Take your seats for this summer's top six classical music festivals
Leave the wellies behind. You won't have to traipse through the mud to enjoy these elegant seasonal spectaculars. Adrian Mourby rounds up the highlights, from Verdi and Rossini in Italy to Tchaikovsky and Mendelssohn in California
Sunday 14 June 2009
Opera Festival of Tuscany
Florence, Italy (9-29 Jul)
The Boboli Gardens behind the Pitti Palace are the main location for Italy's newest opera festival. Built for Eleonora di Toledo, wife of Cosimo de Medici, these formal 16th-century gardens are lined with grottos, nympheums, fountains and temples.
Since 2004, a temporary stage in the gardens has been the focus for opera and other large-scale musical events during the Florence festival. This year, performances of Verdi's Aida and Rossini's Barber of Seville will be interleaved with a concert double bill of Bolero and Carmina Burana, plus ballet from Roberto Bolle and a concert by singer-songwriter Claudio Baglioni. The festival could continue into August, though dates are yet to be confirmed.
The location: As well as the Boboli Gardens and the Pitti Palace, this side of the Arno (known as Oltrarno) is rich in sights including the 16th-century palazzos Guadagni and Bianca Cappello; Brunelleschi's last church, Santo Spirito; and Casa Guidi, where the Barrett-Brownings lived from 1846 to 1861, after their secret wedding.
How to get there: Opera in Style (020-7629 5559; operainstyle.com) offers three nights at the Opera Festival, Florence, from £865 per person, based on two sharing, including return flights from Gatwick to Pisa, rail transfers or car hire to Florence, B&B and tickets for two festival performances.
Go to: festivalopera.it
Festival del Sole
Napa Valley, California (17-25 Jul)
A fusion of wine and world-class music in which every concert is preceded by a vintner's luncheon and followed by a dinner hosted in a famous Napa winery. This year, Renée Fleming, Antonio Pappano, the Philharmonic Orchestra of the Americas and local actor – and poet – Robert Redford headline. Performances include Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto, Tchaikovsky's Fifth Symphony and Rococo Variations. The opening concert, held in the Napa Valley Opera House, features Sarah Chang on violin with pianist Conrad Tao.
The location: Visitors should take the three-hour gourmet trip on the Napa Valley Wine Train; see the largest petrified forest in the world; sculptures on display in the Robert Mondavi Winery; and the heritage sections of old Napa itself.
How to get there: Festival del Sole (00 1 415 421 7137; fdsconcierge@ gmail.com) offers three nights at the festival from $2,475 per person, based on two sharing, including tickets to pre-concert vintner luncheons, post-concert dinners at surrounding wineries, accommodation and tickets for three festival performances. Virgin Atlantic (08448 747 747; virginatlantic.com) offers return flights from London Heathrow to San Francisco from £449.
Go to: napa.festivaldelsole.com
Grafenegg Music Festival
Grafenegg, Austria (20 Aug – 6 Sep)
In 2007, the distinguished Austrian pianist Rudolf Buchbinder launched this music festival just outside Vienna. Schloss Grafenegg is a moated castle belonging to the Metternich princes. The festival has a policy of giving carte blanche to its artistes over what they perform, so this year we have Sir Colin Davis conducting the LSO in Sibelius's Fifth Symphony, Kristjan Järvi conducting the resident orchestra in Carmina Burana, and the festival's composer in residence, Tan Dun, premiering a new concerto for stone and ceramic instruments. The castle's old riding school is used for chamber concerts and there is also an open-air arena in the landscaped gardens.
The location: Grafenegg sits between the Wachau and Vienna, an area with a rich history of wine-growing. There is a good scenic route out of Vienna via the baroque Stift Klosterneuburg church and Krems, with its 13th-century Gozzo palace and late-Gothic Piaristenkirche.
How to get there: Donau Niederösterreich Tourismus (00 43 2713 30060; grafenegg.at/enjoy/accommodation/ packagesteigenberger) offers two nights at the Grafenegg festival from €255 per person, based on two sharing, including B&B and tickets to two festival performances. Austrian Airlines (0870 1 24 26 25; austrian.com) offers return flights from London Heathrow to Vienna from £98.
Go to: grafenegg.at
Piran, Slovenia (28 Aug – 12 Sep)
In 2002, the first festival to celebrate the neglected works of Giuseppe Tartini (1692-1770) was held in his home town of Piran. The festival was the idea of local musicians Jasna Nadles and Milan Vrsjakov, who invited international baroque music experts to join them in playing the works of Tartini and his contemporaries – composers such as Bach, Telemann and Vivaldi. The festival uses various locations around the town but mainly the cloister of the Convent of St Francis.
The location: When Tartini was born, Piran was part of the Venetian Republic. Underdeveloped after Napoleon destroyed Venetian independence, Piran fossilised. Today, it is a large open-air museum of medieval and Renaissance buildings – and full of tourists. Architectural highlights include Tartini Square, the municipal palace, the judicial palace, Tartini's house, the Cathedral of Saint George and the town walls.
How to get there: The Kempinski Palace Portoroz (00 386 5 692 7000; kempinski.com) offers two nights at the Tartini Festival from €640 per person, based on two sharing, including B&B, use of the spa, and tickets for two festival performances. Ryanair (0871 246 0000; ryanair. com) offers return flights from Birmingham and Stansted to Trieste from £76.
Go to: tartinifestival.org
George Enescu Festival
Bucharest, Romania (30 Aug – 26 Sep)
A superb biennial festival that celebrates the work of Romania's national composer along with an international line-up of top musicians playing Ravel, Beethoven, Richard Strauss, Debussy, Copland and others. The festival always begins with performances of George Enescu's opera Oedipe. This year, there will also be performances of Verdi's Otello,Puccini's Manon, and Romanian works from the 19th and 20th centuries.
The location: Bucharest is beginning to recover from the architectural devastation it suffered under the Ceausescu regime – his megalomaniac Palace of the Parliament remains the largest building in Europe. The Romanian Athenaeum is on a more human scale and is a symbol of Romanian culture. Construction of the Arcul de Triumf was completed in 1935 and was clearly modelled on Paris's Arc de Triomphe.
How to get there: Romanian Affair (020-7835 5766; romanianaffair.com) offers four nights at the George Enescu Festival from £885 per person, based on two sharing, including excursions, escorted museum visits, B&B and tickets for three festival performances. Tarom (020-7224 3693; tarom.ro) offers return flights from London Heathrow to Bucharest from €156 per person.
Go to: festivalenescu.ro
North Norfolk Festival
South Creake, UK (4-13 Sep)
One of Britain's best new festivals started in 2005 at the church of St Mary's in South Creake and now offers top-quality chamber music against a background of imaginative programming. This year's highlights include a cycle of songs by Robert and Clara Schumann, followed by Martin Jarvis and Joanna David reading from the letters of both the Schumanns to Johannes Brahms. There will also be a musical exploration of "Women on the Edge" by Dame Felicity Palmer, four festival dinners and a festival lunch on the final day.
The location: The village of South Creake sits below the Iron Age fortress known as Bloodgate Hill. Other villages worth visiting nearby include the medieval pilgrimage centre of Walsingham, and Burnham Thorpe, birthplace of Horatio Nelson. In 1793 Nelson held a dinner for all the men in Burnham Thorpe at The Plough Inn. After his victory at the Battle of the Nile (1798) it was renamed The Lord Nelson.
How to get there: The King's Head in Great Bircham (01485 578265; the kingsheadhotel.co.uk) is a Grade II-listed 19th-century coach house hotel 10 miles from South Creake. During the festival, it is offering dinner, bed and breakfast for £195 per person per night, based on two sharing.
Go to: northnorfolk musicfestival.com
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