Mountainous musical experiences: A roundup of Colorado’s 2023 summer classical music festivals

Zach Mahone/Bravo! Vail
The New York Philharmonic performs at Bravo! Vail, one of many festivals featured this summer as part of CPR Classical’s SummerFest broadcasts.

Coloradans know that our state’s scenery is a work of art. The inarguable beauty of our mountain landscapes makes it a perfect pairing for musical masterpieces, which is why there are so many world-class classical festivals that set up shop here every summer.

From immense experiences like Bravo! Vail to smaller showcases like the Denver Chamber Music Festival, summer classical music festivals are spread all over the state. You can hear violin superstars like Midori and Hilary Hahn or get to know exceptional local talent. Experience music in new ways with Classical Music Yoga, concerts by candlelight or in a clocktower or even at the top of a mountain.

Whether you want to plan a grand cultural getaway into the mountains or bring the kids to a few concerts in your area, there are many ways for you to embark on a classical music adventure this summer. Check out our 2023 roundup of Colorado’s key summer classical music festivals.

Aspen Music Festival and School

June 29 – August 20, Aspen

“America’s premier classical music festival” is as big as ever this year. In addition to being a prestigious training ground for young musicians, the festival includes more than 400 classical music events with some of the world’s most talented performers, which take place in both a concert hall and an open-air tent. Be sure to take note of new lower-priced ticket tiers on Fridays and Sundays this year!

Highlights: The Emerson String Quartet’s “Aspen Farewell” concert before they retire at the end of this season, Broadway star Audra McDonald sings with the Festival Orchestra, “Music on the Mountain” at the top of Mount Aspen with the National Piping Center of Scotland — take the gondola or hike!

A few big names: Violinists Maxim Vengerov, Augustin Hadelich, Gil Shaham and Luna Choi (winner of the 2022 Dorothy DeLay competition); clarinetist Anthony McGill (with the McGill/McHale trio); bassists Christian McBride and Edgar Meyer; soprano Ana Maria Martinez.

Bravo! Vail Music Festival

(Photo: Zach Malone)

A Bravo! Vail performance.

June 22 – August 3, Vail

Starting from humble beginnings as a small chamber festival in 1987, this festival presents four of the best orchestras in the world in more than 80 concerts against the gorgeous backdrop of Vail mountain.

This year features London’s Academy of St Martin in the Fields, the New York Philharmonic, the Dallas Symphony Orchestra and the Philadelphia Symphony Orchestra. In addition to favorite symphonic repertoire, the festival will be hosting two world premieres, one Colorado premiere and 16 festival premieres of works by living composers in this second year of the festival’s Symphonic Commissioning Project.

Highlights: Festival premieres from composers like Chick Corea, Paquito D’Rivera and Jennifer Higdon; an immersive experience with “Seven Chances,” and conductor Marin Alsop re-creating the Van Cliburn championship with gold medal winner Yunchan Lim and the New York Philharmonic playing Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto #3.

A few big names: Joshua Bell, Hilary Hahn, Time for Three, conductor Marin Alsop, Van Cliburn competition gold medalist Yunchan Lim and silver medalist Anna Geniushene.

Central City Opera

June 24 – August 6, Central City

Not too far west of Denver (just past Golden Gate Canyon State Park), lies the hidden gem of one of the oldest professional opera companies in the country. Central City Opera’s six-week festival features multiple performances of three musical adaptations of Shakespeare: Gounod’s “Romeo & Juliet,” Rossini’s “Othello” and Cole Porter’s classic Golden Age musical “Kiss Me, Kate.”

Colorado College Summer Music Festival

June 4 – 23, Colorado Springs

Now in its 39th year, this teaching festival features performances from both professionals and advanced student musicians from across the country playing a variety of chamber and orchestral works. You’ll likely recognize the festival orchestra’s conductor: Scott Yoo, host of PBS’ "Now Hear This."

Colorado Music Festival

Hart Van Denburg/CPR News
Composer Wang Jie premiered her “Flying On the Scaly Backs of Our Mountains” at the Colorado Music Festival, with Peter Oundjian conducting. Thursday, Aug. 4, 2022, at Boulder’s Chautauqua Auditorium.

June 29 – August 6, Boulder

With music director Peter Oundjian now in his fifth year, superstar violinist Joshua Bell as artist-in-residence, and John Corigliano as composer-in-residence, there are some monumental performances at the base of the Flatirons in Chautauqua Auditorium this summer. The festival orchestra, composed of musicians from 44 orchestras across three countries, will present titans like Mahler’s 1st Symphony as well as works from eight living composers.

Highlights: Artist-in-residence Joshua Bell’s multiple violin concertos, two full programs of Rachmaninoff to celebrate his 150th birthday, world premiere of “JFK: The Last Speech” by composer Adolphus Hailstork, Shostakovich Cello Concerto 1 by cellist Johannes Moser, the JACK Quartet’s contemporary program of “New York Stories.”

Denver Chamber Music Festival

June 2 – 10, Downtown Denver

The newest festival on our list, the Denver Chamber Music Festival, enters its third season full of talent right in the middle of the Mile High City. Denver-based cellists Alice Yoo and Matthew Zalkind co-founded and serve as co-artistic directors for the festival, which they created after seeing that most classical music in the summer happens outside of Denver.

Highlight: “Behind The Clock” — a special concert on the top floor and behind the clock face of the historic Daniels and Fisher Clocktower in downtown Denver!

Flatirons Chamber Music Festival

June 17 - 18, Boulder

Flatirons Chamber Music Festival presents two concerts full of diverse repertoire from the 19th century to now at the Gordon Gamm Theater at the Dairy Arts Center. Join the Flatirons Chamber Music Festival for both concerts of their 2023 season.

Highlights: A Father’s Day celebration, including a world premiere piano trio by American composer and frequent collaborator Benjamin Park.

Music in the Mountains

July 6 – 30, Durango

Performances featuring a wide variety of soloists, genres and eras can be found at this festival under the direction of artistic director Guillermo Figueroa. The four weeks of music include both mainstage concerts and three free community concerts throughout the town on a unique mobile stage setup.

Highlights: Chamber concert by candlelight, Philippe Quint plays little-known compositions by Charlie Chaplin (yes, the silent film star!), jazz vocalist/pianist Tony DeSare with orchestra.

National Repertory Orchestra Festival - “Music Lives Here!”

Runout Concert_Newman Center_Michael Stern_Joshua Bell
Joshua Geurink
Joshua Bell with the National Repertory Orchestra in a 2022 CPR Classical Presents concert.

June 24 – August 12, Breckenridge

This festival attracts young musician fellows from across the world who are on the cusp of a professional music career. Once known as the “Blue Jeans Orchestra," the NRO is celebrating its 30th year of residency in Breckenridge with a set of performances under the moniker of “Music Lives Here!”

Based around the theme of “The Immigrant Experience,” the festival features masterworks from composers like Bartok, Stravinsky and Rachmaninoff, who, music director Michael Stern says, “left their native countries to seek refuge, creative opportunity and artistic freedom. In turn, they influenced generations of composers, right up to our time, several of whom we will feature this summer at the festival.”

Also look out for three free family-friendly performances throughout the region, and 40 free interactive education and community engagement performances.

Highlights: Two concerts with superstar violinist Midori (including one in Denver at the Newman Center for the Performing Arts), “‘The Lion King’ in Concert” with Hans Zimmer’s score performed live along to the film, world premiere of composer Chen Yi’s commission “Transplanted Seeds.”

Off the Hook Arts SummerFest 2023

June 21 – 28, Fort Collins

Listen and learn together at this unique festival that combines world-class musicians with experts in the sciences and arts.

Off the Hook Arts is a nonprofit that “brings the joy of learning music to children in the Fort Collins-Loveland-Windsor-Wellington region” through free instruments, lessons and concerts throughout the year. This year’s theme is “Visions and Decisions,” which focuses on the intersection between musical imagination and technique. You’ll hear discussions about the art of composing in between intimate, thoughtfully programmed chamber music performances with local and international musicians.

Opera Steamboat

August 5 – 13, Steamboat

This nonprofit opera company, founded in 2002 as Emerald City Opera, presents a diverse pair of operas this season: Puccini’s 1918 “Gianni Schicchi,” and contemporary composer Missy Mazzoli’s “Proving Up,” adapted from the short story of the same name by Karen Russell.

Snake River Music Festival

August 11 – September 3, Dillon

A great and easy way to close out an exciting summer: every concert in this series is free! Founded in 1998 by a beloved Colorado violinist, the late Charles “Chas” Wetherbee, this year’s festival is dedicated to his memory and continues the mission he started of “celebrating life and community through chamber music.” Catch these five intimate concerts nestled in the beautiful environs along the titular river in Summit County.

Strings Music Festival

June 24 – August 27 (Classical acts June 24 – August 5), Steamboat Springs

You’ll have no shortage of things to do in Steamboat this summer. This multifaceted festival includes classical concerts alongside contemporary acts like Graham Nash, musical yoga activities, and even a home and garden tour.

Highlights: Violinist Chee-Yun opens the festival with Beethoven’s Violin Concerto; Yoga in the Park with Classical Music; Van Cliburn Silver Medalist Anna Geniushene’s solo piano recital; Brett Mitchell, former Music Director of the Colorado Symphony, conducts John Williams; “Cafe Classical” features free, intimate conversations with Viano String Quartet at a local coffee shop.

Telluride Chamber Music’s MusicFest

June 24 – July 2, Telluride

Get up-close-and-personal to some chamber music in this series featuring performances in a beautiful private home — a restored barn in the mountains with “unparalleled view of Mt. Sunshine.” The festival was founded 50 years ago in 1973 and recently shifted to a year-round performance calendar. The summer calendar remains robust with several unique small ensemble performances, including the unusual combo of viola and percussion in duoJalal, and performances with all-star modern dancers.

Listen all summer long

Hear CPR Classical by clicking “Listen Live” at the top on this website, or download the Colorado Public Radio app. Listen on your radio to CPR Classical at 88.1 FM in Denver, or on radio signals around Colorado. You can also tell your smart speaker to “Play CPR Classical."