Whether you prefer the mountains, the seaside, or wandering through historic small towns; whether you want to stay in town or take a day trip to the Blue Ridge or the Eastern Shore, this summer’s music festivals have something for everyone. How does a “Bach-tail” happy hour sound? Or a hike accompanied by an Indian flute? Or a magic flute in an 18th century secret garden...or love potions mixed up in a 1700’s barn? Take a stroll in a 114-acre artists’ retreat from the twenties; spend a Baroque Lovers’ Afternoon or imagine an evening in 1920’s Paris. Thrill to the sound of the great organ at Washington National Cathedral or to the bucolic charm of Schubert’s Trout Quintet at Harper’s Ferry. From the brand-new Montero at Prager inaugurating its first season to the venerable Garth Newel celebrating its 50th season, a myriad of world-class music festivals is no more than a few hours away.
Our guide to 8 area music festivals plus 2 Independence Day spectaculars begins in historic Easton, on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, with two opportunities to enjoy summertime music and fun. The brand-new Montero at Prager and the Chesapeake Summer Music Festival, celebrating its 38th season, both add a lovely note to Easton’s many attractions, from sailing to seafood.
1. Montero at Prager (June 3 and July 1)
Venezuelan pianist Gabriela Montero was invited along with Itzhak Perlman, Yo-Yo Ma and Anthony McGill to perform at Barack Obama’s 2009 inauguration. Last fall, she inaugurated the first season of Montero at Prager. From the intimate setting of the Prager Family Center for the Arts in the heart of downtown Easton, audiences can enjoy up-close performances by acclaimed artists like Joshua Bell, Marc-André Hamelin and Yuja Wang. Summer offerings include “Improvise!” featuring Montero and superstar clarinetist Paquito D’Rivera on June 3rd and Four Hands Fireworks, with Gabriela Montero and Vanessa Perez on July1st. Monteroprager.com
2. But wait, there’s more! June 9-17, Chesapeake Music celebrates its 38th anniversary, showcasing renowned musicians from across the country in Easton’s historic Ebenezer Theater. Built around the theme of “cultural crossings,” this season "stars” the famed Orion String Quartet, in their farewell tour. www.Chesapeakemusic.org.
Sometimes the magic is right here at home, Old Town Alexandria and Vienna Virginia cast a spell on your summer nights.
3. Secret Garden Concerts (June 8 & 9)
Back in July 2020, the first concert I attended during the pandemic was in the Secret Garden in the heart of Old Town Alexandria. I remember how excited we all were for the privilege of enjoying live music again. The garden, on the grounds of the 1785 Rectory on Princess Street, is an intimate and romantic venue, perfect for enjoying music from opera to flamenco. It’s an enchanted setting for a unique staging of Mozart’s Magic Flute June 8th and 9th, in collaboration with Alexandria Summer Nights and Castleton. www.Classicalmovements.com
4. The Barns at Wolf Trap (June 3-July 29)
Also dating from the 1780s, Wolf Trap’s two restored Barns form an intimate 382-seat venue famous for its superb acoustics. During the summer, the Barns is home to Wolf Trap Opera. The season kicks off Saturday, June 3rd with A Night at the Opera, featuring the National Orchestral Institute and Festival and Wolf Trap Studio Artists. Stephen Blier’s Night and Day USA is June 4th. Handel’s Semele opens June 23rd and Gounod’s Faust begins July 21st. www.Wolftrap.org
Farther afield in Virginia, in the splendid Allegheny mountains, Shenandoah Valley and Blue Ridge, you’ll find summer festivals at Garth Newel, Wintergreen and Staunton, along with a superb variety of outdoor activities, exploring, antiquing, fine dining and luxurious resort amenities.
5. Garth Newel 50th Anniversary Festival (July 9-September 3rd)
According to their website, “Garth Newel” is a Welsh phrase meaning “new hearth” or “new home.” The manor was built in the 1920’s by artists William Kendall and his wife as a country retreat in the heart of the Allegheny mountains. In 1973, Garth Newel Music Center became a year-round chamber music venue, presenting over 50 concerts throughout the year. Concertgoers can enjoy gourmet meals and stay in the historic manor house on the extensive property.
Pianist Simone Dinnerstein appears July 9th, as a prelude to the kick-off of Garth Newel’s 50th anniversary celebration on July 15. The festival offers a myriad of performances, including a String Extravaganza, a Piano Weekend, and the grand 50th anniversary finale on September 3rd. www.Garthnewel.org
6. Staunton Music Festival (8-11-20)
Staunton was named “one of the best small towns in America” by Smithsonian Magazine. The August Chamber Music Festival presents two dozen eclectic programs of opera, symphony, and chamber music, ranging from the Middle Ages to commissioned world premieres.
Here are a few suggestions to whet your appetite:
Handel’s Orlando, Paris 1907: Proust at the Ritz; Paris 1922: A Night at the Majestic; La Bella Italia; Nordic Light and Darkness; Nightcap: Baroque Bash; Baroque Lovers’ Afternoon...
Better yet, you don’t even have to drive--you can take a train from Union Station or even a bus. In between concerts, enjoy fine dining and browsing the historic downtown.www.stauntonmusicfestival.org
7. Wintergreen Music Festival, July 1-30
Artistic director Erin Freeman (she’s also the new artistic director of The City Choir of Washington) envisions a festival of “Music to match the views.” Besides the daily concerts, guests can enjoy coffee talks, concert wine tastings, and live musical nature hikes at Wintergreen Resort. Pop-up style performances at neighboring wineries, cideries, breweries and partner venues round out the music-filled month. Festival offerings range from full orchestra and classical chamber music to bluegrass, big-band jazz, American folk, Motown, and even family-friendly Independence Day festivities. My personal favorite--besides the live musical nature hikes-- Bach-tail happy hours. www.Wintergreen-music.org
8. Moving on to West Virginia, the Appalachian Chamber Music Festival (August 17-27) celebrates its 3rd season of offering music that reflects the region’s rich history, nature, and culture.
The festival theme is “Places that inspire.” Highlights include Stravinsky’s Dumbarton Oaks, Schubert’s Trout Quintet, and Tchaikovsky’s Souvenir de Florence, plus two world premiere performances.
The music and related events provide the perfect accompaniment to the exploration of Harpers Ferry, Charles Town, Jefferson County and beyond. www.Appalachianchamber.org
Two Independence Day celebrations deserve a place on your calendar this summer:
The Baltimore Symphony Orchestra’s Summer with the Symphony presents their annual Star-Spangled Spectacular.
Sameer Patel leads the BSO in a celebration of American composers, from the jazzy high life captured by George Gershwin and Leonard Bernstein to the epic film scores of Copland and John Williams. Plus, Valerie Coleman’s anthem for essential workers and a performance by spoken word artist Wordsmith. The evening ends with a fantastic fireworks display. Arrive early and grab a bite to eat or a drink from local food trucks.
The BSO Star-Spangled Spectacular is at Oregon Ridge in Cockeysville July 3, Rash Field in the Inner Harbor on Independence Day, and at Boordy Vineyards July 6th (without fireworks). As part of Music for Maryland, the BSO will also perform the program on July 8th at Harford Community College. Www.BSOMusic.org
Finally, it’s back home in DC for a majestic start to your Independence Day celebrations. July 4 at 11 am, Washington National Cathedral hosts a free concert to celebrate America's birthday.
Cathedral organists Thomas Sheehan and George Fergus are joined by the Washington Symphonic Brass to present a program of patriotic music including familiar favorites and fresh lesser-known music. Can you think of a more meaningful way to begin your Independence Day celebrations? The live program is free, and no tickets are required. Registration is necessary to view online. www.livemusicproject.org
Gershwin, or rather poet DuBose Heyward, said it best in Porgy and Bess: “Summertime, and the livin’ is easy.” We are so lucky to be living in this area with the majesty of the mountains, the attractions of Chesapeake Bay, small towns, and our own Nation’s Capital rich in history. These festivals inspire us to explore our world to the accompaniment of old favorites and new musical discoveries.
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