From lofty mountains to scorching desert, from rolling farmland to buzzing metropolis, from swamp to prairie, the United States has just about every conceivable landscape. The variety in the US landscape is matched by the variety of classical music festivals that it hosts, with many genres available in many different settings. We can’t list them all in one short article, but here’s a selection to tempt you in 2019.

Matthew and Carolyn Bucksbaum Campus, Aspen Music Festival and School © Grittani Creative
Matthew and Carolyn Bucksbaum Campus, Aspen Music Festival and School
© Grittani Creative

If lofty mountains are your thing, and if you’re after a dose of what it means to be American, look no further than the astonishingly beautiful rockies in Aspen, Colorado. In the space of seven weeks, starting on 27th June, this year’s Aspen Festival explores the theme of “Being American”. American composers featured range from the hard-core classical (Ives, Barber, Copland) to those more attuned to popular styles (Gershwin, Sondheim, Bernstein) to a broad range of newly written work, as well as plenty of non-American music both from professionals and from the students at the Festival Academy.

For a contrast to the lush vegetation of the Rockies in summer, head for the arid landscapes of New Mexico and the extraordinary views of them that you get at the Santa Fe Opera Festival, where the opera house is literally integrated into the landscape. This year’s edition contains four established repertoire titles (La bohème, The Pearl Fishers, Jenůfa, Così fan tutte); as well as a world premiere: Poul Ruders’ The Thirteenth Child, based on a Grimm fairy tale.

Set in the Berkshire Hills in Western Massachusetts and headlined by the Boston Symphony Orchestra is the Tanglewood Music Festival, which has been a major force in US classical music since it was set up in 1934, a driving force over the years being the BSO’s great conductor Serge Koussevitsky, whose name is stamped on one of the festival’s main venues, the “Koussevitsky Music Shed”. Like many US festivals, including Aspen, Tanglewood is centred around a substantial summer school: it’s held under the auspices of Boston University and welcomes thousands of students each summer. It’s been the musical proving ground for many of the US’ great composers and performers, with Leonard Bernstein being a regular attendee during his lifetime.

Tanglewood’s roster of artists for 2019 includes Andris Nelsons and BSO, Hilary Hahn, Avi Avital, Håkan Hardenberger, Miloš Karadaglić, Gautier Capuçon, Jean-Yves Thibaudet, Renée Fleming, Paul Lewis, Yefim Bronfman, Leonidas Kavakos and many more: with that kind of list there’s a fair chance that its current yearly audience figure of 350,000 will be maintained.

If you’re in the North-East and you’re after something more specialist and on a less grand scale, you should be well served by the Boston Early Music Festival in early June. The works range from opera (including the North American premiere of Agostino Steffani’s Orlando) to choral (Bach’s St Matthew Passion with the Dunedin Consort), to smaller scale works from composers as early as Hildegard of Bingen and as late as Beethoven, with the emphasis on medieval and early Baroque vocal music. Two concerts of French music from the court of Versailles look particularly interesting, one featuring Rameau and one with the music of Marc-Antoine Charpentier and Michel Richard de Lalande, held in conjunction with the Centre de musique baroque de Versailles.

Seattle Chamber Music Festival: Tessa Lark, Anne-Marie McDermott, Ani Aznavoorian, Rebecca Alders © Ken Dundas Photography
Seattle Chamber Music Festival: Tessa Lark, Anne-Marie McDermott, Ani Aznavoorian, Rebecca Alders
© Ken Dundas Photography

On the opposite coast, in the Pacific Northwest, the Seattle Chamber Music Society hosts its Summer Festival: three concerts per week in July curated by Artistic Director James Ehnes, who himself participates in performances of Poulenc, Mendelssohn and Martinů.

But if you want the backdrop to your festival visit to be the bright lights of the metropolis, head for New York City’s Mostly Mozart Festival in July and Early August. You’ll find plenty of Mozart, including The Magic Flute (New Yorkers’ first chance to see Barrie Kosky’s popular production), Iván Fischer conducting the Jupiter Symphony with his Budapest Festival Orchestra, the Takács Quartet playing the “Prussian” String Quartets, and many more. However, the word “Mostly” is something of a misnomer, since there is plenty of music, dance, theatre and film that has no particular link to Mozart (Finland’s Pekka Kuusisto, pairing his Vivaldi Four Seasons with Bartók and lacing the whole lot with a generous dose of Nordic traditional music, should be a particular treat).

<i>The Trout</i>, Mark Morris Dance Group, Mostly Mozart Festival 2018 © Stephanie Berger
The Trout, Mark Morris Dance Group, Mostly Mozart Festival 2018
© Stephanie Berger

A short (by US standards) train ride south along the Eastern seaboard gets you to Opera Philadelphia’s Festival O and, on 18th September, a fascinating world premiere: Philip Venables Denis and Katya, which relates the tale of the two Russian teenagers killed in 2016 after firing at police and turning themselves into a lethal social media circus.

Anthony Roth Costanzo in the world premiere of <i>Glass Handel</i>, O Festival, 2018 © Dominic M. Mercier
Anthony Roth Costanzo in the world premiere of Glass Handel, O Festival, 2018
© Dominic M. Mercier

Carry on south from Philadelphia and you will reach Charleston, South Carolina, where the Spoleto Festival runs from 24th May to 9th June and offers a broad mix of opera (Salome), dance (companies from Africa to Lebanon to the US) and music of many forms.

Several of the major orchestras run outdoor summer concert series which are very popular, often interleaving classical music with other forms. On the West Coast, the Los Angeles Philharmonic is hosting Classical Tuesdays at the Hollywood Bowl, including Berlioz’ Symphonie fantastique and Mahler’s Symphony no. 2 with Gustavo Dudamel conducting.

Chicago boasts two big outdoor summer festivals, both on the shores of Lake Michigan. Founded in 1905, Ravinia Festival is America’s oldest: it’s now very much a multi-genre affair, but there’s still a substantial classical offering, with some of the same big names as Tanglewood. The standout concert is on 26th July, when Marin Alsop conducts the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in Mahler 8. The Grant Park Music Festival, established in the 1930s as a response to the Great Depression, is a free series comprising mainly large scale symphonic concerts but some lighter material: this year’s edition runs from 12th June to 17th August and comprises 22 events.

Symphony in the Flint Hills © Kelly Glasscock
Symphony in the Flint Hills
© Kelly Glasscock

At the start of this article, I did mention swamps and prairies. A short distance from the biggest swamp of them all, Florida’s Everglades, the Miami Music Festival is another offering based around musical instruction, welcoming 300 participants each season and presenting 70 events ranging from chamber music to symphonic concerts, Zarzuela and opera. And in the Flint Hills of Kansas, on 15th June, the Kansas City Symphony hosts a huge open air event set in the middle of the prairie.

US classical music truly does thrive in every landscape.