While there are many chamber music festivals during the “school year”, a passionate group of culture-loving travelers will soon be crisscrossing the globe attending summer chamber music festivals. Should you be one of them, here’s our curated list of the 11 essential chamber music festivals worldwide in the summer of 2018.
Tickets are already on sale for some of these events, some are nearly sold out, and others are just about to become available, so this is the perfect time to get out your calendar and start scheduling.
Consider it a complement to our list of the best summer classical music and opera, jazz and dance festivals. While the large classical music events every summer – like the BBC Proms and Aix-on-Provence – feature numerous chamber music performances, the festivals listed below are smaller, and some are exclusively dedicated to chamber music.
1. The Rockport Chamber Music Festival in Rockport, Massachusetts, June 15 – July 15, 2018 (plus the Festival Annex on August 5) is now in its 37th season. New artistic director Barry Shiffman brings a theme of r:EVOLUTION to the Shalin Liu Performance Center. Also new this season: several casual, late night performances will be held in a reception hall that’s been transformed into an intimate setting. This year’s featured performers include violinists Yekwon Sunwoo and James Ehnes; pianist Andrew Armstrong; cellist Colin Carr; the Brentano, Dover and Emerson Quartets; and the Rolston String Quartet. A highlight will be the program of Bach, Prokofiev, Messiaen’s Quartet for the End of Time and Tan Dun’s Elegy: Snow in June on June 17th.
2. Madeline Island Chamber Music Festival, June 15 – July 22, 2018 in northern Wisconsin is reportedly a favorite of Bill Gates; this year’s performers include the Prairie Winds Quintet; and the Arianna, Jupiter, Brooklyn Rider and Borromeo String Quartets.
3. The Bravo! Vail Music Festival, June 21 – August 2, 2018, covers a variety of musical genres. Chamber music concerts this year will include the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields Chamber Ensemble playing Shubert and Francaix; the New York Philharmonic String Quartet playing Hayden and Shostakovich; and an evening of music arranged for four pianists/two pianos by Debussy, Ravel, Saint-Saën, and Barber.
4. Chamber Music Northwest in Portland, Oregon, June 25 – July 29, 2018, is an annual five-week summer festival founded in 1971. Performances are held at the Kaul Auditorium on the campus of Reed College and in Lincoln Hall at Portland State University. This year’s main stage performances include the Opus One Quartet performing Mozart and Fauré; an evening of French music from Ravel to Franck to saxophone quartet pieces with pianist André Watts; and and performances celebrating the the centennial of the premiere of Stravinsky’s The Soldier’s Tale. We’re most excited about composer Jeff Scott’s Passion for Bach and Coltrane; anchored by the poetry of A. B. Spellman, the composition references two significant works by J.S. Bach and John Coltrane: The Goldberg Variations and A Love Supreme, respectively. Both works were written when the two composers were at the pinnacle of their careers, and the piece poses the question: what might result if these two visionaries chanced to meet? There will also be a very special musical performance highlighting the influence of Chinese culture on chamber music, held in the gorgeous Lan Su Chinese Garden.
5. The Norfolk Chamber Music Festival, June 29 – August 18, 2018 – at the foot of the Berkshire Mountains in northwest Connecticut – is one of the oldest in the US. In the 1890s, Ellen Battell and her husband Carl Stoeckel, son of the Yale School of Music’s first professor, began hosting chamber music and choral concerts in their mansion. They later commissioned the Music Shed to be built as a dedicated performance space. It opened in 1906, and is essentially unchanged since then – Sergei Rachmaninoff performed there. Upon her death, Battell left a bequest that the facilities be used for Yale University’s summer music school, and as a result, the festival has a dual teaching and performance mission. This summer’s’ artists include the Brentano, Shanghai, and Emerson Quartets; pianists Orion Weiss, Peter Frankl and Boris Berman; clarinetist Romie de Guise-Langlois; violinists Weigang Li and Mark Steinberg; and oboist Frank Morelli. A highlight of the summer will be The Splendour of Baroque with The Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra featuring Handel’s Water Music – July 21.
6. The Oregon Bach Festival, June 29 – July 14, 2018, held in Eugene, Oregon, is an annual celebration of the works of Johann Sebastian Bach and his musical legacy, including compositions from Beethoven and Handel. Concerts are held at the Beall Concert Hall on the University of Oregon campus, and at the Silva Concert Hall and Soreng Theater at the Hult Center for the Performing Arts. This year’s artists include composer Philip Glass; Marsalis Big Brass; and Imani Winds. A highlights of the festival will be the closing night performance of Mendelssohn’s final composition Elijah on July 14, and Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos 1, 2, 4, and 5 – June 29.
7. The Seattle Chamber Music Society Summer Festival, July 2-28, 2018, is comprised of 12 concerts at Benaroya Hall’s Illsley Ball Nordstrom Recital Hall. This year’s artists include clarinetist Anthony McGill, cellist Astrid Schween, and violinist Karen Gomyo. Opening night will include performances of Mozart’s Quartet for Piano and Strings in E-flat Major, Stravinsky’s Suite Italienne for Violin and Piano and Ravel’s Trio for Violin, Cello and Piano in A minor. The festival concludes with a performance of works by Berg, Bartók and Bach.
8. The Minnesota Beethoven Festival in Winona, Minnesota, July 2-22, 2018 will feature concerts by violinist Sarah Chang, pianist Marc-André Hamelin, the Takács Quartet, and the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra. Making their festival debuts are So Percussion; guitarist Pablo Sáinz Villegas; and pianist and Minnesota native Kenny Broberg, who recently took the silver medal at the Van Cliburn International Piano competition.
9. Helsinki Chamber Music Festival, July 4–7, 2018 will again be held in the heart of the old city center, surrounding the Senate Square. The neighborhood’s architecturally unique Art Nouveau halls, atmospheric outdoor stages in courtyards, and beautiful churches will provide a wonderful setting. Highlights include the opening concert, featuring works by Joseph Haydn, Carl Nielsen and Pjotr Tchaikovsky; and the closing evening performances, with a variety of chamber music selections under the theme From Finland to Argentina.
10. The 46th season of the Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival will be held from July 15-August 20, 2018. Founded in 1972, the beauty of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains makes this a particularly wonderful way to experience chamber music. Alan Gilbert, the former music director of the New York Philharmonic and chief conductor designate of Hamburg’s NDR Elbphilharmonie Orchestra, will serve as the Festival’s artist-in-residence. With more than 40 concerts, recitals, master classes, youth concerts, and open rehearsals, this year’s highlights include performances of Walton’s music-and-poetry piece Façade: An Entertainment, featuring Tony Award–winning actor John Rubinstein and soprano Lucy Shelton, and Haydn’s chamber music version of The Seven Last Words of Christ on the Cross, performed by the Orion String Quartet.
11. Wrapping up the summer season is the Moab Music Festival in Moab, Utah, which will be held this year held from August 27 – September 13, 2018. Featuring chamber music, jazz, and traditional music concerts, it is known as “music in concert with the landscape.” Standout options include listening to chamber music performed in a red rock grotto; taking one of the popular Music Hikes (works from the European canon performed deep in the desert wilderness); or taking the Westwater Musical Raft Trip: a 2-night/3-day excursion through the Colorado River’s Ruby-Horsethief and Westwater Canyons. The trip combines a classic whitewater rafting trip with daily concerts by world-class artists in extraordinary settings along the river. We’re totally adding that to our must-do list. A highlight of this year’s festival is the opening night performance curated by Composer-in-Residence Bright Sheng, New Americans, showcasing an array of composers who have become American citizens during their lifetime.
There you have it: nearly a dozen wonderful ways to experience chamber music, which has been described as “the music of friends.” You should totally invite your besties to join you for a performance sometime this summer. You buy the tix, they’ll bring the rosé.