The return of live classical music: best concerts, festivals and venues returning this summer

9 June 2021, 16:20

The return of live classical music: concerts, festivals and venues that are opening this summer
The return of live classical music: concerts, festivals and venues that are opening this summer. Picture: Getty

By Rosie Pentreath

Indoor live music with a restricted audience can return on 17 May in the UK, according to the government’s roadmap out of lockdown. But what venues will open, and which orchestras are returning?

In February, PM Boris Johnson announced his roadmap taking England ‘irreversibly’ out of lockdown. Following the success of the UK’s monumental vaccine effort, dates have been set for a slow opening up of society, and welcoming of people back into public spaces for leisure – as long as crucial criteria around controlling the coronavirus pandemic in the UK are being met.

From 17 May, people have been invited to return to indoor venues, including concert halls, theatres and other entertainment spaces such as cinemas, play areas, and indoor dining at restaurants and pubs.

It’s one of the most significant liftings of restrictions in Johnson’s roadmap, and it allows live music to finally return, albeit with restricted audiences.

Here are some of the classical music concert series, venues and festivals that have plans to welcome in-person audiences back so far.

Read more: What is the UK government’s latest guidance for rehearsals, concerts and live music venues?

What live classical music is restarting in the UK?

  • City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, Classic FM’s Orchestra in the Midlands

When? Wednesdays, 19 May – 7 July

Where? Symphony Hall, Birmingham

Tickets and full listings: cbso.co.uk/whats-on

The City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra (CBSO), Classic FM’s Orchestra in the Midlands, is returning to its home venue, Symphony Hall, for a series of socially-distanced concerts. Highlights include CBSO’s music director, Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla conducting music by Thomas Adès, Weinberg and Mahler, and Edward Gardner conducting for concerto appearances by pianist Stephen Hough and violinist Alina Ibragimova. What a thrill to see a world-renowned orchestra and soloists in the flesh once again.

  • Royal Philharmonic Orchestra

When? 10 June 2021

Where? Cadogan Hall, London

Tickets: cadoganhall.com/whats-on/rpo-2020-21-virgil-boutellis-taft/

Royal Philharmonic Orchestra is joined by French violinist Virgil Boutellis-Taft for a socially distanced summertime concert, including Vitali’s Chaconne, a showpiece popular with violinists, and Tchaikovsky’s brooding Sérénade mélancolique, a work full of deep emotion.

  • Royal Liverpool Philharmonic, Classic FM’s Orchestra in North-West England

When? May – July

Where? Philharmonic Hall, Liverpool

Tickets and full listings: www.liverpoolphil.com

The Liverpool home of the iconic Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra (RLPO), Classic FM’s Orchestra in North West England flings its doors open once again for ticketed concerts. Tickets are already selling fast – don’t miss the opportunity to book concerts featuring Vasily Petrenko, RLPO’s new chief conductor as of September, Domingo Hindoyan, and many more.

  • Opera North, Classic FM’s Opera Company in the UK

When? June onwards

Where? Leeds Grand Theatre

Tickets and full listings: www.operanorth.co.uk

Classic FM’s Opera Company in the UK reopens to audiences this Autumn, with Bizet’s Carmen, Bernstein’s Trouble in Tahiti and West Side Story Symphonic Suite, and Verdi’s Rigoletto on the bill. This will be Opera North’s first full season and tour in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. Tickets will be on sale from June, with audience capacities following the most up-to-date government guidelines. Before that – there are also limited spaces to see the company’s concert production of Beethoven’s Fidelio.

  • Wigmore Hall

When? May – June

Where? London

Tickets and full listings: wigmore-hall.org.uk/news/wigmore-hall-to-re-open

Iconic London venue, Wigmore Hall, has announced that it will be reopening for in-person concerts from 17 May, with a 25-concert festival marking its 120th anniversary.The reopening festival, which will culminate in a special 120th anniversary concert on 31 May, featuring Wigmore Hall’s recently-appointed associate ensemble, Kaleidoscope Chamber Collective will see audiences return to the hall’s seats in a limited capacity according to the latest coronavirus guidance.

  • Fidelio Orchestra Cafe

When? From Tuesday 18 May

Where? London

Tickets and full listings: fideliorchestracafe.com/whats-on

The Fidelio Cafe on Clerkenwell Road will reopen with a calendar of internationally-renowned artists, and two new ticket options starting from £15 to make its music offering more accessible than ever. This wonderful experience combines fine food with world-class music in an intimate, COVID-safe setting. Artists on the bill already include pianist Samson Tsoy and the Benedetti Trio – Nicola Benedetti, Leonard Elschenbroich and Alexei Grynyuk – and many more.

  • Leeds Lieder Festival 2021

When? 17 – 20 June

Where? Leeds Town Hall

Tickets and full listings: leedslieder.org.uk/whats-on

Hosted for the first time by Leeds Town Hall, this brilliant four-day festival will be performed to a socially-distanced audience and streamed live on Leeds Lieder’s digital platform. The stellar line-up includes Alice Coote, Mark Padmore, Iestyn Davies, James Gilchrist, Roderick Williams, Carolyn Sampson, Ema Nikolovska, William Thomas and pianists Graham Johnson, Iain Burnside, Anna Tilbrook, Joseph Middleton and Christian Blackshaw.

Fatma Said and Joseph Middleton perform at Leeds Town Hall in March
Fatma Said and Joseph Middleton perform at Leeds Town Hall in March. Picture: Tom Arber
  • Music at Paxton Festival

When? Friday 16 – Sunday 25 July 2021

Where? Scottish Borders

Tickets and full listings: www.musicatpaxton.co.uk

Live chamber music is returning to the Scottish borders in the Music at Paxton Festival. Classical heavy hitters like pianists Imogen Cooper, Anna Tilbrook and Steven Osborne, tenor James Gilchrist, and soprano Elizabeth Watts will bring a programme of music by Schubert, Strauss, Britten, Dvořák and more to the summer event. With performances from morning until dusk, the festival promises a classical something for everyone…

  • Cheltenham Music Festival

When? 2 - 11 July

Where? Cheltenham

Tickets and full listings: www.cheltenhamfestivals.com

After having to cancel last year’s showings, Cheltenham Music Festival returns for a packed 10-day programme featuring symphony orchestras, world-class ensembles, star soloists, 21 world premieres and up-and-coming talent. This wonderful family-friendly festival features the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, Chineke!, saxophonist Jess Gillam and mezzo-soprano Sarah Connolly. Plus, don’t miss performances on the Classic FM Stage in Cheltenham Town Hall.

Cheltenham Music Festival concert hosted at Gloucester Cathedral
Cheltenham Music Festival concert hosted at Gloucester Cathedral. Picture: Cheltenham Festival
  • Live From London – Summer

When? 4 July - 22 August

Where? VOCES8 Centre, City of London

Tickets and full listings: https://voces8.foundation/livefromlondon-summer

The VOCES8 Foundation hosts a new instalment of its new festival offering, Live From London. One year on from the initial LIVE From London festival, the summer edition explores cycles of renewal and regeneration in nature and spirit. VOCES8 will appear in every performance, with other stellar artists on the roster being The King’s Singers, Chineke!, ORA Singers, Mary Bevan, and a star quartet of Jack Liebeck, Sheku Kanneh-Mason, Julian Bliss and Katya Apekisheva. The festival invites limited in-person audiences as well as being streamed online in full.

  • English Music Festival

When? 28 – 31 May

Where? Horsham, Sussex

Tickets and full listings: www.englishmusicfestival.org.uk/2021-may-festival

Live music returns to West Sussex with the 14th instalment of the English Music Festival. This year’s offering, which focuses on the brilliance, innovation, beauty and rich musical heritage of Britain through familiar music and unearthed masterpieces, features bass-baritone Roderick Williams, Orchestra of the Swan, and many more.

  • The Hallé

When? 3 June – 22 July

Where? Bridgewater Hall, Manchester

Tickets and full listings: www.halle.co.uk/summer-2021

Bridgewater Hall will be once again alive with music this summer. The Hallé has announced its Summer Season of six live, socially distanced concerts, with music from Elgar’s Enigma Variations to Wagner’s Siegfried Idyll, Stravinsky’s The Firebird to Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto.

  • Philharmonia Orchestra, Classic FM’s Orchestra on Tour

When? June onwards

Where? London, Worcester and Canterbury

Tickets and full listings: philharmonia.co.uk

The Philharmonia Orchestra is inviting reduced capacity audiences to attend concerts from June onwards. Classic FM’s Orchestra in Tour performs Beethoven, Bach, Copland, Vaughan Williams and many more at London’s Royal Festival Hall, Worcester Cathedral, and The Marlowe in Canterbury. As well as being the final concerts of chief conductor Esa-Pekka Salonen, the selection concerts invites starry soloists, including legendary pianist Mitsuko Uchida and violinist Randall Goosby.

• The Sixteen’s Choral Pilgrimage 2021, The Voices of Classic FM

When? 5 June – 16 October

Where? Various venues around the UK

Tickets and full listings: thesixteen.com/the-choral-pilgrimage-2021

The Sixteen, the Voices of Classic FM, take to the road for their 2021 Choral Pilgrimage, performing at cathedrals and abbeys all over the country in their 20th anniversary pilgrimage – first for limited audiences of Sixteen patrons only and then, in Autumn, for bigger audiences once again. Enjoy a choral feasts of Victoria, Josquin Allegri and more.

  • Spitalfields Music Festival

When? 1 – 31 July

Where? Spitalfields, London

Tickets and full listings: spitalfieldsmusic.org.uk/events/spitalfields-music-festival-2021

Spitalfields Music is forging ahead with a festival this summer, with events reformatted to respond to COVID restrictions. Highlights include the London Symphony Chorus’ world premiere performances of Errollyn Wallen’s After Winter and Howard Goodall’s Never to Forget  in a concert that celebrates the kindness of strangers – and commemorates the NHS workers who lost their lives during the coronavirus pandemic. There’s also an immersive installation at the historic George Tavern: Alicia Jane Turner’s sound and video installation, a place to call home, exploring LGBTQI+ culture and spaces.

  • Buxton International Festival

When? 8 – 25 July

Where? Buxton, Derbyshire

Tickets and full listings: buxtonfestival.co.uk

Buxton’s annual celebration of the very best opera, music and books in the heart of the beautiful Peak District is going ahead this July. Violinist Jennifer Pike is this year’s artist in residence, and the line up is packed with top classical artists.

Read more: Violinist Jennifer Pike – ‘Limited freedom of movement is disastrous for the arts’

  • Temple Music Foundation

When? June – July

Where? The Temple, London

Tickets and full listings: www.templemusic.org/concerts

A brilliant roster of artists, including tenor Mark Padmore, bass-baritone Roderick Williams and saxophonist Amy Dickson, are invited to perform to audiences again at the historic Temple Church in the heart of London. The Temple Music Foundation has been hosting classical concerts in the unique and historic spaces of The Temple in London’s legal quarter for over 17 years. During the COVID-19 pandemic, musicians have continued to perform virtually in the ‘Temple Music at Home’ series.

  • Edinburgh International Festival

When? 7 – 29 August

Where? Edinburgh

Tickets and full listings: www.eif.co.uk/whats-on

Edinburgh International Festival (EIF) is set to go ahead this summer, and will take place in large outdoor marquees made for the three-week event.

Read more: Edinburgh International Festival to go ahead completely outdoors, for first time ever

  • Royal Northern Sinfonia, Classic FM’s Orchestra in North-East England

When? June

Where? Sage Gateshead

Tickets and full listings: sagegateshead.com/royal-northern-sinfonia/whats-on

Classic FM’s Orchestra in North-East England and at Sage Gateshead is inviting reduced-capacity audiences to enjoy orchestral music in-person once again. Two June Royal Northern Sinfonia concerts featuring Bach from Rachel Podger, and Beethoven, are available to watch in the concert hall or online.

  • London Symphony Orchestra, Classic FM’s Orchestra in the City of London

When? 18 May – 25 Sept

Where? Barbican, LSO St Luke’s & Royal Albert Hall, London

Tickets and full listings: lso.co.uk/whats-on

The London Symphony Orchestra (LSO) is inviting socially-distanced audiences to some brilliant concerts once lockdown restrictions lift further on May 17. From Tuesday 18 May, there are opportunities to see this world-class orchestra in the flesh once again – at The Barbican, LSO St Luke’s and, later in the year, at Royal Albert Hall for a fantastic Star Wars orchestral extravaganza.

  • Southbank Centre

When? 28 May onwards

Where? London

Tickets and full listings: www.southbankcentre.co.uk/whats-on

London’s Southbank Centre reopens for classical music on Friday 28 May, when Chineke! Orchestra and star cellist Sheku-Kanneh Mason launch the re-opening of Royal Festival Hall as part of the centre’s four-month reopening programme, Summer Reunion. They will join forces for Dvořák’s Cello Concerto. The following day, the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra will bring families together for its popular format, ‘Noisy Kids: Heroes & Villains’ and the same weekend will see Anoushka Shankar perform, continuing her role as the Southbank Centre’s Associate Artist. Other highlights in Summer Reunion include Esa-Pekka Salonen’s last performance with the Philharmonia Orchestra as its principal conductor, and Vasily Petrenko conducting the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra in Vaughan Williams, in his current role of music director designate.

  • The Kanneh-Mason Family Concert

When? 13 June

Where? Royal Concert Hall, Nottingham

Tickets and full listings: trch.co.uk/whats-on/kanneh-mason-family-concert-21

The seven siblings of the Kanneh-Mason family perform a concert of works by Beethoven, Mozart, Bartok, Chopin, Rachmainov, Eric Whitacre and Joseph Stein – in a mix of arrangements for violin, piano and/or cello.

Read more: The Kanneh-Masons awarded Best Classical Artist in the Global Awards 2021

  • Bampton Opera

When? 18 and 22 May

Where? St John’s Smith Square, London and University Church, Oxford

Tickets and full listings: www.bamptonopera.org

Bampton Classical Opera is welcoming audiences back for lively concert performances of Gluck’s The Crown, both at London’s St John’s Smith Square on Tuesday 18 May, and at University Church in Oxford on Saturday 22 May. Limited audiences are invited to book tickets, in line with the most up-to-date government guidance, and the London performance will be being filmed for on-demand viewing from 23 May onwards.

  • Ragged Music Festival

When? May 21–23, 2021

Where? Ragged School Museum, London

Tickets and full listings: www.raggedmusicfestival.co.uk

With indoor music venues allowed to open, Ragged Music Festival returns to London’s atmospheric Victorian Ragged School Museum. The festival is expanding to host six concerts rather than its usual three – with Alina Ibragimova, John Myerscough, Mark Padmore, Lawrence Power, and the Doric String Quartet on the bill, along with festival founders and pianists Samson Tsoy and Pavel Kolesnikov. Expect music from Bach, Shostakovich, Stravinsky and more.

  • Birmingham Royal Ballet’s Cinderella

When? 18 June – 10 July

Where? Birmingham Repertory Theatre

Tickets and full listings: www.brb.org.uk/whats-on

The esteemed Birmingham Royal Ballet is returning to the stage at Birmingham Repertory Theatre for Prokofiev’s Cinderella, choreographed by Sir David Bintley. Bintley’s enchanting take on the fairytale is a truly glorious celebration of the ballet artform, featuring stunning scenery and costumes by John Macfarlane, who designed Birmingham Royal Ballet’s famous Nutcracker.

noisenight events are inspired by jazz club formats, with two identical 45-60 minute classical ‘sets’
Through the Noise ‘noisenight’ events are inspired by jazz club formats, with two identical 45-60 minute classical ‘sets’. Picture: Underbelly Hoxton
  • Through the Noise

When? 9 July and 28 August.

Where? Underbelly Hoxton, London

Tickets and full listings: www.throughthenoise.co.uk

A new platform has popped up inviting music lovers to support artists through crowdfunding. The through the noise initiative invites financial backing in return for tickets to chosen classical music events, which are dubbed noisenights. The format of the events themselves is inspired by jazz club bills, with two identical 45-60 minute classical ‘sets’: one early evening rush-hour performance; and a later performance, which is followed by live jazz, funk and afrobeat acts – and a late-licensed bar. noisenight one will feature cellist Laura van der Heijden and violinist Max Baillie performing Kodály, Bach, Bartok and their own arrangements of folk music. noisenight two will feature the Chineke! Duo (Sarah Daramy-Williams and Natalia Senior-Brown) performing pieces by Errollyn Wallen and Joseph Boulogne, among others.

  • The Welsh Proms

When? 17 – 24 July

Where? St David’s Hall, Cardiff

Tickets and full listings: www.welshproms.com

The 35th season of the Welsh Proms will take place from Saturday 17 to Saturday 24 July.

  • Spotlight Chamber Concerts

When? 27 May – 23 June

Where? St John’s Waterloo, London

Tickets and full listings: www.spotlightchamberconcerts.com

The Spotlight Chamber Concerts series brings a selection of the world’s finest classical musicians to the COVID-safe interior of a landmark church in London – St John’s Waterloo. The series, which is part of Waterloo Festival, invites audiences to experience performances with dramatic lighting centred only on the artists, making for an atmospheric, immersive experience. Tickets are strictly limited to allow for social-distancing.

  • St-Martin-in-the-Fields

When? 20 May – 30 June

Where? St-Martin-in-the-Fields church

Tickets and full listings: www.stmartin-in-the-fields.org/about-our-music/resound

London’s iconic St Martin-in-the-Fields opens its doors to live audiences with a new concert series for Summer 2021, ReSound, bringing music-making back to the heart of the capital. The series will feature both live and streamed concerts from an eclectic mix of artists including Soul Sanctuary Gospel Choir, I Fagiolini, Rachel Podger, Anna Lapwood and the Academy of St Martin in the Fields.

  • Summer at Snape

When? 21 May onwards

Where? Snape Maltings, Suffolk

Tickets and full listings: snapemaltings.co.uk/season/summer-at-snape

Snape Maltings is open and welcoming audiences back for a COVID-safe offering of classical music and more – with performances from Britten Sinfonia and London Philharmonic Orchestra already slated.

  • Brecon Baroque Festival

When? 22 – 25 October

Where? Brecon Cathedral, Powys

Tickets and full listings: www.breconbaroquefestival.com

2021 will see Brecon Baroque Festival launch a three-year adventure in the company of J.S. Bach, live and online, from Brecon. From 2021 to 2023, artistic director Rachel Podger will lead her own ensemble, Brecon Baroque, and a line-up of guest artists to explore, year by year, the context of Bach’s life and his music.

Read more: 15 pop songs you didn’t know were inspired by J.S. Bach

  • Saffron Hall

When? 4 June – 17 July

Where? Saffron Walden, Essex

Tickets and full listings: saffronhall.com

Saffron Hall in Essex has announced a summer season of concerts welcoming back audiences for the first time since December 2020. From 4 June, the Saffron Walden venue will welcome some of country’s finest musicians, including saxophonist Jess Gillam, the London Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Edward Gardner and Karina Canellakis, and the choir Tenebrae.

  • Conway Hall

When? 30 May

Where? Holborn, London

Tickets and full listings: conwayhall.org.uk

Conway Hall is opening up the final concert in its ‘Sunday Concerts’ series to a limited, socially-distanced audience, on top of its usual livestream. The Oculi Ensemble will perform a lively programme of music by Mozart, Webern and Brahms.

  • Manchester Camerata

When? 10 & 12 June

Where? The Monastery in Gorton, Manchester

Tickets and full listings: www.skiddle.com

Manchester Camerata has announced a divine return to live music in its two concerts inviting audiences to The Monastery in Gorton, Manchester. Within the visually stunning space, the orchestra will explore ‘Resonance’ in their 10 June concert, through works by Gesualdo, Steve Reich, Gavin Bryar, Caroline Shaw and Oliver Leith. The second concert, on 12 June, presents music by Arthur Russell, Philip Glass and Julius Eastman.

  • Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, Classic FM’s Orchestra in the South of England

When? 10 June – 12 August

Where? Lighthouse, Poole

Tickets and full listings: bsolive.com

Classic FM’s Orchestra in the South of England, Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra (BSO), returns to its home concert hall, Lighthouse Poole, with a wonderful programme of live music for distanced audiences. Hallelujah to that – and highlights of Tchaikovsky, Mozart, Copland and many more. Plus – there are some Classic FM-themed concerts on the bill: ‘Smooth Classics’ and ‘Classical Extravaganza: Hall of Fame’, both conducted by Stephen Bell.

We will be adding more venues and events as they open and are announced.