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Classical music fans need to make plans now for Colorado’s big festivals

The best thing about being a classical fan in Colorado: the wealth of music festivals that bring world-class talent to the region every summer.

The hardest part: sorting out the schedules and making plans before the best concerts sell out and every hotel room is booked.

So here’s a reminder to start planning, plus a little look at what the major festivals are offering this season.

Aspen Music Festival, June 26-Aug. 18

Of all the summer offerings, the Aspen Music Festival and School is the hardest to get a handle on. The fest goes on for 53 straight days and features nearly 200 events stretching from morning to afternoon and into the late evening.

The AMFS, as it is called, is celebrating its 75th anniversary and so it has programmed nostalgically, making room for the classical stars that have driven its public performances over the years and brought their expertise to serve its high-level youth training camp. Among them: Joshua Bell,  Renée Fleming, Sharon Isbin, Robert McDuffie, Edgar Meyer and Jeremy Denk.

The excellent AMFS website is a useful tool for finding out what and when favorites will play. It offers quick-click access to the whole performance calendar and provides cross-references so you can see all the different times that performers will appear over the season.

What to hear this year: I always look for premieres in Aspen, and this summer there will be plenty. On June 30, Renée Fleming introduces a new song cycle by AMFS president and CEO Alan Fletcher. Right after, on July 1, will be the first hearing of in-demand composer Matthew Aucoin’s “Music for New Bodies,” and those two events suggest that is a good week to head to the fest.

But also: Fest favorite Conrad Tao, who regulars usually line up to hear perform on piano, is debuting his own new composition on July 16, and soprano Karen Slack will perform a program called “African Queens,” with works by Jessie Montgomery, Shawn Okpebholo and Joel Thompson, on Aug. 7.

Info: 970-925-9042 or

Santa Fe Opera, June 28-Aug. 24

Santa Fe Opera has set the pace for opera internationally over the last two decades by commissioning new works that keep the art form fresh and alive. This season, the gallop continues with the company’s 19th world premiere, “The Righteous,” by composer Gregory Spears and U.S. Poet Laureate Tracy K. Smith. The work is described as a take on televangelism, and it will be directed by Santa Fe veteran Kevin Newbury.

From there, it is all about well-known fan favorites. SFO will resurrect popular presentations of Strauss’s “Der Rosenkavalier,” starting July 20, followed a week later, on July 27, by Donizetti’s “The Elixir of Love.”

What to hear this year: The best part of going to Santa Fe is seeing how this clever company remakes warhorses with a fresh attitude (and its big SFO budget), and that happens twice. The company is rolling out new productions of Verdi’s “La Traviata,” which will directed by Louisa Muller, and Mozart’s “Don Giovanni,” helmed by Stephen Barlow. Both happen on opening weekend, so that looks like a good time to attend.

Info: 505-986-5900 or

Colorado Music Festival, July 5-Aug. 4

There is always a good feeling in the room at the Colorado Music Festival. One reason is the room itself, the Chautauqua Auditorium, the historic (and romantic) barn-on-steroids that hosts all of the concerts.

The second reason is the masterful programming of music director Peter Oundjian, who also oversees the sound of the Colorado Symphony. Oundjian knows Boulder audiences have adventurous ears, and he programs up to them instead of relying on fan favorites to sell tickets. There will be a number of welcome guest appearances this summer, including Olga Kern, Awadagin Pratt, Alisa Weilerstein and the Danish String Quartet, and a notable premiere of a concerto on July 21 by respected composer Gabriela Lena Frank, on a program that also features Florence Price’s “Adoration” and Joan Tower’s Concerto for Orchestra.

What to hear this year: It’s hard to pass up witnessing a violinist as good as Augustin Hadelich at Chautauqua, and he will play Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto on Aug. 1 and 2. A balmy Boulder night is also a great setting for Ravel’s perfectly crafted “Shéhérazade,” which CMF’s tightly-knit, in-house orchestra takes on on Aug. 4.

Info: 303-440-7666 or

Central City Opera, July 13-Aug. 3

It’s an optimistic moment for Central City Opera. The nonprofit just announced a new artistic director in Alison Moritz, who has already worked with the company’s young apprentices and directed several productions, including 2019’s “Madama Butterfly.” She will oversee the season and then begin directing one show a year starting in 2025.

This year, the company is bringing back Puccini’s “Girl of the Golden West,” which has become something of a signature title, because the story is about the American mining era that brought about life in places like Central City. The piece is always very much at home in the company’s vintage, Western-style building.

What to hear this year: For something different, Kurt Weill’s “Street Scene” looks promising. The two-act opera tells a story about residents of a New York tenement and mixes musical styles that accompany the characters, ranging from traditional opera to jazz and blues. It will be a swell showcase for good singers.

Info: 303-292-6700 or

Bravo! Vail Music Festival June 20-Aug. 1

Cheers to Bravo! Vail for expanding its lineup in a global way. This year, the fest will bring in Mexico’s Sinfónica de Minería as a guest artist for a three-day residency starting June 20. The ensemble, led by esteemed artistic director Carlos Miguel Prieto, is well-respected internationally yet still a little unknown in this country.

And it joins the lineup of musical powerhouses that travel to Vail every summer: the Dallas Symphony Orchestra, which comes June 26-July 1; The Philadelphia Orchestra, July 4-12; and the New York Philharmonic, July 12-24. Classical fans have their favorites, and they tend to stay loyal.

What to hear this year: Three big orchestras, so three picks that should play well with local audiences: Dallas, with music director Fabio Luisi leading his team through the premiere of composer Anna Clyne’s “Atlas” for piano and orchestra, featuring Jeremy Denk on June 29; Philly performing Gershwin and Bernstein under the baton of Marin Alsop on July 5; and the Philharmonic’s very big night of Beethoven on July 17, lead by music director Jaap van Zweden and featuring Hilary Hahn on violin.

Info: 877-812-5700 or

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