The summer months – June, July, and August – are a time when many orchestras, choral groups, and other arts organizations slow-down and take time to prepare for their next seasons. But, summer is also the time for music festivals.
Summer music festivals give listeners a chance to hear a great deal of music in a short span of time as well as the chance to hear live in concert several of the world’s greatest performers in one setting. For musicians, these festivals present a chance to assemble and collaborate with other musicians they may not encounter during the regular season. While the concerts give these musicians the chance to play alongside one another, many festivals also include lectures and master classes which give musicians and other attendees a chance to discuss music and musical topics. Many festivals are themed, allowing both listeners and musicians alike to benefit from encountering music of a similar nature or with similar attributes over a concentrated period.
Locally, May had its own share of music festivals: here in Alexandria, we had the Little Walter Music Festival, and elsewhere nearby there was the Natchez Festival of Music and the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival. This Sunday begins the 38th Annual Shreveport Summer Music Festival. Directed by Leonard Kacenjar, this festival includes several free concerts at various locations throughout Shreveport. Programs range from orchestral music to chamber ensembles to jazz, and performers include many musicians well-known to the Shreveport area. The program this Sunday, June 1 begins at 3:00 PM at Holy Cross Episcopal Church in downtown Shreveport, and features a new composition by Kermit Poling, who is perhaps best known as the host of Red River Radio. Poling’s new piece is called Visions of the Virgin, and the Shreveport Festival Orchestra will perform this work alongside an Organ Concerto by George Frideric Handel and Musica Celestis by Yale-based contemporary composer Aaron Jay Kernis.
Across the United States, some of the leading summer music festivals include those held in Aspen (Colorado), Vail (also Colorado), Tanglewood (Massachusetts), and Newport (Rhode Island). Buried in the Rocky Mountains, the Aspen Music Festival lasts nearly two months, and this year will feature outstanding classical artists like Joshua Bell, Gil Shaham, Robert McDuffie, Garrick Ohlsson, Leonard Slatkin, the Takács Quartet, Emerson String Quartet, and the list goes on. Nearby and running contemporaneously, the Bravo! Vail festival features three of America’s leading orchestras as its guests: the Dallas Symphony Orchestra, Philadelphia Orchestra, and New York Philharmonic Orchestra. On the East Coast, Tanglewood welcomes the Boston Symphony Orchestra back to its summer home for another terrific season; since the days of Koussevitzky and Bernstein, Tanglewood has featured new music written by American composers alongside excellent performances of the classics. In Newport, this year’s festival will highlight the music of Richard Strauss on the 150th anniversary of his birth and Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach on his 300th anniversary.
Europe also has its fair share of festivals. Since 1946, the Darmstadt International Summer Courses for New Music have been a breeding ground for new music, especially during the first years following World War II when the composers of the emerging avant-garde would meet there annually to discuss their radically new ideas; looking at this year’s schedule, it is still the music of these composers – Karlheinz Stockhausen, in particular – which dominate the festival. And, last but not least, I mention the BachFest Leipzig, which I attended last summer. Each year, the BachFest Leipzig pays tribute to the German master Johann Sebastian Bach and his contemporaries – only natural considering Leipzig was Bach’s home for nearly thirty years. Last year, the theme was the life of Jesus Christ as depicted in Bach’s choral works; this year, the theme is the music of Bach’s second eldest son Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach who was an excellent composer in his own right. Read more about my adventures in Leipzig at the Musical Travels page.
Let me know if you are planning to attend a music festival this summer. If not, perhaps consider making the trip next summer. As I learned in Leipzig, music festivals can be unforgettable experiences for music lovers.
About Jackson. Jackson Harmeyer is a recent graduate of the Louisiana Scholars’ College – Louisiana’s designated honors college located on the campus of Northwestern State University. There, he studied music history, completing an undergraduate thesis entitled “Learning from the Past: The Influence of Johann Sebastian Bach upon the Soviet Composers.” Now living in Alexandria, he is one of the founding members of TicketCentral and will also be writing this season’s program notes for the Rapides Symphony Orchestra.