In A Pandemic Dance, Music Festivals Across U.S. Venture To Reopen


PREVIEW – At last, some good news! After a year of dark halls, curtailed programming, and staff furloughs because of coronavirus protocols, some normalcy appears on the way in the classical world. Many North American summer festivals will return to live, in-person concerts this summer, and most fans probably agree that these events can’t come soon enough. Here is a look at some highlights:

Aspen’s Benedict Music Tent is ready for players. (Grittani Crative)

Aspen Music Festival, Aspen, Colo., July 1-Aug. 22

A strong accent on diversity will mark the 72nd season of this venerable event high in the Colorado Rockies. As usual, it will combine scores of concerts with intensive courses for top young musicians, but the number of students will drop from as many as 690 in some years to just 270 this summer because of pandemic precautions, and audience capacity limits will be in place. A highlight will be an emphasis on composers identifying as AMELIA (African-American, Middle-Eastern, Latin, Indigenous, and Asian), including Lei Liang, Jessie Montgomery, Samy Moussa, and Roberto Sierra. In addition, the festival will launch the Aspen Opera Theater and VocalARTS program led by soprano Renée Fleming and Patrick Summer, artistic and music director of the Houston Grand Opera.

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Choreographer-dancer Molly Katzman tries out a location in an area burned by the 2020 CZU Lightning Complex fires of Northern California. (Cabrillo Music Festival)

Cabrillo Festival of Contemporary Music, Santa Cruz, Calif., July 31-Aug. 8

Cabrillo, which bills itself as America’s longest-running festival of new orchestral music, will present a second consecutive season of virtual concerts. Headed by music director Cristian Măcelaru and featuring site-specific dance, environmental photography, animation and videography woven through new and recent compositions for full orchestra and chamber ensemble, the festival’s 2021 season “deepens its exploration of the virtual concert experience,” Cabrillo announced. In a natural setting, choreographer-dancer Molly Katzman will perform Contesting Eden, a new 10-minute composition by Gabriela Lena Frank.

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Music director Peter Oundjian will preside over four world premieres at the Colorado Music Festival in Boulder. (Michael Ensminger)

Colorado Music Festival, Boulder, Colo., July 1-Aug. 7

The Colorado Music Festival, one of a dozen or more summer festivals scattered across the state, roars back to live performances with an ambitious season led by music director Peter Oundjian. On tap are four world premieres, including Aaron Jay Kernis’ Elegy, a commemoration of the people lost to the pandemic, and the inauguration of the Robert Mann Chamber Music Series, a salute to the former first violinist of the Juilliard String Quartet. Among the groups taking part in the new program is the Danish String Quartet.

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Mary Cardwell Dawson (1894-1962), founder of the National Negro Opera Company, will be the subject of a world premiere opera at Glimmerglass.

Glimmerglass Festival, Cooperstown, N.Y., July 15-Aug. 17

To help offset the dangers of COVID-19, the opera festival is moving the 2021 season from its usual 915-seat theater to a new outdoor venue on the event grounds. “We have re-imagined the Glimmerglass experience for the 2021 season,” says Francesca Zambello, artistic and general director. “While this move outdoors is primarily for the health and safety of our company members, audience members and community, it is in harmony with what people love about Glimmerglass – innovative art and performances in a beautiful location.” The season line-up includes new productions of Mozart’s The Magic Flute, Verdi’s Il trovatore, and Offenbach’s La Périchole (The Songbird) as well as the world premiere of The Passion of Mary Cardwell Dawson, a play with music about the founder of the National Negro Opera Company. [Mezzo-soprano Denyce Graves will sing the role of Dawson, above, who was born in 1894. The music is by Carlos Simon will be set to a text by playwright Sandra Seaton.]

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The Grand Teton Music Festival tent will serve a limited capacity audience for some concerts this year, with additional programming planned. (Ashley Wilkerson, 2020)

Grand Teton Music Festival, Jackson, Wyo., July 2-Aug. 21

This mountain festival has aptly titled its 2021 season Welcome Home as it returns to live performing with seven weeks of orchestral and chamber performances. “I’m looking forward to having us all come back together for our 60th season, when we return home to the Festival we love,” says music director Donald Runnicles. The first week will take place with limited capacity in the festival’s tent, and the rest of the concerts will be heard in Walk Festival Hall at the base of the ski slopes in Teton Village.

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The distinctive Venetian-Gothic Music Hall, completed in 1878, is home to Cincinnati’s premier orchestra, opera, choral and dance institutions.

May Festival, Cincinnati, Ohio, May 21-30

Founded in 1873 and featuring a 130-voice chorus, this annual event ranks among the oldest and most respected choral festivals in North America. May Festival will be back for in-person concerts this summer, but there will be capacity limits on both audiences and performers, and other safety protocols will be in place, including concert lengths limited to 75-90 minutes. 2021 highlights include selections from the Rig Veda, four groups of songs that Gustav Holst wrote using texts from a collection of canonical Hindu hymns, as well as two sections from Indian-American composer Reena Esmail’s I Rise: Women in Song, which uses texts by famous female authors. ompleted in 1878. It serves as the home for the Cincinnati BalletCincinnati Symphony OrchestraCincinnati OperaMay Festival Chorus, and the Cincinnati Pops Orchestra. In January 1975, it was recognized as a National Historic Landmark by the U.S. Department of the Interior for its distinctive Venetian Gothic architecture.

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To be heard at the Ojai Festival, John Adams’ piano piece I Still Play, recorded here by Jeremy Denk.

Ojai Music Festival, Ojai, Calif., Sept. 16-19

Composer John Adams is serving as the rotating music director of this year’s edition of this celebrated festival, which includes the old but emphasizes the new. “John has made it very clear that he wants to feature the work of a new generation of composers and performers to make this a decidedly forward-facing festival,” says Ara Guzelimian, artistic and executive director. Participants will include composer and pianist Timo Andres, composer and musician Rhiannon Giddens, composer Gabriela Ortiz, and the Attacca Quartet. Ojai will enforce a range of safety protocols, including limited seating capacity.

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The performances will be virtual this year, but the festival promises plenty that’s new.

Oregon Bach Festival, Eugene, Ore., June 25-July 11

Unlike many of its peers, the Oregon Bach Festival, which is administered by the University of Oregon School of Music and Dance, has chosen not to offer in-person performances in 2021. Instead, it will present a line-up of virtual performances, including a two-part concert titled Phenomenal Women, which includes Quiet Streets, a new piano concerto by Lara Downes.

“We want nothing more than to return to full concert halls and large social gatherings,” says Sabrina Madison-Cannon, dean of the School of Music and Dance. “But, like so many other performing arts organizations of our kind, the health trends and data are telling us to consider alternative ways of serving our community.”

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Music fans arrive at the Ravinia Festival from downtown Chicago by train, and from a variety of northern suburbs. (Photo courtesy Ravinia Festival)

Ravinia Festival, Highland Park, Ill.

This 36-acre oasis just north of Chicago is the longtime summer home of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. It will be in this idyllic environment that the orchestra will return to in-person concerts with a six-week line-up overseen by Marin Alsop in her first season as chief conductor and curator. She was named to the post in February 2020 and was scheduled to take the stage in her new role last year, but the pandemic delayed that debut.

Expected schedule announcement: Early May (

The Santa Fe Opera’s semi-enclosed stage under the canopy of the Milky Way. (Santa Fe Opera)

Santa Fe Opera, Santa Fe, N.M., July 10-Aug. 27

Despite the pandemic, the Santa Fe Opera has announced an ambitious four-production season plus some auxiliary offerings. It is headlined by the world premiere of The Lord of Cries with music by John Corigliano and a libretto by Mark Adamo. Also featured: Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro, Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin, and Britten’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. While the seating capacity in the festival’s amphitheater will not change, an array of coronavirus protocols will be in place including mask-wearing and social distancing in lines.

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Twice-daily chamber concerts and two world premieres, plus virtual performances for remote audiences, will keep the Spoleto Festival vigorous despite 25 percent capacity limits.

Spoleto Festival USA, Charleston, S.C., May 28-June 13

Like many of the summer festivals, the Spoleto Festival announced its full schedule later than usual. “This delay in our program announcement reflects the upcoming season’s challenges and overarching unpredictability,” the festival announced. The line-up includes more than 70 in-person music, dance, and theater offerings as well as two interactive virtual works created especially for remote audiences. Working with professionals from the Medical University of South Carolina, organizers have set audience limits at 25 percent of those of a normal season. Highlighting the musical portion of the festival will be twice-daily chamber-music concerts featuring four world premieres, two by composer-in-residence Jessica Meyer, and Samuel Coleridge-Taylor’s Nonet in F minor.

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Concerts this summer will take place in the open-air Koussevitzy Music Shed and last 80 minutes, but the 2021 Festival of Contemporary Music will roar on. (Marco Borggreve)

Tanglewood Music Festival, Lenox, Mass., July 9-Aug. 16

Composer-conductor Thomas Adès leads Tanglewood’s 2021 Festival of Contemporary Music, which will present works by György Kurtág, Per Nørgård, Steve Reich, Kaija Saariaho, and Xinyang Wang. The Boston Symphony Orchestra, which owns and operates the Tanglewood Music Festival, announced in March that the event would offer an in-person season this summer but with about 50 percent of its usual offerings. Its reopening plan includes an array of safety restrictions. All concerts will take place in the festival’s open-air Koussevitzky Music Shed at a maximum length of 80 minutes. “The BSO welcomes this opportunity to reconnect with its loyal audiences and the greater Berkshire community and begin assessing what will be necessary to rebuild and reimagine the concert-going experience as the orchestra looks to a post-COVID-19 world,” the orchestra said.

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