Sunday, April 14, 2013

Summer Music Festivals

Even though I left Canada quite some time ago, I still read the Toronto Globe and Mail fairly regularly, just to keep up with what is going on up North. I saw this title "Europe's top music fests: 19 places to party this summer" and got quite interested. I should have realized that, like the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal, the Globe and Mail seems to have an editorial policy that excludes any mention of classical music in its pages! Now, of course, I'm exaggerating. All three of these, though the Globe least of all, do have articles about classical music. But in any story that is directed at the general readership, classical music is excluded. I have blogged about this before here and here.

So let's have a look at that article on "Europe's top music fests" and see what they recommend. Here is how the piece starts:
Summertime Europe is the world’s alfresco music fest capital, from short events in cobblestone town plazas to sprawling, edge-of-city affairs where you writhe all week with shirtless partiers – and avoid the washrooms as much as possible.

But since the days when I tipsily toppled off the roof of a car at England’s Reading Festival while dancing to Half Man Half Biscuit (don’t ask), the choice of where to go has grown longer than a Bruce Springsteen set list.
No need to read any further! The article goes on to list a lot of pop music festivals like the Glastonbury Festival. Does the Globe and Mail really think that this is the sort of thing their typical reader wants to attend? A grotty mudfest?

I think a lot of newspapers are trying to pretend that their readers are a younger and hipper bunch than they actually are. The typical Globe reader is probably 45 years old and works in a bank. Does he or she want to go to one of these festivals? Likely not. But just reading about them makes you feel younger and more with it. Plus, Glastonbury was sold out last October, so it's not like you could actually attend.

In my own Quixotic quest to fight back against the movement to drive classical music into the outer darkness, let me make a recommendation about summer music festivals. One of the very best is the Salzburg Festival which takes place from July 19 to September 1st. There are other great classical music festivals in Europe, dozens and dozens, but the Salzburg Festival is, I think, special. I was a student in Salzburg in the late 1980s in the master class of Pepe Romero and had the opportunity to take in a few concerts. The roster at that time was truly impressive and included Alfred Brendel playing all the Schubert piano sonatas, the Alban Berg Quartet playing all the Beethoven quartets, Karlheinz Stockhausen's ensemble from Cologne giving seven concerts of his chamber music, Witold Lutosławski conducting his violin concerto and on and on. Jessye Norman gave a recital, there were a lot of Mozart operas and at least five different orchestras were there.

This summer promises to be equally impressive. They are doing all the Haydn oratorios, the Mozart Requiem, all the Mahler symphonies, a bunch of Beethoven and a lot of Mozart operas. The Vienna Philharmonic will be there along with the Berlin Philharmonic, the NHK Symphony from Tokyo, the Gewandhaus orchestra from Leipzig and the Simon Bolivar Symphony Orchestra. There are about ten concerts every day (Salzburg has one movie theater and a host of concert halls). The Hagen Quartet will be doing all the Beethoven quartets. There will be piano recitals by Rudolph Buchbinder, Evgeny Kissin, Maurizio Pollini and Grigory Sokolov. Also a lot of other chamber music, contemporary music and on and on. It is as if someone took the whole classical music world and distilled it down into some six weeks of magic. The town will be packed with all sorts of young musicians as well, attending the numerous master classes offered through the "Mozarteum".

Now doesn't that sound infinitely more interesting and delightful than several days trapped in a muddy field? Here is a little video that gives you an idea of what Glastonbury is like:

Or you could go to Salzburg and experience something like this, Cecilia Bartoli singing an excerpt from a Handel opera from last year's festival:

If I manage to get to the festival this year, one recital I won't want to miss is Grigory Sokolov:

And let me just mention that yes, there are tickets available for the Salzburg Festival concerts.

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