Europe is the land where Mozart played for kings, where Beethoven played for himself and where Liszt played for thousands of screaming fanatics and, though with time it has also become the land of The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Radiohead, nd Coldplay. Europe has never forgotten its roots as the following festivals easily demonstrate.
Conceived by German romantic Richard Wagner as a showcase of his own work, the Bayreuth Festival, in Germany, has been held almost every year since 1876. It remains exclusively devoted to Wagner’s work and is currently run by his two great granddaughters. It runs from late July to late August of each year and it’s often booked years in advance by die hard Wagner fans, but it’s not impossible to get tickets that have been returned to the box office on the day of a performance.
Surrounded by mountains and lakes and hosted by an idyllic Swiss town, Lucerne is a prestigious star-studded festival. It began in 1938 and became a popular place for those that chose not to perform in Bayreuth or Salzburg during the Nazi years. Since then it has expanded into a festival trilogy: Lucerne in Easter, a festival focused on sacred music that starts two weeks before Easter and runs through Palm Sunday; Lucerne at the Piano, a celebration of the keyboard that attracts virtuosos and masters in both classical and jazz piano; and the main event, Lucerne in Summer, where famous orchestras, conductors and virtuosos gather each year in front of roughly 120,000 people and perform the traditional repertoire as well as pieces from the 20th and 21st centuries.
Each September, MITO, named after the two cities that host the event, Milan and Turin (Torino in Italian), takes classical music outside of the standard venues and into public places, offering a wide variety of concerts in theatres, piazzas, courtyards and churches, often at a low price. The program, which usually offers two or three events a day, is available in May, so that festival-goers can start planning their own path.
Of course, these three music festivals are just a sample of the great variety of options Europe has to offer, but they do highlight the most important fact: that classical music is alive and thriving in Europe and there are more ways than ever to experience it.