There are plenty of occasions to hear Beethoven's symphonies or Mozart's operas throughout the year. Bachtrack 2016 Annual Statistics show once again that works of the Classical and Romantic periods are the most performed of all. But what about the 21st century repertoire? Contemporary music lovers often find it hard to quench their thirst for new music. Thankfully, some festivals specialise in contemporary music, giving everyone the opportunity to drink their fill over a few days. Here's a quick overview of contemporary music festivals across the world.
Given the historical importance of Germany in the history of 20th century music, it's little wonder that you should find there two of the best known contemporary music festivals. Every other year, Darmstadt still hosts its prestigious International Summer Courses for New Music. Luigi Nono gave a groundbreaking lecture there in 1958 which gave birth to the ‘Darmstadt school’, named after the composers who attended the course: Boulez, Stockhausen, Maderna, to name but a few. The Donaueschingen Festival takes place every October in the small town of Donaueschingen in south-western Germany. Founded in 1921, it is one of the oldest festivals for contemporary music in the world and certainly among the most prestigious. Let’s mention the Ruhrtriennale, which does not focus solely on contemporary music, but puts a strong emphasis on this repertoire, which fits especially well in the former industrial building which now serves as the Triennale's venue.
The UK is well endowed, with Aldeburgh and Huddersfield festivals taking place in June and November respectively. Founded in 1948 by the composer Benjamin Britten, Aldeburgh Festival now has Thomas Adès at its head, and includes visual arts through a number of exhibitions which accompany the extensive music programme. Huddersfield Festival is the UK's largest international festival dedicated to contemporary music with more than 50 events are taking place over 10 days. Top performers from around the world – Arditti Quartet, Klangforum Wien, Quatuor Diotima, etc. – meet up annually for this feast of thought-provoking music.
Across the North Sea, the Holland Festival offers the public a “kaleidoscopic window on the world” with a strong emphasis on world premières. The main programme is announced at the end of March and is bound to offer a host of events across a range of unlikely venues in Amsterdam during June.
In France, there are three festivals not to miss. The Festival Presence, put on by the public broadcaster Radio France, is held in February at the iconic Maison de la Radio by the river Seine. The 2017 edition will be dedicated to Paris-based Finnish composer Kaija Saariaho. Each of the 18 concerts will showcase some of her works, from pieces written for solo instrument to scores for full-fledged orchestra. During the summer, the Festival Messiaen au Pays de la Meije is the Mecca for Messiaen’s disciples. Set in a stunning alpine landscape with the Meije pike culminating above at 3,982 meters (pictured), the festival offers an inspiring experience to its visitors. Last but not least, the Festival Musica kicks off every year early September in Strasbourg, with events spread out in different venues across the city.
Scandinavian countries have a lot to offer for contemporary music lovers. The Stockholm International Composer Festival puts focus on a different major composer every year. Recently featured composers include, among others, John Adams, Hans Werner Henze, Tan Dun and Per Nørgård but the last edition, in November 2016, was dedicated to British composer Oliver Knussen. Musica nova Helsinki is Finland’s biggest festival of contemporary music, held every year in March.
Across the Atlantic, the Ojai Festival in California encompasses stimulating lectures and engaging concerts scheduled from sunrise to late at night over 4 days in June. A new era begins for the Cabrillo Music Festival with the arrival in 2017 of its new artistic director, Cristian Macelaru, taking over from Marin Alsop, who led the festival since 1992. Across the Canadian border, the Société de Musique Contemporaine du Québec organises the Festival M/NM (read Montréal/Nouvelles Musiques) every year throughout February, offering more than 50 events to enjoy. Last but not least, Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival in Western Massachusetts is an unmissable event for contemporary dance lovers. Held in June and August, it will celebrate its 85th anniversary this year, hosting powerhouse ballet company Miami City Ballet, modern dance ensemble Paul Taylor Dance Company, Aakash Odedra, and many others.
Let's go and see where contemporary arts are leading us to in 2017. New heights are never unreachable.