x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Classical jaunts

Feargus O'Sullivan offers a round-up of some of the most noteworthy musical events taking place around the world during the next six months

Actors perform in Handel's Theodora during the 2009 Salzburg Festival. The main draw at this year's star-studded event is a phenomenally well-cast production of Strauss' Elektra.
Actors perform in Handel's Theodora during the 2009 Salzburg Festival. The main draw at this year's star-studded event is a phenomenally well-cast production of Strauss' Elektra.

What do you do in your holidays when you live in a country with glorious beaches and blazing sun year round? Living in the Emirates certainly challenges you to look beyond sun and sea when you're thinking about taking a break abroad. Planning trips around global musical events is a good alternative. While Abu Dhabi's classical music scene has few rivals elsewhere in the Middle East, there is a world of musical excellence out there to be discovered - and with a heavy crop of composer anniversaries, this year is set to be especially rich in opportunities. To whet your appetite, here are some of the most interesting, memorable classical musical events coming up in the spring and summer. Be warned: at press time, tickets were still available for everything, but you may need to book fast.

While both Schumann and Chopin celebrate their 200th anniversaries this year, Schumann seems to be getting slightly less of a look-in than his more popular Polish counterpart. This concert at Carnegie Hall gives you a chance to hear both of them side by side - in a programme that matches Chopin's less-known songs with those of Schumann, plus some of their entrancing music for solo piano. Carnegie Hall, New York, March 17.

The veteran opera star Placido Domingo's voice has always hovered around the lower end of the tenor range - as a young man he was initially convinced he was a baritone. It seems he was right. As age has deepened his voice, he has now moved on to baritone roles such as the starring role in Verdi's Simon Boccanegra with which he is touring this year. Now that he is in his late 60s, the Royal Opera's production of Handel's Tamerlano may be one of the last chances to see him sing a tenor role. Royal Opera, Covent Garden, London, until March 20.

Taking place in the hills above Beirut, the Al Bustan Festival proves that the Middle East's classical music scene doesn't begin and end in Abu Dhabi. Al Bustan prides itself on showcasing both local talent (the soprano Randa Rouweyha and the Syrian pianist Racha Arodaky both feature) and international ensembles. If you're keen to do a bit more than listen to music, the festival is conveniently placed on the narrow overlap between Lebanon's skiing and beach seasons. Beit Mery, Lebanon, Until March 21.

The abundance of events commemorating the 150th anniversary of Gustav Mahler's birth this year demonstrates just why tiny Austria is still such a cultural big hitter. Vienna, the city where Mahler gained both fame and loathing during his stint as its opera house's musical director, is hosting a particularly impressive string of concerts. Of the many dates, arguably the most impressive is a five-night marathon of performances of the composer's Fifth Symphony by the Vienna Philharmonic. A performance of Mahler's best-known work (it famously features on the soundtrack of Luchino Visconti's Death in Venice) by one of the world's best orchestras means, chances are, it'll sell out, so book early. As an extra bonus, the city's theatre museum is also hosting an exhibition until October exploring the composer's life and influence. Fifth Symphony: Wiener Musikverein, Vienna, May 9-11, 15 and 16.

With the arrival of the superstar conductor Gustavo Dudamel, the Los Angeles Philharmonic has rapidly become one of the world's hottest orchestras. The Venezuelan's youth (he's 29) and traineeship in his country's hugely admired social music programme El Sistema have managed the tricky job of enthusing new audience's about orchestral music. While his orchestra will be performing a series of mega concerts at Los Angeles' Hollywood Bowl at the beginning of August, their American tour in May arguably gives them a better opportunity to show their versatility. Visiting San Francisco, Chicago, Washington and New York among others, the LA Phil, with its, eclectic programme will mix the familiar and European - Mahler's Symphony No 1 and Tchaikovsky's Symphonie Pathetique - with newer American works - Bernstein's Age of Anxiety and John Adams' City Noir. Various US cities, May 10-22.

With Chopin's 200th anniversary this year, top pianists have a serious amount of jet lag to look forward to - Krystian Zimerman and Maurizio Pollini, in particular, seem to be playing Chopin in half the world's musical centres over the space of a few months. It's rather rarer, however, to find Daniel Barenboim playing the piano now that he's gained such acclaim as a conductor. Arguably more famous these days for his work with orchestras - including groundbreaking projects such as his West-Eastern Divan Orchestra and a tour playing Wagner's music for the first time in Israel - it's sometimes easy to forget what a great solo pianist he is. His concert in Milan's plush Scala in May is a great chance to remind yourself of this, as he plays a varied programme of exquisite Chopin for unaccompanied piano. Teatro Della Scala, Milan, May 28.

Even under the hand of communism, Prague was a fine centre for classical music - and its lavishly beautiful, tourist-crammed streets remind people so much of the era of Mozart and Beethoven that it was chosen as the filming location for Milos Forman's composer Biopic Amadeus. The city's spring music festival showcases its assets well, mixing Prague's excellent local opera tradition with top international performers, often in beautiful concert locations that are almost worth the price of a ticket themselves. Highlights this year include Sir John Eliot Gardiner conducting the Monteverdi Choir for Bach's Mass in B Minor on May 9, the violinist Anne Sophie Mutter playing Brahms' Concerto in D Major with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra on May 22 and Pierre Boulez conducting the Ensemble Contemporain through a contemporary programme including Ligeti and Boulez himself. Prague, May 12-June 4.

Staging music from Egyptian Sufi chanting to American gospel, this unique world music festival blurs the lines between folk, classical and popular to create a quirky but fascinating programme of performers. With musicians from as far afield as Korea, Burundi and Cambodia, the festival has a particularly strong line-up from the Middle East, including sung recitals of Rumi's poetry and a celebration of the music of Aleppo. To add spice to the proceedings, all events take place in the city's careworn but magical old quarter, declared a Unesco world heritage site. Fes, Morocco, June 4-12.

This year's opera festival programme in the alpine city of Salzburg is a meaty and star-studded as ever. With the reigning diva Anna Netrebko performing in Gounod's Romeo and Juliet, the American star soprano Joyce DiDonato as Bellini's Norma and the French baroque specialist Patricia Petibon taking an interesting direction in Berg's Lulu, it's no wonder tickets are already scarce. For opera die hards, however, the real draw is a phenomenally well-cast production of Richard Strauss's spiky but mesmerising Elektra, with the impressive trio of Waltraud Meier, Irene Theorin and Eva-Maria Westbroek in the main female roles. Salzburg, July 25-August 30.