Bay Area Summer Music Festivals

The Bay Area may be foggy, but the nights will sizzle this summer in a slew of festivals, ranging from Bach favorites to hot-off-the-press premieres. Here is a selection of some popular favorites.


Garden of Memory

June 21 from 5:00 – 9:00 at 4499 Piedmont Ave, Oakland.

Julia Morgan’s labyrinthine Chapel of the Chimes, cascading down to Piedmont with ferns and filtered light, granite and ashes, is the site of a unique solstice celebration. Organized by pianist Sarah Cahill, this year’s festival features 39 different groups and performers, from Balkan to electronic, rotating through the many chapels and alcoves of the building. Performers include Sarah Cahill, Kitka, Pamela Z, Paul Dresher and Amy X. Neuberg.


Stern Grove

June 20 – Aug 22, Sundays at 2 p.m. at 19th and Sloat.

This popular free festival in San Francisco starts off with a bang. Angelique Kidjo, the Grammy-winning Afro-pop star, appears in the grove on Sunday June 20, along with the Latin/Reggae group Sarazino. The SF Opera takes the stage July 4 with headliners Patricia Racette and John Relyea, and the SF Symphony follows July 11 with a big program—Copland, Gershwin and Beethoven’s Pastorale Symphony. Further Sundays include Caravan Palace, Jovanotti, for other exciting programs.


Bay Area Summer Opera Institute

This operatic finishing school, held June 20 – August 1 at the SF Conservatory and at “Church Hall” on Geary, is a chance to hear up-and-coming opera singers from around the country in staged scenes and full operas. The concerts will be each weekend in July, with master classes and recitals during the weekday evenings.


Summer and the Symphony,

For two weeks, July 8 – 24, the San Francisco Symphony interleaves six concerts of “classics” with very different material, including Broadway hits by Wicked star Idina Menzel, two programs of music from Final Fantasy, and a wild finale with both a television icon and the UC Berkeley Marching Band. Reprising their winning formula from last year, all these concerts are fun and meaty.


Festival del Sole

Not a fishmonger’s fest, this high-toned music festival, held July 16 – 25, combines big names with the best eats of Napa Valley. Now in its fifth year, cellist Nina Kotova and husband/Texas financier Barrett Wissman modeled this on their Tuscan Sun Festival of Cortona, Italy, with a consortium of Napa vintners hosting dinners.

The week of events features returning superstars and recent arrivals, backed by the famed Russian National Orchestra. Violinist Joshua Bell, pianist Jean-Yves Thibaudet and cellist Nina Kotova will share venues with 15 year-old-pianist Conrad Tao and 16-year-old jazz sensation Nikki Yanovsky. The venues include Napa’s Opera House, Yountville’s Lincoln Theater, and Calistoga’s Castello di Amorosa, along with smaller events and dining extravaganzas at local wineries.


Mendocino Music Festival

Held July 10 – 23 in the small but lively town of Mendocino on the breathtaking North Coast, the can-do eclecticism of rural Mendocino may have inspired this festival, which accommodates classical and opera from the Festival Orchestra along with blue grass, jazz and multi-media contemporary events from a slew of exciting performers/composers. Almost any day in those two weeks would be worthwhile, so bring your camping gear or enjoy a B&B for some seriously upscale fun.



The South Bay’s World-class chamber music festival, now in its eighth year, runs July 23 to August 14 at the Menlo School and at neighboring venues, including the newly built Center for the Performing Arts at Menlo-Atherton. Seven concert programs, four lectures, four recitals, 13 free “Prelude” performances and master classes are some of the visible parts of this festival, which is also noted for its educational half, their chamber music institute for talented young performers.

Titled “Maps and Legends,” this year’s festival hop-scotches through history, from Vivaldi’s Four Seasons to a Paris hotpot of the 1920’s and on to the aftermath of World War II. The lineup includes a “Who’s Who” of illustrious performers along with the Miró and Jupiter String Quartets.


Cabrillo Festival

Long hailed as The Place to Be, this new music festival, held August 6 – 15 at the Santa Cruz Civic Auditorium, promises to be an outstanding year. Under the direction of brilliant conductor Marin Alsop, all thirteen composers will be in attendance, introducing their fresh works and entertaining questions from the public at panels. John Adams, Jenifer Higdon, Phillip Glass and Nathaniel Stookey number among those luminaries, and orchestra members will arrive from around the country augmented by the Kronos Quartet and eighth blackbird. For those who like to ease into the fresh and adventurous, the festival begins August 1 with open rehearsals and pre-rehearsal lectures, which continue throughout the two weeks with concerts on both weekends.


Carmel Bach Festival

A little further south lies the illustrious CBF, held July 17 – 31 under the baton of Bruno Weil, who will be retiring after 19 years as Festival conductor. The opening concert, July 17, pairs Bach’s elegance with Barber’s elegiac Adagio for Strings, and the next day one can hear the Festival Chorale in Bach’s St. Matthew Passion. Daily lectures, chamber concerts, master classes and even films fill the two weeks to overflowing.


Midsummer Mozart Festival

Two long weekends, July 15 – 18 and 22 – 25, will resonate with Mozart around the Bay Area in this long-running festival founded and conducted by George Cleve. In addition to symphonies, Program I includes concertos with pianist Audrey Vardanegra and violinist  Robin Hansen, and Program II includes pianist Seymour Lipkin and arias sung by bass Jeremy Galyon.


Music in the Vineyards

For those who like to picnic and imbibe before their chamber music, these concerts are a whole vacation in a day, held at various venues in Napa from August 4 – 22. Performers include the Pacifica Quartet, the Enso String Quartet and 40 other musicians, and the festival culminates with a concert at “The Cave” and a party under the stars.