Top Five Most Scenic Music Festivals in North America

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Moab, Utah, site of the Moab Music Festival Moab, Utah, site of the Moab Music Festival (Elizabeth Leslie Photography)

This summer, millions of travelers will head to North America's most scenic destinations, and more than a few will be bringing their instruments. To some, summer means hearing world-class concerts in some of the most beautiful destinations around. Here are five stand-out festivals that benefit from the local scenery.

1. Grand Teton Music Festival

Jackson Hole, Wyoming, a gateway to both Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Park, also acts a refuge of sorts for classical musicians each summer. From July through mid-August, members of the country’s top orchestras head there for the Grand Teton Summer Festival. In his time off between posts at the Deutsche Oper Berlin, the BBC Scottish Symphony, and the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, music director Donald Runnicles runs the festival, patching together a schedule that rivals some year-round symphonies. Sarah Chang opens this summer's festival with the Barber Violin Concerto, Jonathan Biss performs Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 4, Nicholas McGeghan conducts a program of Mozart and Haydn summer, and the season ends with Mahler’s Symphony No. 5.

Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming (Andrew Zarivny/


2. Moab Music Festival

Offerings at the Moab Music Festival, from late August through early September, take advantage of the monumental Utah scenery, presenting music in Arches and Canyonlands national parks and other extraordinary backgrounds. Known for its Grotto concerts in which musicians, instruments and the audience are shipped up the Colorado River in jet boats, the festival also stages performances along hikes and canoe trips, as well as ones in a traditional concert venue, Star Hall. Concerts range from traditional fare featuring chestnuts by Schumann and Brahms to more contemporary and jazz programs usually presented by chamber groups.

Moab Music Festival (Elizabeth Leslie Photography)

3. Brevard Music Festival

Located in North Carolina’s Blue Ridge Mountains, and less then 90 minutes from the Great Smoky Mountains, Brevard Music Festival provides a convenient jumping off point for exploring Southern Appalachia, and evenings packed with star-powered symphonic programs and adventurous operas. This year’s festival opens on June 21 with music director Keith Lockhart conducting Itzhak Perlman in concert. Other performers include JoAnn Falletta, principal guest conductor, and pianist Garrick Ohlsson. Meanwhile, the lineup of operas—Britten's Albert Herring, Don Giovanni, Sweeney Todd, and a new work by Robert Aldridge, Sister Carrie—tends toward contemporary tastes.

Twilight at the Cowee Mountain Overlook right off the Blue Ridge Parkway near Brevard, NC (Serge the Photographer/


4. Grand Canyon Music Festival

Music may not be the biggest draw of the Grand Canyon Music Festival, which runs on park grounds from August 22 through September 6, but the annual series brings world-class artists to Northern Arizona. Just be sure to catch an eyeful of the landscape before heading into the Shrine of the Ages (a multipurpose building) for the performance—the park service doesn’t let concertgoers near the rim after the concerts let out. A pair of New York-based chamber ensembles are on this year’s slate: Ethel, which play back-to-back concerts on August 29 and 30, and Catalyst Quartet, which follow on Sept 5 and 6.

Grand Canyon, Arizona (Pal Teravagimov/


5. Salt Bay Chamberfest

Founded by the cellist Wilhelmina Smith, Salt Bay Chamberfest attracts an exceptional roster of musicians to its converted cow barn on the shores of the Great Salt Bay in Damariscotta, Maine. The rural setting, proximity to the ocean coastline, and bring-your-own-instrument lobster bakes attracts guests and performers, including pianist Benjamin Hochman; violinists Tim Fain, Erin Keefe and Jennifer Koh; as well as conductor Osmo Vanska who will trade his baton for the clarinet. This year the festival celebrates its 20th anniversary with the theme “Darkness and Light.”

Pemaquid Point Lighthouse, Maine (Don Landwehrle/


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Comments [4]


These are, of course, all beautiful venues, but it has to beat the Verbier Festival in the Swiss Alps.

May. 25 2014 11:19 PM

Re. #3:

Really? Less THEN? Copy editors asleep at the wheel?


May. 25 2014 01:13 AM
Kayla Boettcher

Also notable: the Sitka Summer Music Festival has been presenting world-class chamber music in the picturesque community of Sitka Alaska since 1972. The Artistic Director is renowned cellist Zuill Bailey, and the 2014 season includes the Catalyst Quartet, Cypress String Quartet, pianists Natasha Paremski and Awadagin Pratt, plus many more.

May. 23 2014 02:12 PM
Ron Spigelman

All beautiful places yes, but #6 should be Lake Placid Sinfonietta, now in its 97th year in the gorgeous Adirondack Mountains in NY. We debut our new band shell right on Mirror Lake July 2nd, then nearly 20 concerts both Classical and Pops through August 11

May. 22 2014 11:51 PM

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