The Netherlands
Amsterdam, The Netherlands, 3-26 June
Tel. +31 (0)20 523 7787
Like its Edinburgh cousin, the Holland Festival was born out of a desire to foster international dialogue following World War II. Seventy-five years on, dialogue remains at its core – alongside a penchant for the new and nearly new. Both inform an anniversary edition rescuing Sami Yusuf’s When Paths Meet from its 2020 cancellation. Uniting western classical and Arab-Andalusian traditions it also brings together Cappella Amsterdam and the Amsterdam Andalusian Orchestra. Heiner Goebbels’s ‘imaginary notebook for large orchestra’, A House of Call, elevates eavesdropping to a fine art; and multi-lingual associate artist Angélique Kidjo injects an African perspective.
Best classical music festivals in Turkey
Istanbul, Turkey, 6-24 June
Istanbul notches up its half-century, and why wouldn’t it give itself a pat on the back with Fazil Say’s ‘Istanbul’ Symphony? Ferit Tüzün’s Capriccio à la Turque launches the festival in the company of Rachmaninov and Bernstein, while Musica Sequenza turns the clock back to ‘Rameau à la Turque’. Among other delights, Daniel Hope and Alexey Botvinov premiere Tan Dun’s Double Concerto for violin and piano, and countertenor Jakub Józef Orliński is in the mood for love, Baroque style.
Best classical music festivals in Sweden
Stockholm, Sweden, 10-16 June
Violinist Hugo Ticciati’s shape-shifting festival has been playing with preconceptions for a decade now and, as the 10th edition prepares to colonise the Ulriksdal Palace’s rococo theatre, Haydn and the ‘un/conditioned ear’ come in for attention. The Marmen Quartet juxtaposes choice Haydn string quartets with music by Widmann and Webern, and tenor Ian Bostridge and baritone Florian Boesch lend vocal heft to a closing performance of The Seasons.
Best classical music festivals in Spain
13 June – 10 July
Tel. +34 958 22 18 44
From the exotic Alhambra Palace to the Generalife terraces, Moorish Granada hosts this 71st festival edition. Last year’s celebrations are extended into 2022’s outing, which is mindful of the Concurso de Cante Jondo instigated by Federico García Lorca. Martha Argerich and Charles Dutoit team up with the Monte-Carlo Philharmonic for Ravel’s G major Piano Concerto, and violist Tabea Zimmermann is artist-in-residence.