A glance through the long history of Dresden reads like a Who’s Who of western music. Schütz, Telemann, Handel, Hasse, Bach, Gluck, Porpora, Mozart, Haydn and Beethoven all performed here. It’s where Weber wrote Der Freischütz, Wagner Lohengrin. Robert and Clara Schumann found happiness here. Tchaikovsky and Dvořák conducted in the city, as did Richard Strauss, Fritz Busch, Karl Böhm and Kurt Masur. And Giuseppe Sinopoli, Marek Janowski, Bernard Haitink, Christian Thielemann and Michael Sanderling have all added their considerable lustre to the city’s reputation as a mecca for music-lovers.

Anyone considering a visit in 2019 will find an abundance of good music to savour: grand opera at the Semperoper, symphonies and concerti from the Staatskapelle Dresden and the Dresden Philharmonic Orchestra, festivals large and small and a civic choral tradition that stretches back 800 years.

Semperoper Dresden
© Frank Exß

The grim shadow of Dresden’s appalling suffering at the end of World War 2 was long ago replaced by a determination to put culture once again at the heart of the city’s life, with landmarks obliterated by Allied bombing painstakingly rebuilt. The Semperoper, for instance, was reopened in 1985, on the 40th anniversary of its destruction (appropriately with a performance of Der Freischütz) and today hosts a programme of top-rank productions, including Tosca, Don Giovanni, Les Huguenots and Die Zauberflöte in the 2019 season.

The Dresden Philharmonic has a new home within the Kulturpalast am Altmarkt, a building that will be celebrating its own 50th anniversary in 2019. When it was opened in 1969 the Kulturpalast was the largest venue in the communist German Democratic Republic. Today, the heritage-listed building has been redesigned as a modern palace of the arts, featuring a spacious concert hall for the Philharmonic, a library and a cabaret theatre.

In 2005, the rebuilt Frauenkirche (Church of Our Lady) was finally reopened in all its baroque splendour, complete with its own choir and chamber choir, institutions that play their part in the musical life of Dresden. The church, topped with a golden cross given by the British people in a gesture of reconciliation, also presents an extensive concert series and an annual Bach festival.

The Kreuzkirche, in Dresden’s Altmarkt, is Saxony’s largest church, seating 3,000. It is home to a remarkable institution, the Dresden Kreuzchor boys’ choir, which has sung weekly vespers since 1371. These events, which attract thousands, are a key component in Dresden’s long musical heritage, featuring orchestral accompaniment and a varied programme of cantatas and a cappella repertoire.

All these venues, and many more, will play their part in the early summer Dresden Music Festival, a major month-long event that in 2019 will take “Visions” as its theme. The Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, Staatskapelle Berlin and the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra are just some of the international ensembles appearing within a programme of some 60 concerts, joined by soloists Anne-Sophie Mutter, Yo-Yo Ma, Joshua Bell and René Pape.  

And 2019 will also mark the 300th anniversary of the extraordinarily lavish celebrations that took place after the wedding of Crown Prince Friedrich August, son of prince-elector Augustus the Strong, to Maria Josepha, daughter of the Austrian emperor Joseph I. Dresden was in full festive mode for four weeks, as a glittering parade of operas, tournaments, hunts and balls filled the month of September 1719. Dresden will mark this anniversary with the reopening of some state rooms in the restored Royal Palace. The Paradegamach suite – five rooms designed in the French style for the wedding – will open its doors in September.

The palatial, baroque Zwinger castle, completed in 1719, was a central location for the celebrations and will feature from Autumn 2020 in a new 3D interactive museum in Bogengalerie L, dedicated to the history of this landmark and the wedding festivities. On 18 May, a pageant will celebrate the return of orange trees to the grounds of the Zwinger.

The new concert hall in Dresden's Kulturpalast
© Jorg Simanowski

Key dates in 2019

16 May-10 June: Dresden Music Festival

This major event has been running for 40 years and attracts some of the world’s top orchestras and soloists to perform in a roster of 60 concerts. For example, on 23 May the Vienna Philharmonic will play for the first time at the new concert hall at the Kuturepalast, presenting a programme of Russian music, including Prokofiev’s second piano concerto with Yefim Bronfman as soloist. Daniel Barenboim brings the Staatskapelle Berlin on 19 May to play Brahms; the Hagen Quartet will play Schubert, Shostakovich and Beethoven on 28 May and pianist Hélène Grimaud – a festival favourite – returns on 2 June to play Chopin, Debussy and Rachmaninov.

The cycle path on the river Elbe with view on the Frauenkirche, Albert bridge and Art Academy
© Sylvio Dittrich
4-18 August: Moritzburg Festival

Under the artistic directorship of cellist Jan Vogler, the Moritzburg Festival is a key event in the chamber music calendar. Every August, international soloists and outstanding young artists meet in idyllic Moritzburg, near Dresden, to work on new interpretations of the repertoire. This year’s programme has yet to be announced.

23 September-6 October: Frauenkirche Bach Days

Created in 2012, the Frauenkirche Bach Days aims to explore and reinterpret the genius, diversity and inexhaustible creativity of Bach over the course of nine concerts under the famous dome of the Frauenkirche. Programme to be announced.

4–13 October: Heinrich Schütz Musikfest

One of the first internationally recognised German composers, Dresden court conductor Heinrich Schütz (1585-1672) has been called the father of modern music, with Hungarian composer György Kurtág, for instance, claiming Schütz’s Passions are a catalyst for some of his work. Each year a widely varied programme aims to celebrate the master and the music he has inspired throughout the centuries. Programme to be announced.

5-13 October: Jahre Kulturpalast

This festival celebrates the 50 years of the Kulturpalast, once the largest venue in the former German Democratic Republic and now a refurbished and redesigned palace of the arts, featuring a state-of-the-art concert hall for the Dresden Philharmonic Orchestra.

From September: reopened Royal Palace apartments

To coincide with the 300th anniversary of the lavish celebrations marking the wedding of Crown Prince Friedrich August to Maria Josepha, daughter of the Austrian emperor Joseph I in 1719, Dresden will open some of the restored rooms of the Royal Palace, destroyed in 1945. The Paradegamach suite consists of five rooms designed in the French style for the wedding – a dining room, two anterooms, an audience room and a state bedroom with a four-metre tall four-poster bed.

From Autumn 2020: 3D interactive experience, Bogengalerie L

A new 3D interactive museum in Bogengalerie L at the Zwinger castle will be dedicated to the history of this building and the 1719 wedding festivities, which included operas, balls, hunts and tournaments. Events were timed to coincide with auspicious planetary alignments – the people of Dresden clearly had stars in their eyes.


This article was sponsored by Dresden Marketing Board.