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Estival Festivals: An Introduction

'Tis the season when classical music comes out to play.

The pavilion at Ravinia, north of Chicago.

Festivals used to be special, intense periods of music-making. Now, virtually every self-respecting town has one. Providing content for summer festivals is one of the two most recognized roles classical music still plays in the eyes of the general public (the other is to create an appropriately somber mood at times of national mourning). I used to put together the summer festivals listings for the New York Times. It was a thankless job, since there was room to list about 50 festivals, and about 150 festivals were eligible: this meant, every summer, 100 angry festivals that didn't get included. Because of geographical distribution, certain states were particularly short-changed. I still flinch when I get press releases from the Colorado festivals. I fear I never did do right by Strings in the Mountains in Steamboat Springs.

Moab Music Festival (September 3-14).

This is the week when festivals are going into high gear. In Washington, there are smaller festivals like the Grace Church Bach Festival (through Monday, July 13) and, on July 18, a gala for the Washington Early Music Festival (which is held every other year); this year's Capital Fringe Festival, which starts today, also includes a couple of operas. The Castleton Festival, of course, is continuing through July 19th. A few hours away is the River Concert Series at St. Mary's.
(read more after the jump)

In New York, the Lincoln Center Festival opened on Tuesday (though that festival has hardly any classical music this year); north of town, Caramoor continues through the end of July, and Bard Summerscape begins tonight. The Lincoln Center Festival, in particular, epitomizes the new breed of international festival, which finds unusual productions from different cultures and sends it around an established festival circuit (Spoleto, the Festival d'Automne in Paris, the Wiener Festwochen, Luminato in Toronto, Aix-en-Provence, and so on). The new Manchester International Festival is also multicultural, but focuses on showing world premieres: Rufus Wainwright's opera "Prima Donna," originally conceived for the Metropolitan Opera's commissioning program, is a highlight this year, and opens tomorrow.

Then there are the classics, with a more musical focus. Tanglewood had its official opening last weekend. In Chicago, the Chicago Symphony began its summer at Ravinia this week, and the Grant Park music festival is going strong in its Gehry-designed Jay Pritzker Pavilion. Marlboro, beautifully covered by Alex Ross in the New Yorker a couple of weeks ago, is underway; concerts will start July 18th. And there are literally dozens more -- not even to mention the opera festivals.

No one can cover all of it. But I will have a regular summer feature on this blog over the next couple of months, with coverage from other media outlets, spotlighting festivals I think are particularly noteworthy. Watch for the "Estival Festivals" tag, and post here your own suggestions for coverage or reports on festivals you're attending.

By Anne Midgette  |  July 9, 2009; 6:28 AM ET
Categories:  festivals  
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Next: In Performance: Bach Festival Continues


I really like the Washington Early Music Festival. I dunno if that gala performance will be my thing, but I'm hyped for it to come back in 2010. Good-to-excellent performances in a bunch of churches that make for good venues. Plus, as noted, it's some hot fun in the summertime.

Never went to any of the Grace Church Bach festival because Georgetown is tremendously out of the way for me.

Posted by: Lindemann777 | July 9, 2009 8:39 AM | Report abuse

As some may have observed by now, I am an Enescu nut (I think this is Nigel Kennedy's expression though AFAIK he only performed the 3rd Violin Sonata and that rarely) but sadly I will not be attending the bi-annual Enescu Festival in September in Romania, though it has lot's of attractions: Concertgebouw Orchestra, Martha Argerich, Yuri Temirkanov, etc.

Posted by: cicciofrancolando | July 9, 2009 3:48 PM | Report abuse

Can anyone recall Page blogging music festivals in the past?

On a hot summer eening, it is really nice to sit inside with a/c, reading Midgette's observations. I would also like to thank Midgette for her effort in making this an egalitarian process, inviting suggestions on coverage and comments in on festivals that s/he is to peeks in this summer.

I have not decided how to respond to such generous invitations. However, I will travel to NYC for Mostly Mozart Festival. Specifically - I have booked concert tickets and made arrangements for transporation - Mozart's piano concerto no. 17.

Posted by: fleurfo | July 10, 2009 11:31 PM | Report abuse

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