Christmas may have come and gone, but the festive spirit lives on. One of the delights of classical music is its festival calendar: if you know where to look, you’ll find celebrations of concerts and opera all year round, and often in some marvellously unexpected places. We’ve selected a few highlights from the coming months to whet your appetite – take a look, and get planning.

Chapelle de Gstaad © DR
Chapelle de Gstaad
© DR
The Swiss mountain town of Gstaad is as picturesque a setting for a festival as you could imagine, and Sommets Musicaux de Gstaad takes place from the end of January. The special focus this year is on piano duos, with the festival’s trademark mixture of budding young talent and experienced pros. Outside the main theme, visitors include Daniel Hope, Thomas Hampson and the Academy of St Martin in the Fields – and with ample opportunities for fine dining and skiing, there is something for everyone here.

If you’d rather escape from the cold than don your goggles and race down mountains, then one potential destination is the Canary Islands. This January, something rather special is happening there: the International Canary Islands Music Festival is celebrating its 30th anniversary, in spectacular fashion. Their headline guests are the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, complete with music director Riccardo Muti – they’re bringing two programmes to the islands, and showing off their range, with music from Beethoven to Prokofiev. There’s also the small matter of the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, plus a long visit from Gidon Kremer. This is a festival with the clout to change people’s opinions about this popular tourist destination – it’s more than beaches and sun.

Auditorio de Tenerife, Santa Cruz de Tenerife, Spain, 2012
Auditorio de Tenerife, Santa Cruz de Tenerife, Spain, 2012
And Salzburg is more than Mozart’s birthplace – even during Mozart Week. The Mozartwoche Salzburg is an impeccably programmed festival in late January which always aims to throw new light on the city's favourite son. This year, plenty of Mozart is combined with a look at his older contemporaries Gluck and C.P.E. Bach (both anniversary composers this year), and with many pieces by Richard Strauss and Arvo Pärt. It’s an attractive, streamlined set of concerts, which features a world-class line-up of stars, from András Schiff to the Vienna Philharmonic.

Over in Hong Kong, the Arts Festival lasts a whole month from mid February and has a world-beating set of events, if you’re after variety. As well as a stellar range of international orchestras (London Symphony, Budapest Festival), their varied dance programme features such leading lights as Trisha Brown Dance Company (performing twice for free), Tanztheater Wuppertal and the Ballet of La Scala. As if that wasn’t enough, the singers of Finland’s Savonlinna Opera Festival are making the trip for two staged performances of Lohengrin and a gala concert. There’s a huge selection of theatre on offer too, including the South African Baxter Theatre Centre’s Mies Julie, which took London by storm last year. It’s an overwhelmingly rich programme across the board.

Chamber festivals

A month before the Hong Kong Arts Festival kicks off, the city hosts the Hong Kong International Chamber Music Festival, which is turning five this year. With a particular focus on Brahms, the festival’s musicians include violinist Vadim Repin and violist Maxim Rysanov. A selection of workshops, lectures and masterclasses surround the concert programme – this is typical of chamber music festivals, in fact, as something similar is happening at the Seattle Chamber Music Society Winter Festival in January, in which the main concerts are supplemented by shorter, free recitals, a family concert, and open rehearsals. The festival is directed by violinist James Ehnes, who is playing in most of the concerts himself and has thoughtfully compiled a selection of chamber music classics.

Ehnes Quartet in Benaroya Hall, Seattle, in 2012 © Jerry Davis Photography
Ehnes Quartet in Benaroya Hall, Seattle, in 2012
© Jerry Davis Photography
The Istanbul Opus Amadeus Chamber Music Festival features another fine selection of artists, from Turkey and further afield, in their programme of more-or-less weekly concerts which extends from March through to April. There’s an attractively varied selection of music on display – including some music for six-hand piano – and Istanbul is currently enjoying a good time of it for classical music, as we’ve recently reported. This March might be the perfect time to explore this part of the world.

Church and choral festivals

Or how about exploring Norway? This March’s Oslo International Church Music Festival has a strong selection of artists and a highly intriguing festival theme: they're looking at sacrifice in music, beginning with Handel’s final oratorio Jephtha, in which biblical tale the title character is almost forced to offer his own daughter to God. With five world premières in the festival programme as well, it promises a fresh look at church music old and new.

With less of a theme than the Oslo festival but with many more events, the Brandenburg Choral Festival enlivens London with choral music for the whole of the first five months of the year. This time round, there’s everything from Monteverdi to Karl Jenkins, as well as a series of “Fringe Club” events at a secret venue. And all this right in the heart of London. With events taking place over almost half the year, there’s no excuse not to make it to something.

Baroque festivals

London Handel Festival's Imeneo at the Royal College of Music in 2013
London Handel Festival's Imeneo at the Royal College of Music in 2013
Overlapping with the Brandenburg Festival is the London Handel Festival, which takes place in early March in a variety of locations around the capital, though most often in St George’s, Hanover Square. Headline Handel events include Arianna in Creta, Ariodante with Royal Academy Opera, Deborah and Israel in Egypt, but perhaps just as intriguing is Niccolò Jommelli’s rarely heard La Didone from obscure Baroque specialists Ensemble Serse, and a closing rendition of Bach’s St Matthew Passion. There are also stacks of concert performances, including a lunchtime series and numerous organ recitals.

If you like your Baroque a little hotter, however, perhaps the International Tropical Baroque festival in Coral Gables, Florida is the place to go this February to March. This picturesque setting, with beaches galore, is host to some serious players in the Baroque world, including Les Voix Humaines and Jordi Savall. 

Looking ahead

Carmen at the Israeli Opera Festival 2012, at the foot of Masada © Yossi Zwecker
Carmen at the Israeli Opera Festival 2012, at the foot of Masada
© Yossi Zwecker
Further into the future, we can assure there’s plenty more to come. We’ll tell you more in a few months’ time, but you might want to pencil some of these in your diary for now: the Savonlinna Opera Festival brings breathtaking opera to a Finnish castle every summer and this year features numerous classics alongside a new production of Aulis Sallinen’s Kullervo. Welsh National Opera are visiting for the final week of the festival, taking two productions from their upcoming season. Talking of remarkable locations for opera, the Israeli Opera Festival is staging La Traviata at the foot of Mount Masada this June, bizarrely but brilliantly bringing the bustle of 19th-century Paris to the Judean desert.

A little later on – in July – is Finland’s biggest chamber music festival, the Kuhmo Chamber Music Festival. With 70 events in just two weeks, it’s shaping up to be something very special. The full programme is announced on 7 January, but among the highlights already hinted at are Bach’s reconstructed St Mark Passion, a visit from “one-man band” Pekka Kuusisto, and a Finnish première for artistic director Vladimir Mendelssohn’s composition Dracula’s Castle.

 

There’s also the Händel Festival Halle which takes place every June, bringing music by the great man, plus many contemporaries and near-contemporaries, to his home town. Enticing rarities include the operas Arminio and Giove in Argo, while there’s room for a Messiah in there too. Halle may have a few fewer palm trees than Palm Beach, but the music should more than make up for that.