Summer is heating up and so are dozens of classical music festivals all around the country. We couldn't possibly list them all, but here's a sampling of some of the best events, from open-air venues and seaside spots to historic concert halls. Been to a great summer festival we've missed? Feel free to pass along your own reviews in the comments section.
- The Saratoga Performing Arts Center in Saratoga Springs, N.Y. is the summer home of the Philadelphia Orchestra and New York City Ballet. This year's performances (through Sept. 21) include the orchestra with such guests as cellist Yo-Yo Ma, violinist Sarah Chang and banjo virtuoso Béla Fleck.
- This year, the wide-ranging Caramoor Summer Festival (through Aug. 7 in Katona, N.Y.) pays tribute to Giuseppe Verdi's 200th birthday, Broadway and American roots. Will Crutchfield conducts Verdi's French grand operas — Les vêpres siciliennes and Don Carlos — in their native tongue. The festival also mounts She Loves Me, its first foray into Broadway, and bluegrass great Del McCoury sings his own renditions of Woody Guthrie rarities.
- The theme this year at Bard Summerscape (July 5-Aug. 18 at Bard College in Annandale-on-Hudson, N.Y.) is Stravinsky. Inspired by the 100th anniversary of The Rite of Spring, the seven-week festival explores the music, life and milieu of the iconic Russian composer. Among the dozens of smartly programmed offerings, catch A Rite, a response to Stravinsky's groundbreaking ballet from the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company, a concert of Stravinsky's American works or a stage adaptation of The Master and Margarita, a novel by Stravinsky's contemporary Mikhail Bulgakov.
- Glimmerglass Opera, quaintly positioned on Otsego Lake near Cooperstown, N.Y., offers four fully staged productions including a rare chance to hear Verdi's Un giorno di regno (King for a Day), his little known romantic comedy that had no right to flop in 1840. The festival also presents Wagner's Flying Dutchman, Lerner and Loewe's Camelot and a double billed pair of passions, Pergolesi's Stabat Mater and the Pulitzer Prize-winning Little Match Girl Passion by David Lang. The productions run July 6-Aug. 24.
- Along with the requisite Mozart symphonies and concertos, Lincoln Center's Mostly Mozart Festival (in Manhattan July 27-Aug. 24) presents two extraordinary soloists — French pianist Jean-Efflam Bavouzet (playing Beethoven and Debussy) and German violinist Isabella Faust (playing Bach and Mozart). Innovative conductor Ivan Fischer is back this year with a semi-staged version of Mozart's Le Nozze di Figaro and the International Contemporary Ensemble presents the New York premiere of David Lang's The Whisper Opera.
- The hordes that flee Manhattan for the Hamptons each summer get their own music festival. The Bridgehampton Chamber Music Festival (July 24-Aug. 18) celebrates its 30th season with a world premier by Pulitzer winner Kevin Puts, plus the complete Brandenburg Concertos and a night of Mozart.
- Tanglewood (through Sept. 1 in Berkshire County near Lenox, Mass.), the summer home of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, celebrates three big composer birthdays this year. Bryn Terfel stars in an all-Wagner concert, Andris Nelsons (the BSO's newly appointed music director designate) leads a performance of the Verdi Requiem and Mark Morris directs Britten's Curlew River. And for the new music crowd there's the U.S. premiere of George Benjamin's opera Written on Skin.
- Some 85 musicians gather each summer in the pastoral hills of southern Vermont to play chamber music at the revered Marlboro Festival. After weeks of nearly unlimited rehearsals, weekend concerts are cobbled together for the public from July 13-Aug. 11. This year, co-directors Richard Goode and Mitsuko Uchida welcome pianist Leon Fleisher, composer Krzysztof Penderecki, baritone Sir Thomas Allen and clarinetist Charles Neidich.
- The Cape Cod Chamber Music Festival (July 30-Aug. 23) spotlights the Borromeo, Escher and American string quartets. There's also a tribute to the late Van Cliburn with a concert featuring two past Cliburn Competition winners, André-Michel Schub and Jon Nakamatsu, the festival's co-director.
- Most of the Monadnock Music Festival concerts, set in various houses and churches around Peterborough, N.H. from July 14-Aug. 25, are free. Among the highlights this year are an evening of Lou Harrison's music, complete with an American gamelan, and an all-Mozart concert with male soprano Michael Maniaci.
- As the summer home of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, there's plenty of classical music at Chicago's gigantic Ravinia Festival. James Conlon leads Verdi's Aida, starring rising American soprano Latonia Moore and Roberto Alagna. Pianist Lang Lang returns to play concertos by Beethoven and Prokofiev. And for Lord of the Rings fanatics, the CSO plays the complete score from The Two Towers while the movie is projected on the lawn screen.
- Anyone under age 18 gets in free this year at the Cleveland Orchestra's Blossom Festival (July 3-Sept. 1). The orchestra backs the Joffrey Ballet in performances of Stravinsky's Rite of Spring, soprano Christine Brewer highlights an all-Wagner program, Gil Shaham plays Tchaikovsky's Violin Concerto and guest conductor Nicholas McGegan is on hand for a "Much Ado About Mozart" concert.
- Early music fans and practitioners will gather July 6-12 at the University of Wisconsin-Madison's Madison Early Music Festival. Along with six concerts (by the likes of Piffaro and the Calmus Ensemble Leipzig) there are lectures and workshops.
- The 64th Aspen Music Festival runs through Aug. 18. This year's theme — the composer's social conscience — sounds lofty, but the musical offerings range from Puccini's sly comedy Gianni Schicchi to appearances by the Emerson String Quartet (with its new cellist Paul Watkins) and pianist Jeremy Denk to violinist Leila Josefowicz and conductors David Robertson and Leonard Slatkin. The season gets under way with a multimedia piece by Aspen alum Philip Glass.
- Symphonic mavens will flock to the 26th annual Bravo! Vail Festival (June 28-Aug. 2), where three powerhouse orchestras take up residence this year — The New York Philharmonic, The Dallas Symphony and the Philadelphia Orchestra. Highlights include Jaap van Zweden leading Respighi's Pines of Rome, Yannick Nézet-Séguin conducting Verdi's Requiem and Alan Gilbert leads Rimsky-Korsakov's colorful Scheherazade.
- Historic buildings around Santa Fe's charming old plaza play host to the Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival (July 14-Aug. 19). The Johannes String Quartet pays tribute to the recently deceased Henri Dutilleux, while pianist Garrick Ohlsson plans a recital pairing Chopin with the American Charles Tomlinson Griffes and soprano Christine Brandes sings a program of music from the time of Goya.
- A 15-minute drive north of the plaza, amid the sagebrush and jack rabbits, the gorgeous open-air Santa Fe Opera unveils its 41st season (June 28-Aug. 24) with five productions. There are the staples La Traviata and the Marriage of Figaro, Rossini's La donna del lago, Offenbach's rarely heard Grand Duchess of Gerolstein and the world premiere of Oscar, Theodore Morrison's operatic portrait of the life of Oscar Wilde, starring countertenor David Daniels.
- There is more chamber music to the north where the cities of Angel Fire, Taos, Las Vegas and Raton host Music from Angel Fire (Aug. 16-Sept. 1). Celebrating its 30th season, the festival hosts composer-in-residence Chick Corea, whose The Adventures of Hippocrates gets a performance by the Harlem Quartet. Evenings of Schubert and Bach are also planned.
- The Grand Teton Music Festival (July 4-Aug. 17), snug against the Rocky Mountain foothills in Jackson Hole, Wyo., attracts players from America's top orchestras — including the Chicago and Atlanta Symphony Orchestras, the Met Opera Orchestra and the San Francisco Symphony — to perform Mahler's expansive Symphony No. 6, Elgar's Cello Concerto with Alisa Weilerstein and Verdi's Requiem with soloist Angela Meade.
- It's hard to top the views at the Grand Canyon Music Festival (Aug 22-Sept.7). Chamber music concerts are held at the south rim of the canyon. And while some of today's top musicians come to play in the natural beauty (this year ETHEL and the Catalyst String Quartet), the festival is equally acclaimed for its award-winning outreach program — the Native American Composers Apprentice Project.
- The motto of the Moab Music Festival (Aug. 29-Sept. 9), set in the sublime red rock spaces around Moab, Utah, is "music in concert with the landscape." Here you can sit in a natural rock amphitheatre or hike to a secret wilderness location to hear a concert of music by Mozart and Beethoven. Gabriel Kahane is on had this year in a program called "The Future of American Song."
- Beautiful Santa Cruz, Calif. and artistic director Marin Alsop host the Cabrillo Festival (Aug. 2-11), a significant hotbed for contemporary music. Nine composers are on hand this year, including Derek Bermel, Kevin Puts (who unveils a world premiere) and George Walker. Kronos Quartet is spotlighted as the group celebrates its 40th anniversary.
- Music@Menlo, in the midst of Silicon Valley, sports a Bach theme this season (July 18-Aug. 10), focusing on the composer and his enduring legacy. Concerts with such prominent players as pianist Jeffrey Kahane, cellist Carter Brey, The Orion String Quartet and soprano Elizabeth Futral smartly contrast Bach's works with those of his successors. The festival also offers the Encounter series of multimedia evenings tackling topics from Bach's keyboard revolution to the power of his biblical Passion dramas.
- The Festival Del Sole (July 12-21), nestled in Napa Valley, draws oenophiles, music fans and more, with everything from yoga in the vineyard and "extreme theatre" to performances by the Russian National Orchestra, Sarah Chang and Audra McDonald.
- Down the California coast, La Jolla, with its adorable population of harbor seals, also boasts a community of prominent musicians gathering for Summerfest (Aug. 2-23). Under the artistic direction of violinist Cho-Liang Lin, the festival spotlights the various eras in classical music and features the world premiere of Bullycide, a new work by composer David Del Tredici.
- Chamber Music Northwest (through July 28) sets up shop in some of the more intimate venues around Portland, Ore. This year, the Miro Quartet performs an all-Beethoven concert, while festival director and clarinetist David Shifrin devotes a July 4th program to contemporary American composers such as Charles Wuorinen, Joan Tower and John Harbison. And to mark the Britten centennial, the exciting young tenor Nicholas Phan sings a selection of the composer's songs.
- Farther north, the Bellingham Festival of Music (July 5-21) in Washington celebrates 20 years this season with veteran guitarist Pepe Romero and the fine young violinist Ray Chen both playing concertos with the Bellingham Festival Orchestra. Beloved mezzo-soprano Frederica von Stade sings music by Verdi, Berlioz and Richard Strauss.
- The summer offerings at Vienna, Va.'s Wolf Trap (through Sept. 11) include the National Symphony Orchestra in an impressive range of roles — from Carmina Burana and a complete La traviata to providing accompaniment to the film Singin' in the Rain and being caught in the crossfire of Video Games Live: Bonus Round!
- Now in its fifth year, Lorin Maazel's Castelton Festival (July 3-28), set on his property in the rolling hills of Virginia's Rappahannock County, focuses on emerging talent. Young singers appear in fully staged productions from Verdi's Otello and Puccini's Girl of The Golden West to Poulenc's La Voix Humaine. Maazel also leads symphonies by Mahler and Mendelssohn.
- Gerard Schwarz directs the Eastern Music Festival, held in Greensboro, N.C. through July 27. Violinist Joshua Bell appears with the beloved Mendelssohn concerto and pianist William Wolfram leads a tribute to Van Cliburn.
- Drive straight west of Greensboro to Boone, N.C. and you'll find the eclectic Appalachian Summer Festival (July 4-Aug. 1) featuring music, dance, theater and film. The Broyhill Chamber Ensemble explores Bach, Beethoven and Ravel, while Broadway star Idina Menzel joins the Eastern Festival Orchestra. There are plenty of workshops for kids and adults from photography to mythology.