Richard Wagner set his festival far off the beaten track - in Bayreuth, where there is one theme only: Wagner and his works. First applied in 1876, that principle remains in place today. Germany's top summer classical event attracts many celebrities on opening day. After that, the "Green Hill" is turned over to Wagnerians from all over the world, wishing to experience Wagner's operas in the theater designed by the "master" for that very purpose. The acoustic in the Festspielhaus has been imitated many times but never equaled.
The festival is mostly publicly owned, but its artistic direction has remained in family hands down through the decades; the current director is also a Wagner. And nearly every year, before the festival begins, family quarrels among Richard Wagner's descendants boost the suspense.
The dress code? Tuxedo and bow tie - with or without stovepipe hat - were once mandatory in Bayreuth. Nowadays, black suit and tie suffice.
On warm summer evenings, audiences gather in Mozart's birth town on the "Street that Means the World" between the Felsenreitschule (Summer Riding School) and the Grosses Festspielhaus (Grand Festival Hall). Including concerts, opera and theater, the Salzburg Festival opens with the ritual open-air performance of the play "Everyman” by festival co-founder Hugo von Hofmannsthal before an impressive backdrop of cathedral and fortress high up on a hill.
Over the following six weeks, performances of the highest caliber follow. "Performed in Salzburg" is, after all, considered proof of quality among the world's finest musicians. With triple-figure ticket prices, the audience itself can afford to add to the glamour effect. Formal attire mandatory.
Founded in 1986 by German pianist Justus Frantz, the festival got off to a start with a very special guest: American composer and conductor Leonard Bernstein, who returned in its early years and founded the Orchestra Academy of promising young musicians. Like Bernstein's music festival in Tanglewood, Massachusetts, the atmosphere is relaxed, friendly and often rural here, and the artists are quite approachable.
Spanning an entire state, the festival continues to flourish 30 years later. With the number of events having grown to 180 in the current season, there's no sign of a classical music crisis here. In years past, each time the focus was on the music and musicians of a different country. In recent years, however, the festival has cast the spotlight on particular composers such as Tchaikovsky and Haydn.
Dress comfortably here. After all, some of the concerts are performed in barns.
In 1845 - 75 years after the birth of Ludwig van Beethoven - Franz Liszt organized a small festival in honor of the composer born in Bonn. But as in Leipzig, the Beethovenfest really became a major event only in 1999. Director for the past two years: Liszt's great-great-granddaughter Nike Wagner.
Giving the festival a sharp thematic focus, she also takes an interdisciplinary approach, making the Beethovenfest Bonn less a merry-go-round of musicians and orchestras and more a thought-provoking program that also includes dance and theater.
The dream of a brand new festival hall in Bonn is gone. What remains is a festival named after and including much Beethoven, but not only: contemporary music is performed here as well.
How to dress? Casual to formal.Rick Fulker / ad