The summer of 2012 was largely given over to sport in the UK, with the world’s finest athletes and sportspeople grabbing most of the headlines. Why not make 2013 a year of music? There’s certainly enough of it going on, across the country: join our tour for a few upcoming highlights.

Let’s start in Scotland, where the main show this summer takes place in Edinburgh. Edinburgh International Festival this August has a remarkable line-up across all the arts, but its music programme is particularly exceptional. Performers range from Mitsuko Uchida (in a marvellous programme we reviewed earlier this year in London) to Cybraphon, an “autonomous emotional robot band in a box”, which has won a BAFTA. Somewhere between these two extremes, the festival welcomes the Philip Glass Ensemble, Opéra de Lyon, Ian Bostridge and the Bang on a Can All-Stars: it’s an extremely varied programme, but the focus is squarely on the interesting.

Bang on a Can All-Stars © Stephanie Berger
Bang on a Can All-Stars
© Stephanie Berger

Heading south to Manchester, on the other hand, July’s Manchester International Festival is just as eclectic a mix. Its music programme runs the gamut of styles and genres, but among the classical highlights are an evening devoted to John Tavener, a rare visit from Martha Argerich with Manchester Camerata, and a new staging by Peter Sellars of Shostakovich’s Michelangelo Suite, to be sung by bass Eric Owens.

From Manchester, we suggest looking west, for the North Wales International Music Festival in the small city of St Asaph. Home to the country’s smallest cathedral, every September the city plays host to a selection of top-class performers. As a tip of the hat to the Britten anniversary this year, things are kicking off with Mid Wales Opera’s performance of Noye’s Fludde, and visits from the ever-popular Paul Mealor and the Swingle Singers should ensure a lively festival in this idyllic setting. A short trip through the valleys, and you’ll find yourself at Brecon Baroque Festival: directed by renowned violinist Rachel Podger, this year’s festival will feature a performance of Handel’s oratorio Theodora among other events.

Cheltenham Music Festival © Pete Riley 2009
Cheltenham Music Festival
© Pete Riley 2009
Back across the English border, Autumn in Malvern Festival this October features a visit from the St Petersburg String Quartet in one of several concerts featuring more Britten. There’s also a spot of Elgar (in the Royal College of Music Chamber Orchestra’s concert) – unsurprisingly, given that it was that the Malvern Hills that so inspired this composer. To explore the rest of West Midlands over the summer, you’re spoilt for choice as ever: the Three Choirs Festival is in Gloucester this year with the usual world-class selection of performers in July and August – a focus on Arvo Pärt with the Philharmonia Orchestra will be particularly worth a look. And Cheltenham Music Festival in early July is well worth a visit, with an enticing “Radio Play Double Bill” from Birmingham Contemporary Music Group, Nicola Benedetti and her trio, and plenty more besides.

A trip up the M5 and beyond will take you to the Leicester International Music Festival, organised by oboist Nicholas Daniel. This September the festival presents “A Voyage Around Britten”, celebrating this composer in his centenary with music not just by the man himself, but also by joint composers in residence Helen Grime and Huw Watkins. The festival is also celebrating its own 25th anniversary – and Babar the Elephant’s 80th, apparently. Talking of Britten, there is another composer associated closely with Suffolk who doesn’t receive quite as much attention: William Alwyn. The third William Alwyn Festival will feature ten of this neglected British composer’s works, alongside much more music from these shores and beyond, with performers including Julian Lloyd Webber.

Music at Plush
Music at Plush
Before heading into London, there are two more stops to make. Firstly, a quick diversion to Dorset’s Plush Festival will be well worth it: for five weekends over the summer, the festival hosts performers including Joanna MacGregor and music director Adrian Brendel, for some high-quality chamber music. Free-to-attend talks and rehearsals run alongside the concert programmes, and it’s a beautiful part of the country to find yourself in. And secondly, the St Albans International Organ Festival this July has a strong selection of organ recitals alongside numerous related events, including a Britten War Requiem and a visit from pianist Alessandro Taverna.

Over in the capital, as we all know, the BBC Proms are making the most headlines this summer – we’ve already compiled a few highlights here. Suffice to say, there’s a lot to get your teeth into, especially if you like Wagner. The Proms don’t have a monopoly on London classical festivals, though, and there is plenty to look forward to later on in the year as well. Hampstead Arts Festival, for instance, will bring some beautiful chamber music to one of the leafier parts of London this October – look out for the Brodsky Quartet’s Zemlinsky cycle. And the International Wimbledon Music Festival will make a strong case for South-West London in November. Sir John Tomlinson is doing a recital, and so is the exciting historical-instrument group Quatuor Mosaïques. Either end of the city – and either end of the country, in fact – there’s plenty of classical music to be found. We hope you make it to some this year.

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