Summer's best classical music festivals

“Seinfeld” fans fondly remember “Festivus,” the holiday invented by George Costanza’s father to avoid the Christmas/Hanukkah dichotomy. In the world of music festivals, too, there is a difference between the real thing and festivals in name only. Of course, you can enjoy the music either way.

A real summer music festival has a special place of its own — think Salzburg, Aspen, Tanglewood — and isn’t just the extension of a regular season. The genuine article, including “feasting and celebration,” is covered here, excluding summer seasons of year-round organizations, such as the offerings presented by the San Francisco Symphony and Opera.

Going up and down the coast, in and around San Francisco, here are tips for California classical-music events this summer, in chronological order. They come from an inveterate festival traveler — who is already packing for many trips.

Ojai Music Festival

June 7-10, Ojai

Info: Lasting only one long weekend, Ojai’s 61-year-old festival is an intense affair in Libbey Bowl, with plenty of new music in addition to the more traditional fare of Mozart, Bach, Schumann and Mahler. With Pierre-Laurent Aimard as music director, this year’s program features the works of Péter Eötvös, who also conducts some of the concerts. Festival participants include the Nexus Percussion Ensemble and the Los Angeles Master Chorale from the city just 75 miles away.

Music Academy of the West Summer Festival

June 18 – Aug. 11, Santa Barbara

Info: A famed summer music school and performance center, this is the 60th season in Santa Barbara. Instruction, master classes and public performances unfold for two months. Well-known artists provide master classes daily to students, but the public is also invited, and tickets cost as little as $11. The Academy Festival Orchestra, conducted by David Robertson of the St. Louis Symphony, performs in Lobero Theater. In Abravanel Hall, opera showcases are presented by music director Warren Jones and former San Francisco Opera General Director Lotfi Mansouri.

Green Music Festival

July 7-15, Sonoma State University

Info: When Jeffrey Kahane left the Santa Rosa Symphony for the higher plateau of Denver, he pledged he would continue with the small-but-mighty Green Music Festival in Sonoma State University’s Person Theater. True to his word, Kahane returns this year as festival director and pianist (health permitting, as he has just gone through a bout with hypertension), along with violinist Chee-Yun, violist Aloysia Friedmann, cellists Julie Albers and Alisa Weilerstein, pianists Natasha Paremski and Jon Kimura Parker, the Escher String Quartet and the Pacific Mozart Ensemble, directed by Lynne Morrow. The music ranges from Bach and Beethoven at one end to Kevin Puts and an evening of spirituals at the other. Tickets run from a modest $15 to $38; concerts include an art show and complimentary wine tasting.

California Summer Music

July 7-30, Pebble Beach

Info: A summer music school, CSM offers free concerts to the public every evening at Pebble Beach’s Stevenson School.

Festival del Sole

July 13-22, Napa

Info: Only in its second season, this music festival of big names in a small town is a special event, well worth the hour-long drive from San Francisco.

Take a look at this VIP list of participating artists: Mezzo Frederica von Stade, Philharmonia Baroque Music Director Nicholas McGegan, San Francisco Opera Music Director-Designate Nicola Luisotti, flutists James and Jeanne Galway, violinists Joshua Bell, Nikolaj Znaider and Dmitry Sitkovetsky; countertenor David Daniels, sopranos Danielle de Niese and Lisa Delan, cellist Nina Kotova, pianists Jean-Yves Thibaudet, Piotr Anderszewski, and Christopher Taylor. Also, conductors Antonio Pappano (music director of the Royal Opera House Covent Garden) and Stéphane Denève, composer-in-residence John Corigliano, and the Russian National Philharmonic Orchestra.

Venues include Lincoln Theater and Castello di Amorosa. Big names mean big bucks: Unlike traditionally low-cost summer festival fare, Festival del Sole ticket prices (for the main events) range from $45 to $125.

Carmel Bach Festival

July 14 – Aug. 4, Carmel

Info: It’s the festival’s 70th season this summer, a remarkable lifespan for this pairing of Johann Sebastian Bach with a California seaside resort. Bruno Weil is the music director. Major events include an “Aha! Concert” of 14 substantial Bach excerpts, the majestic “St. Matthew Passion,” a program of “The 1707 Composers” (Bach, Handel, Scarlatti), twilight and intimate candlelight concerts. Of special interest: concerts in the majestic Carmel Mission Basilica.


July 22 – Aug. 10, Atherton and Palo Alto

Info: Founded four years ago by cellist David Finckel and pianist Wu Han, the chamber-music festival with the Valley sobriquet exploded from its modest school-and-church digs to amazing worldwide acclaim.

The secret: imaginative, bold programming and the biggest of big-name musicians on the order of Ani Kavafian, Philip Setzer, Geraldine Walther, Colin Carr, Gilbert Kalish, Anthony McGill and Carol Wincenc — and that’s only a hasty, arbitrary naming of names from a huge list.

With an extensive institute, open rehearsals, free concerts by young artists, lectures, and being elbow-to-elbow with the artists, Music@Menlo offers both excellence and a homey environment.

Cabrillo Festival of Contemporary Music

July 29 – Aug. 13, Santa Cruz and San Juan Bautista

Info: It’s incredibly brave of this festival originating in Aptos’ Cabrillo College, but resident in Santa Cruz for most of its 46 years, to offer nothing but contemporary music. Headed by Marin Alsop, now music director of the Baltimore Symphony, the festival is a sure source of more premieres than you can shake a stick at.

At last count, the festival presented 81 world premieres, 52 U.S. premieres, 94 West Coast premieres, and included the participation of 132 (living) composers. There will be five world premieres, a U.S. premiere and six West Coast firsts this season — along with 10 composers-in-residence.

Performers include violinist Leila Josefowicz, percussionist Evelyn Glennie, mezzo Gale Fuller. The main venue is the Santa Cruz Civic Auditorium, the finale takes place in the historic and beautiful Mission San Juan Bautista.

Music in the Vineyards

Aug. 6-26, Napa Valley

Info: Alfresco and combined with wine tasting, Beethoven should sound mellow here; his string quartets are featured this year, performed by the Pacifica Quartet. The festival’s 13th season is all over the Valley, from Clos Pegase, to Beringer, to Jarvis Conservatory, to Rubicon Estate, to many other venues, a few indoors. Concert programs run the gamut from François Couperin to Chen Yi.

Deep in the heart of Texas: Niners corral Cowboys, 23-17

San Francisco holds off late charge. Packers up next

Niners fans from Texas? Apparently it’s a thing

Rooting for San Francisco isn’t easy when you live in the Lone Star state, but many do