With various regular concert seasons coming to an end in these later spring months, our focus shifts towards a time of picnics and some exceptional productions – the festival season is here! Where American festivals, in particular, already have an established tradition of holding academies within the framework of a festival, this format is now gaining popularity in European countries, too. Due to their ever-growing number, we take a closer look at festivals this summer offering more than just music.

Green: Grafenegg Castle, with Cello © Alexander Haiden
Green: Grafenegg Castle, with Cello
© Alexander Haiden

A great number of festivals have devoted themselves to the support of young and emerging artists, and one that stands out for its range of additional programmes is Aldeburgh. Founded in the late 1940s, the festival is the manifestation of founder Benjamin Britten's vision of a creative environment for musicians and audience, and its concurrent events include performance projects for the community, residential courses for exceptionally talented musicians under 18 and development for emerging as well as established artists. This year, the festival is also joined by one of early music's most engaging performers, German countertenor Andreas Scholl, whose masterclasses will focus on great vocal composers of the Baroque such as Purcell, Dowland and of course Handel.

Maggi Hambling's <i>Scallop</i> at Aldeburgh Beach © Andrew Dunn | Wikicommons
Maggi Hambling's Scallop at Aldeburgh Beach
© Andrew Dunn | Wikicommons

A similar mix of artist development and community outreach can be found in the events of the American Carmel Bach Festival. On the one hand, it still has a very strong commitment to the community engagement on whose foundation it was built and works with various festival partners to inspire and support young people and bring music to older people who are now unable to attend events but greatly enjoy experiencing the festival "in house". On the other hand, it offers High School vocalists the chance to work with a professional orchestra and acclaimed conductors in the four-week Youth Chorus training programme or a series of public masterclasses for singers with a special interest in Baroque repertoire. Singers are also the focus of the Castleton Artist Training Seminar (C.A.T.S.). The seven-week programme of Castleton Festival, founded by the late Lorin Maazel, offers an exceptionally comprehensive programme for operatic artists that ranges from voice and language coaching all the way through to audition preparation and even lessons in stage combat!

Castleton © Castleton Farms | Leslie Maazel
© Castleton Farms | Leslie Maazel

While early music appears to be a recurring theme this season, even for those festivals which haven't necessarily dedicated themselves to it, early repertoire is at the heart of the Boston Early Music Festival. Its events this season range from performance masterclasses for students and professionals to lectures with Handel scholar Ellen T. Harris, demonstrations and pre-performance talks for the audience. A particular highlight in this year's programme could be two dance workshop sessions with Early Dance specialist Caroline Copeland, who will introduce a limited number of eager visitors to the secrets of popular Renaissance dances. On this side of the pond, you get the opportunity to shake a leg at the Welsh Gregynog Festival, where a lesson in French Baroque Dance is offered within a programme interfused with revolution. From revolutionary composers to revolutionary events like the Battle of Waterloo, the festival explores this topic with a mixture of workshops, concerts, talks and even a five course menu!

With food for thought, and musically no less tasty, the German Handel Festival in Halle and Utrecht's Early Music Festival will be attracting a wider concert audience and scholars alike. The first, in addition to an exciting programme of oratorios with stellar casts, offers a platform of exchange for researchers during its international conference. In Utrecht, 70 concerts under the title "England, my England" are presented by a number of exciting guests like Jordi Savall and L'Arpeggiata, as well as artist in residence Vox Luminis. In addition, a fringe festival takes place that comprises young professionals, some studying, some already graduated, all chosen by the artistic team from up to 200 audio applications from across Europe and even Japan. The musical programme is complemented by a symposium for professionals in the music business as well as free daily event talks for a wider audience, designed in cooperation with Utrecht University and the Centre of Humanities in order to inspire new ideas. While these talks end on a musical note, they also deal with topics outside of music that are of interest to the public, and participants might even find themselves discussing environmental issues and ways to create a green(er) festival.

A different kind of green is offered at the Austrian Grafenegg Festival: With labyrinthine paths and a romantic castle surrounded by centuries old trees, this festival combines its idyllic setting with the sounds of the world's top orchestras as well as its annual composers workshop, INK STILL WET. Over three festival days, composer in residence Matthias Pintscher will be monitoring six aspiring composers from all corners of the world, who will get the chance to work with the resident Tonkünstler Orchestra and rehearse one of their works under supervision to polish the interpretation before public performance.

Violinist Mi-Sa Yang and music course participant Toko Sato rehearsing together at Kuhmo © Stefan Bremer
Violinist Mi-Sa Yang and music course participant Toko Sato rehearsing together at Kuhmo
© Stefan Bremer

Polish is also what course participants can expect from music courses at the Finnish Kuhmo Chamber Music's and the Toronto Summer Music Festival. Both festivals' courses focus their attention on chamber music and the individual tuition of singers and the members of young ensembles. They strive to give their students unique educational experiences in small groups and through intensive lessons. Where Toronto also offers academy events not only for musicians on the threshhold to a professional career, but also for the community such as amateur piano master classes, Kuhmo's history reveals composition competitions. Although there is no competition held in Kuhmo this year, there are quite a few elsewhere. 

At the Savonlinna Opera Festival, some of the most gifted young Finnish singers get together every other year for the Timo Mustakallio Competition, taking place this year in mid-July. Instrumentalists wishing to compete are catered for at Prague Spring Festival, for instance, that is now in its 70th year. Established in the late 1940s, the competition focuses on a different pair of instruments every year, and even though no prize was awarded in the competition's first year, the prize of giving a guest-performance in the main Festival has become a tradition. 2015 will see competitions for flute and clarinet, but if you're a pianist or trumpeter, 2016 could be your chance. Organists get their opportunity to shine at the competition of St. Albans International Organ Festival, where 17 quarter finalists, chosen from applications from over 70 young performers from numerous countries, will compete in interpretation and improvisation in July.

Olavinlinna Castle, Savonlinna © Savonlinna Festival
Olavinlinna Castle, Savonlinna
© Savonlinna Festival

While for many members of the audience, festivals are mostly about enjoying excellent music and projects and productions out of the ordinary, festivals have long developed into something beyond the mere institution of music consumption. For many decades, festivals have been a platform of exchange for musicians, a place to learn from the best, and the number of summer festivals offering more than "just" music is continually growing. Whether you're a singer, instrumentalist or a member of an ensemble, whether you're looking to develop your skills or test them against others, classical summer music festivals 2015 are bound to offer you just that.