Are big-city festivals a thing of the past?

We reported last month the decimation of the Zurich Festival.

Today we report the demolition of the City of London Festival.

The two wealthiest business hubs Europe have decided that they can’t be bothered with culture. Or that culture is not relevant to the summer months, when bankers are out of town. Or that culture no longer adds the kudos it once did.

Whatever the case, the bell is tolling for big-city jamborees.

Vienna still has an adventurous event in June and Berlin a top-heavy fest in September.

But that’s about it for capital cities. The Prague Spring and Warsaw Autumn fests have faded. Paris, Rome and Madrid draw a blank. What future for summer in the city?

festival of britain

Festival of Britain (c) Wolf Suschitzky/Lebrecht Music&Arts

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  • The Budapest Spring Festival is thriving. The same with CAFe Budapest in October. Helsinki has a quite significant festival too in late August (Helsingin Juhlaviikot / Helsinki Festival).

  • Ottawa has a chamber music festival, which is claimed to be the biggest in the world. It is certainly one of them and off the top of my head, I can think of none larger. It also has another classically-based music festival called Music and Beyond. On addition to large Blues, Jazz and Folk Festivals, and the Canada Dance Festival. All of these feature major international headliners, except the Dance, which is a coming together of national dance companies and artists..

    This may not be the sort you mean, with mixed disciplines all under one umbrella. But it means the city is pretty well in Festival mode from June till September, and there are plays in theatres and Shakespeare in the Park all summer, and there is a Fringe Festival. There are Busker Festivals, and just about every nation represented at our embassies and consulates holds an ethnic festival celebrating their own cultures through music and other entertainments, art exhibitions, crafts and food.

    Works for us — easy to plot a holiday that means you won;t miss your favourite or, as some of my friends do, plan your holiday so that you can maximise attendance at the Festival of your choice.

  • Lincoln Center still runs several big music festivals each summer, each devoted to different disciplines and ideas (swing music, world music, classical music). They still flourish.

  • Mr Lebrecht, have you been to the wonderful Grant Park Music Festival in Chicago? Thousands of people of all ages and walks of life listening outdoors to great music for free, thanks to the City of Chicago and other generous benefactors.

  • And Tanglewood in Boston? Some of the notables there: Joshua Bell, Renee Fleming, Emerson String Quartet, Pinchas Zukerman, Jordi Savall, Yuja Wang, Lisa Batiashvili and so many more!

    • Tanglewood is a great festival but hardly qualifies as a big city festival since it is 100 miles west of Boston in the Berkshire hills.

    • Montreal has a festival of everything in the summer.

      I remember there was even a gas (sorry, petrol) station with a big sign saying “FESTIVAL DE L’ESSENCE” with a dancing gas pump on each side.

  • San Diego has three great summer festivals – Mainly Mozart in June (with smaller events throughout the year) and SummerFest in August in La Jolla. The SD Pops runs all summer and is building a $25M permanent venue on the bay.

  • Swansea? OK, it’s in October. But what about the Fishguard Festival? It qualifies as a city event because the big choral concerts are held in St David’s cathedral and St David’s is a city – a tiny one admittedly.

  • Birmingham International Dance Festival, Manchester International Festival, Liverpool Biennial, Edinburgh International Festival, Welsh Proms, Brighton Festival…oops, apologies, momentarily forgot there’s only one city in the UK…

  • Can anyone explain how the Prague Spring has faded? This year sees appearances by Paavo Järvi with the Czech Philharmonic, Daniel Barenboim with Staatskapelle Berlin, Sakari Oramo with the BBCSO (two concerts, including Alina Ibragimova playing Bartók’s 2nd violin concerto), Gil Shaham playing the Mendelssohn concerto, Murray Perahia playing Beethoven’s 4th piano concerto, recitals by Andreas Scholl, Maurizio Pollini, Seong-Jin Cho, and Baiba and Lauma Skride, a concert by David Roblou and the New London Concert with a stellar cast of soloists, and, of course, much more besides. If this is the faded Prague Spring I’m sorry I never made it to the festival in its heyday.

  • Festivals come, festivals go. We might mourn the loss of one in particular, but one fading away creates room for something new. Some Festivals run out of money, some run out of ideas, some over-inflate and become too big and cumbersome, some get tired and boring. If it genuinely “shouldn’t have gone” then I have no doubt it will return; if it should, I’m sure something will appear in it’s place soon enough.

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