Gustav Mahler was a notorious lover of the great outdoors. In the summers between 1908 and 1910, he retreated to a composing hut in the Dolomites where he would write such works as the Symphony no. 9, the unfinished Tenth and Das Lied von der Erde. Clearly, the arresting surrounding scenery, long walks and fresh air were ideal for allowing his creativity to flourish. It's no wonder: in the words of Mahler, the Dolomites is the kind of place that “sets your soul and body at ease”.

Val di Fassa - Col Margherita - Ezio Bosso and Italian Cello Consort © Fototeca Trentino Sviluppo S.p.A. | Foto di Daniele Lira
Val di Fassa - Col Margherita - Ezio Bosso and Italian Cello Consort
© Fototeca Trentino Sviluppo S.p.A. | Foto di Daniele Lira
The Sounds of the Dolomites festival takes place every summer in Trentino, and combines music and nature like never before. Here, concerts take place not in traditional auditoriums, but in the mountains themselves. The Dolomites has been a UNESCO World Natural Heritage Site since 2009, and is noted for the splendour of its jagged peaks, lush forests, vineyards, orchards and rolling alpine meadows replete with edelweiss and pink rhododendron. In the rifugi that are scattered around, one can find refreshment in local cheeses, polenta or speck, while wine buffs will want to try the Trentodoc (an alternative to Champagne) or visit the local cantine where it is produced.

This year's festival, which takes place between the beginning of July and the end of August, presents a wide-ranging programme to pique the interests of hiking music lovers of all guises. Most concerts begin at 1pm though, for early risers, there are also two dawn concerts beginning at 6am. Arriving at the chosen meeting point will usually require a bit of walking, and most events take place after an organised mountain walk, each of which is helpfully graded according to difficulty. In case of bad weather, an alternative venue at lower altitude is proposed. What's more, nearly all concerts can be attended free of charge.

This year's programme is characteristically varied. To mention but a few, you can hear bandoneon player Hèctor Ulises Passarella, Tunisian oud player Anouar Brahem or the highly individual Orchestra Di Piazza Vittorio – the multi-ethnic group named after a famously cosmopolitan quarter in Rome – who will play works by Rossini, Britten and De Machaut alongside traditional Sufi music on both Western and Middle-Eastern instruments. Jazz is also well represented with Chick Corea & Béla Fleck, the 13 year-old pianist prodigy Joey Alexander and the crossover duo of Matthias Bartolomey (playing a 18th century David Tecchler cello) and Klemens Bittmann (playing both the violin and the mandola). 

Val di Fassa - Rifugi dei Monzoni e della Marmolada - Trekking © Fototeca Trentino Sviluppo S.p.A. | Foto di Arturo Cuel
Val di Fassa - Rifugi dei Monzoni e della Marmolada - Trekking
© Fototeca Trentino Sviluppo S.p.A. | Foto di Arturo Cuel
As ever, music and setting have been judiciously matched. The Lago Asciutto provides an aptly sweeping backdrop for a programme of English Romantics Vaughan Williams, Elgar and Holst delivered by the Trentino-based Zandonai Ensemble alongside Berlin Philharmonic principal oboist Albrecht Meyer. Not far from the town of San-Martino della Castrozza, a popular base for skiers and home to a stunning natural light show every dusk when the setting sun turns the surrounding peaks pink, the Rifugio Giovanni Pedrotti hosts a boldly eclectic programme from trumpet dectet tenThing, led by Norway's equivalent of Alison Balsom, Tine Thing Helseth.

That there is a heavy dose of music for strings is fitting: the Cremona-based violin maker Stradivarious sourced much of the wood for his instruments from the region's Paneveggio forest, attracted by its particularly dense properties. Baroque violinst Giuliano Carmignola, who plays his own Stradivarius Baillot, offers a bracing mix of Bach, Vivaldi, Telemann and Biber in the crisp open air. At the chosen meeting point of the Rifugio Tosa Pedrotti, concert goers will be able to stock up on food before a 4-hour post-concert hike begins (you can also decide to go back by cable car, which is recommended if you're not accompanied by an alpine guide). The following day, the slick Hungarian group Quartetto Kelemen, winners of the Melbourne International Chamber Music Competition, present Schubert, Haydn and Beethoven.

This festival's programmatic innovation this year is also its most attractive offering. In the middle of the festival, the “Campiglio Special Week”, a "festival within a festival", sees cellist and festival regular Mario Brunello join forces with the world-renowned chamber orchestra Kremerata Baltica. There are a number of stand-out opportunities for members of the group. Ukrainian vibraphone player Andrei Pushkarev plays at Lago Nero, while the Quatro Baltico Quartet performs Hadyn's "Lerchen" and "Der Vogel" quartets alongside Philip Glass and Latvian composer Pēteris Vasks beneath the Art Nouveau frescoes of the Salon Hofer at the Grand Hotel Des Alpes.

Madoona di Campiglio - Dolomiti di Brenta al tramonto © Fototeca Trentino Sviluppo S.p.A. | Foto di Alessandro Gruzza
Madoona di Campiglio - Dolomiti di Brenta al tramonto
© Fototeca Trentino Sviluppo S.p.A. | Foto di Alessandro Gruzza
Together with amassed members of the Kremerata, Brunello presents a series of concerts rich in spirituality. There is an unmissable programme at the Chiesa San Vigilio featuring John Tavener's The Protecting Veil, a work descriptive of the composer's own Russian Orthodox faith, alongside Arvo Pärt's Orient and Occident. Soon after, they deliver a life-affirming concert at dawn comprising Mozart's Divertimenti, Tchaikovsky's Serenade for Strings in C major, Bach's Double Violin Concerto in D minor and Olivier Messiaen's Quartet for the End of Time. You can arrive near to the meeting point of Pra Castron di Flavona using a cable car, which opens at 4.30am for the occasion. Only early birds need apply.

One has to admire Brunello's energy. Only a few days before the dawn concert, he will embark on a three-day trek of the Brenta Dolomites with Kremerata cellist Peteris Sokolovskis. A maximum of 50 walkers can join them for the price of €360, which covers the cost of accommodation and the mountain guide. Brunello and Sokolovskis will be stopping off along the way to play works including contemporary Russian composer Alexander Kneifel's hypnotic piece for two cellos Lux aeterna. When the duo finally descends, it will join forces with the rest of the Kremerata at the Rifugio Brentei for a celebratory concert of Vivaldi, Michael Nyman and Nino Rota on the theme of "meeting".

Click here to see the full list of events.

Article sponsored by Trentino Marketing.