Best classical music festivals in Australia

Brisbane Music Festival

Brisbane, Australia

until 12 December

Describing itself as ‘rising like a phoenix from the cyber ashes’, Brisbane’s nearly year-long festival bounds back live, and with over 20 concerts and events stitched into the fabric of some of the city’s less familiar spaces. Seven world premieres are slotted into a programme that includes the BMF Young Artists pairing Vaughan Williams with Xenakis, a song recital setting Mahler’s Rückert-Lieder alongside Schumann’s Dichterliebe and a digital celebration of sensuality making bedfellows of BrittenLigeti and Richard Strauss.

4MBS Festival of Classics

Brisbane, Australia

23 May – 6 June

From ‘Sonatas in the Suburbs’ to a four-concerts opening day ‘Beethoven and Beyond’ marathon, Beethoven 250 is not going unremarked – even if, by necessity, a year late. The Ninth Symphony sets its seal on the celebrations, but other anniversaries apply. A cenTENORy Dinner Concert includes a swathe of centenarians including Enrico Caruso and Giuseppe Di Stefano, and the Brisbane Symphony Orchestra underpins a ‘Spectacular’ revelling in operatic pops.

Stradbroke Chamber Music Festival

North Stradbroke Island, Australia

16-18 July

Not every festival can boast a Surf Life Saving Club for a concert venue, but ocean-lapped Stradbroke can – though it confines itself this year to The Point Lookout Community Hall where early morning coffee and birdsong yields to a striking contemporary programme. Plus,  SchubertWebern and Mahler spearhead a Viennese perspective, and barrier-bending jazz returns Trichotomy to the island.

Australian Festival of Chamber Music

Townsville, Queensland, Australia

23 July – 1 August

Artistic director Kathryn Stott couldn’t have picked a more poignant theme for last year’s 30th anniversary festival –Carnival, as events unfolded, was over before it could begin. But key components have been carried over, including an enterprising Beethoven strand: 25 Australian composers have written a variation on the ‘Ode to Joy’ to mark the quarter-century of the Goldner String Quartet; Symphony No. 5 is cut down to size for two cellos; and Immortal Beloved,Jessica Duchen’s drama of words and music receives its Australian premiere.

Tyalgum Music Festival

New South Wales, Australia,

3-5 September

It was the Schubert Octet that brought horn player Peter Luff to a festival still going strong 30 years on. In 2021, as artistic director, he indulges in a trip down memory lane, pairing the Schubert with Nielsen and a new work by Catherine Likhuta. Opening night includes a screening of the 1908 film L’assassinat du Duc de Guise complete with live performance of Saint-Saëns’s score, an Australian first.

Tasmanian Chamber Music Festival

Evandale, Australia

20-24 October

Spring wouldn’t be the same without chamber music invading northern Tasmania’s elegant heritage and Georgian buildings. With social distancing, however, this year is organised across two sets of festival packages playing to a total of 300 audience members.

Best classical music festivals in New Zealand

Wakatipu Music Festival

Queenstown, New Zealand 4-7 June

Running concurrently with LUMA Southern Light Project which gilds the shores of Lake Wakatipu with illuminated art and light sculptures, the music festival sheds its own light on Beethoven, Schubert and Brahms; plus it brings together the ensemble NZTrio and clarinettist Jonathan Cohen for  Messiaon’s visionary Quartet for the End of Time.

Nelson Arts Festival

Nelson, New Zealand

21-31 October

Performed in a hotel room, Poulenc’s ‘telephone’ opera La voix humaine was one of 2020’s enterprising propositions. There’s a new team in place, but you’ll have to wait until August for the big reveal of 2021’s multi-arts goodies.

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