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The best classical music festivals in Europe this summer

The best classical music festivals in Europe this summer

Summer is fast approaching and with it, festival season. These are Europe's best classical music festivals, not to be missed!

Summer may well be the favourite season of classical music lovers, with numerous festivals spanning all genres and composers taking place worldwide. And what’s better than enjoying a live performance of your favourite piece? Enjoying it in the great outdoors, of course!

Here, we round up some of the best classical music festivals taking place in unexpected and spectacular locations around Europe this summer.

Bergen International Festival, Norway

Bergen Festival, which is celebrating its 70th anniversary, was established to promote Nordic artists and has become the largest festival of music and arts in Scandinavia. As well as attracting world-class performers, it is special for taking place in unique historical venues in the heart of Bergen and its coastal surrounds, including Norwegian composer Edvard Grieg’s own home, and the 13th-century King Håkon's Hall.  

Picture pine-spiked hillsides of deep green punctuated by the pointy roofs of multicoloured timber buildings, overshadowed by the bobbly ranges of Bergen’s distinctive Seven Mountains—all shrouded in the pure, fresh air the Norwegian fjords are known for.

"Picture pine-spiked hillsides of deep green punctuated by the pointy roofs of multicoloured timber buildings"

Highlights in the 2023 instalment of the festival include appearances from superstar South Korean violinist Bomsori, French cellist Gautier Capuçon, and Puccini’s Tosca with star soloists Lise Davidsen, Freddie de Tommaso and Bryn Terfel. Norwegian soprano Lise Davidsen is in fact the festival’s Artist in Residence, and she will be popping up elsewhere in the program for masterclasses, talks and a recital of songs by Schubert, Sibelius and Grieg. 

May 24 – June 7, fib.no

Granada International Festival, Spain

Sticking with mountains, and in the foothills of the Sierra Nevadas in Southern Spain the spectacular Alhambra Palace can be found glinting red under the Andalusian sun. Since 1952, the International Festival of Music and Dance of Granada has taken up residence in the palace and its opulent gardens during the months of June and July, to showcase classical music, opera, ballet, Spanish dance and flamenco. 

© Granada International Festival

Festival de Granada, Fermín Rodríguez

The magnificent Palace of Charles V houses the large orchestral performances and big international soloists, while the outdoor Generalife Theatre, opened by the festival in 1954 as the main venue for ballet, presents the visual spectaculars of the Spanish National Ballet, Hamburg Ballet, Spain’s National Dance Company and the fiery flamenco of the Antonio Navarro Dance Company. Legendary singer-songwriter Bob Dylan will also draw crowds to the breathtaking Generalife.  

In 2023, performances by Icelandic pianists Víkingur Ólafsson, Daniil Trifonov and Igor Levit, the Orchestre des Champs-Elysées and Philippe Herreweghe in music by Mozart and Beethoven, and a sumptuous concert version of Puccini’s Turandot from the orchestra of the Teatro Real and star soloists are among the classical music highlights. As in previous years, the festival will team up with University of Granada to invite prodigious students to take part in the Manuel de Falla Courses, which offer masterclasses and workshops in composition, musical analysis, performance and more. 

June 21 – July 19, granadafestival.org

Verbier Festival, Switzerland

Celebrating its 30th anniversary in 2023, Verbier Festival showcases fine music at the heart of the beautiful Swiss Alps each summer. The festival has become known for attracting the biggest soloists in the world, and this year is no exception. Chinese pianist Yuja Wang takes on Rachmaninov’s monumental Third Piano Concerto with conductor Zubin Mehta and the Verbier Festival Orchestra, while cellist Sheku-Kanneh Mason hails from the UK for Elgar’s enduringly beloved Cello Concerto, and fellow cellist Yo-Yo Ma from the US for a sumptuous program of chamber music dedicated to composer Ludwig van Beethoven. The roll call of classical music’s biggest names continues in the 30th edition: Renée Fleming, Evgeny Kissin, Lisa Batiashvili, Joshua Bell, Nicola Benedetti, Steven Isserlis, Janine Jansen, Daniel Hope, Bryn Terfel. The list goes on. 

"The roll call of classical music’s biggest names continues in the festival's 30th edition"

As well as experiencing these sensational performers in some of the most spectacular alpine scenery Europe has to offer, the real magic of Verbier is its ethos of connecting great musicians at the height of their careers with aspiring young artists, through the Verbier Festival Academy. Two-hundred-and-twenty-three outstanding students from all over the world will take part in solo, orchestral, vocal and audio recording training through the Academy, which celebrates its 30th instalment at the same time as the main festival. 

July 14 to July 30, verbierfestival.com

Puccini Festival, Italy

La Bohème. Turandot. Madame Butterfly. Nothing quite matches the high drama and intense, Italian Romanticism of operatic great Puccini’s. And what better than experiencing them at Torre del Lago, in the Viareggio region of Italy, a place Puccini himself called home? The charming village has been renamed "Torre del Lago Puccini", and the open-air Gran Teatro all’aperto Giacomo Puccini constructed, in honour of the memory and music of the operatic great.  

"I always come out here and take a boat to go and shoot snipes,” the composer is believed to have once commented to his friend and librettist Giovacchino Forzano, “but once I would like to come here and listen to one of my operas in the open air.”  

"We’re picturing sultry Italian summer days closing with a gentle warmth, accompanied by fine opera"

Well, now we can. Since 1930, the festival has been presenting Puccini’s masterpieces to crowds of thousands in picturesque Torre del Lago every summer. We’re picturing sultry Italian summer days closing with a gentle warmth, accompanied by fine opera and a cool glass of wine in hand, and the waters of Lake Massaciuccoli and the Tyrrhenian Sea rippling nearby. Saluti!

July 14 – August 26, puccinifestival.it

Edinburgh International Festival, Scotland

With the Edinburgh Fringe around every corner, there’s a wonderful atmosphere on the historic streets of Edinburgh in August. The Medieval cobbled streets of the Old Town are splashed with music and colour from buskers and jugglers, and crowds jostle to find their next entertainment. Historic squares become circles as people gather to watch miraculous performers. And inside venues like Usher Hall, Queen’s Hall and the Lyceum, another summer festival is unfolding. 

Edinburgh International Festival

Edinburgh International Festival

Edinburgh International Festival is Edinburgh’s arts offering, and in 2023 welcomes violinist Nicola Benedetti in her first year as festival director. Picking up the baton from previous director, Fergus Linehan, the Scottish violinist has described the role as “the honour and responsibility of a lifetime” and she is—perhaps unbelievably—the first Scottish and the first female Festival Director since the Festival began in 1947.

Benedetti will usher in the festival’s first full in-person return since the pandemic with a fresh program that invites international guests including Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater from New York, South Korea’s KBS Symphony Orchestra in their first ever UK performance, the Budapest Festival Orchestra led by conductor Iván Fischer, and Simón Bolívar Symphony Orchestra of Venezuela with conductors Gustavo Dudamel and Rafael Payare. We will also see Scottish Chamber Orchestra, BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra and the London Symphony Orchestra from closer to home.

August 4 – August 27, eif.co.uk

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