Spain’s landscape of music festivals is as rich and varied as the country itself. Amongst the plethora of offerings, you'll find ancient music and baroque, dance and flamenco, festivals on the coast or in the mountains, in churches or castles. Here’s a review of the most important of them; we hope that it will inspire you with an irresistible urge to block out a space in your diary for one or more of them.

The year starts in Madrid with Madrid en Danza, a broad showcase for different styles of dance and ballet, both Spanish and international. As autumn advances, before the cold arrives, we can enjoy the late sunshine in the beautiful city of Cadiz at the Festival de Música Española “Manuel de Falla”, whose name tells you what you need to know. The programme is centred on Spanish music and Spanish musicians, with many events featuring flamenco song and dance.

Cadiz Cathedral © Turismo de Cádiz
Cadiz Cathedral
© Turismo de Cádiz

As winter approaches, let’s leave the Cadiz coast. Even though I fear that cold weather is certain, the beautiful renaissance cities of Úbeda and Baeza are welcoming and enchanting in every season, the more so when their palaces and churches are filled with the voices and instruments that give life to the renaissance and baroque repertoire in the Festival de Música Antigua de Úbeda y Baeza. The festival, which has now been running for 21 years, is growing in scope, expanding to other nearby towns as well as becoming more international: the 2017 edition was dedicated to Mexico.

How better to escape the harshness of winter than to head for the Canary Islands, whose pleasant January climate plays host to the Festival Internacional de Música de Canarias. Some of the top European orchestras, conductors and soloists, including those from mainland Spain, travel to the archipelago, perhaps also attracted by the promise of warm weather, where they share the bill with the local orchestras: the Orquesta Sinfónica de Tenerife and the Orquesta Filarmónica de Gran Canaria.

As a prelude to spring, we now move to a great coastal city, Barcelona, where we will find two major concert halls (the Palau de la Música and l’Auditori) which both stage major seasons as well as hosting programmes from outside promoters. Barcelona also has one of the top opera houses, the Gran Teatre del Liceu, so the city’s total musical offering is so extensive that there’s at least one event on just about every day of the season. The Barcelona Obertura Spring Festival aims to showcase this, highlighting the various events in the city between 4th and 17th March: it’s a particularly active period with no less than 19 events from these three great houses, of such quality that it’s going to be very hard to make one’s choices.

The church of San Luis de los Franceses, Seville © M. J. López
The church of San Luis de los Franceses, Seville
© M. J. López

We can’t leave Andalusia for long (it’s the region with the most festivals, whether because of its sheer size or because of its exceptionally rich historic and artistic heritage), so we’ll return there in March for the Festival de Música Antigua de Sevilla. This lasts four weeks and takes placeat four venues: the Teatro de la Maestranza, the Cathedral, the Church of San Luis de los Franceses and the more modern Espacio Turina. The programme of Renaissance and Baroque music brings together Spanish ensembles with their colleagues from other countries. The magnificent Orquesta Barroca de Sevilla takes an active part in the festival, while the 2018 edition included such groups as the Accademia del Piacere, Capella Santa Maria and The King’s Consort. There were highly interesting projects such as the original version for quintet and soprano of Boccherini’s Stabat Mater, and the Goldberg Variations played on the harpsichord. There were also events associated with the Seville painter Murillo, whose 400th anniversary took place that year.

Coming on to Holy Week, can't help mentioning the Semana de Música Religiosa de Cuenca. It’s a long time since the golden days in which this festival commissioned and premièred new works, but its location in Cuenca, a UNESCO World Heritage city which contains other attractions such as the Museo de Arte Abstracto Español, make it well worth the trip.

If you want to get to know Úbeda but early music in the cold stone walls of churches isn’t your thing, your chance comes in spring: the city makes the most of its resources and puts on a second festival. The "City of Úbeda" International Festival of Music and Dance takes place between May and June in the magnificent Hospital de Santiago, built in 1575. The 2018 edition included Pepe Romero, Ainhoa Arteta and Javier Perianes; there were chamber music and children’s events as well as ballet. The 30th edition was brought to a close by La Fura dels Baus, with the wide-ranging programming including the winner of the Concurso Internacional de Piano Premio Jaén.

One thing not to forget: there are many, many flamenco festivals, small and large, especially in the south of the country. One of the best showcases for flamenco talent is Madrid’s Suma Flamenca, whose events take place in June in various locations including parks, some of them free.

Not, admittedly, for the claustrophobic, a truly magical venue in which to hear great voices and instrumentalists or the best dance takes place underground. The Festival Cueva de Nerja happens, as the name implies, in the Nerja Caves, a complex of caves of which one has been sculpted by time, water and chemistry into a natural amphitheatre. Named the Sala de la Cascada o del Ballet, this cave plays host each year to the festival’s concerts.

The arrival of summer is greeted by the large international festivals, starting with the Festival de Granada. With the recent appointment of Pablo Heras-Casado as artistic director, the 67th edition of the festival appears to have been a great success. One of the unique things about this festival is its location: born in the Alhambra, it draws on an immense musical legacy and spreads it to the world from this incomparable space. This year’s festival, in the settings of the Palacio de Carlos V and the gardens of Generalife, has seen music by Debussy with Les Siècles, flamenco, dance, baroque music in the shape of Forma Antiqva, and Spain-inspired Russian repertoire from the Mariinsky Orchestra and Valery Gergiev.

The Alhambra Palace in Granada © Turismo de Andalucía
The Alhambra Palace in Granada
© Turismo de Andalucía

To spirit you away from the hot summer nights of the Costa Brava, the Festival Castell de Peralada takes place in the Alto Ampurdán, a region surrounded by vineyards in the foothills of the Pyrenees. There are many venues, but most of the concerts take place in the medieval castle. It lasts from the beginning of July to the middle of August and offers a varied programme including vocal music, recitals, opera and ballet: Jonas Kaufmann and Plácido Domingo were among the artists to visit this year. It’s an ambitious festival that stages its own opera productions, this year’s having been Die Zauberflöte and Handel’s Rinaldo. It also had the première and only performance in Spain of Bolshoi star Svetlana Zakharova’s Amore, as well as home grown projects such as those by Silvia Pérez Cruz and Marco Mezquida.

Just hearing the name “Schubertiade” is enough to transport us back in time to a Viennese salon in 1820. The Vilabertrán Schubertiade, however, arranged by the Barcelona Franz Schubert Association, pays homage to art song from a medieval monastery, the Canónica de Santa Maria de Vilabertrán, which is at the heart of the association’s activities during August. The best Lied interpreters of the moment appear in a programme which also contains chamber music, topped off by an intensive teaching programme.

The Kursaal auditorium on the beach of La Zurriola, with the bay of La Concha behind © San Sebastián Turismo
The Kursaal auditorium on the beach of La Zurriola, with the bay of La Concha behind
© San Sebastián Turismo

For many, the summer equates to the call of the sea, so we now move to the coast to take in the festivals of Santander and San Sebastián, which are undoubtedly attractive in presenting great artists and ensembles in places outside the usual circuit. The north of the Iberian Peninsula has the further advantages of a gentle summer and scrupulously crafted gastronomy. The Festival de Santander hosts the finals of the Santander International Piano Competition, and in August, it’s been anchored by orchestras like the London Symphony Orchestra with Simon Rattle or the Budapest Festival Orchestra and Iván Fischer. Soloists passing through the gates of the Palacio de Festivales have included the Labèque sisters, Joaquín Achúcarro and Christian Gerhaher.

For the length of August, the elegant city of San Sebastián, which grew up in front of the bay of La Concha and whose outer edge contains the Kursaal Auditorium, welcomes ensembles ranging from the Rotterdam Philharmonic and their conductor Yannick Nézet-Séguin to the NDR Elbphilharmonie Orchester. The Quincena Musical de San Sebastián also has a dramatic side, with the La Fura dels Baus production of Haydn’s Creation and a co-production of Rossini’s L’italiana in Algeri between the Teatro Colón of Buenos Aires and the Festival de San Lorenzo de El Escorial.

 

Translated from Spanish by David Karlin