by Mike Telin
In his 2015 edition of Festival Europe, music journalist and travel writer Frank Kuznik provides would-be festival-goers with an abundance of helpful information about 70 European classical music festivals. Additionally, Kuznik entices readers with his insightful festival descriptions, accompanied by 90 exquisite photographs. Even if Europe is not in your travel plans for this summer, one look at this attractive guide and it surely will be in your plans for next summer.
During a recent conversation over coffee, Frank Kuznik said that his original list included 90 festivals. While most of the people he contacted were happy to help, for various reasons he was not able to include them all. “Some people I contacted didn’t respond. Others did get back to me but their Festival was not ready to release the information to the public at that time. It’s an endless project, but at some point you do have to close it out and get down to the writing.” The guide’s time line includes festivals that are currently underway and continues into October of 2015.
Kuznik said the idea for creating the guide — the first edition came out in 2014 — was sparked by having had the opportunity to spend a summer in Europe going to festivals. Kuznik worked at the Prague Post from 2002 through 2010, first as cultural editor, and later as editor-in-chief, although he continued to hold onto his cultural editor position. After being downsized from the publication in 2010, Kuznik continued to live in Prague for two years, teaching and creating his own cultural blog, and eventually decided to return to the states in 2012. “When I came back, I thought, what do I know that nobody else knows? This book was the obvious answer. I studied the subject for ten years. I had the background, the knowledge, and the contacts, and the ones I didn’t have I knew how to get.”
In his introduction, Kuznik writes, “There are hundreds of music festivals in Europe every summer. The 70 chosen for this book comprise an insider’s guide to the best, based on the following criteria.” (The criteria are quality, setting, variety, and accessibility. The book includes festivals of opera, chamber music, orchestral, and early music). “I felt that it was important to cover all of the different genres. Some of the festivals are part classical and part something else — for example, The Holland Festival, which also presents a lot of theatre, especially experimental, as does the Edinburgh International Festival.”
Kuznik said that he is especially attracted to festivals that are tied to a sense of place. “In Italy they like to present operas in outdoor arenas, like the Arena Opera Festival in Verona. And Festival Puccini actually built an arena next to Puccini’s house in Torre del Lago, where he lived for 30 years. It’s great because you can hear one of his operas, then take a tour of his house.”
Another country that incorporates a sense of place into its festivals is Finland. “In Finland the festivals are closely connected to the geography, and during the summer all of the costal towns have music festivals. The Kuhmo Chamber Music Festival is near a wilderness area, and the pitch is to come and hear the music, then take a walk in the forest. They also invite everyone to the sauna.”
With so many great festivals to choose from, Kuznik said that if he did have to choose only one it would be Festival Messiaen in Pays de la Meija, France. “It’s held in the part of the Alps where Messiaen lived. They give outdoor concerts on the side of the mountain and take visitors to all the places he that he worked transcribing the bird songs. They even offer a guided hike to a glacier.”
Although Festival Europe 2015 is certainly informative, the museum catalogue-quality photos are worth the purchase price. “The photos are a big part of the book this year. Last year they were all black and whites, but for this edition I decided that they really needed to be in color. When most people pick up the book the first thing they’re going to do is to look at the photos. And if the photos are attractive, hopefully that will get people to read it.”
Like the collection of festivals, there is a lot of diversity of style in the photos as well. “I looked for glamour shots as well as humorous ones. Some people may have the idea that classical music is pretty stiff, but once you start learning about the personalities of the festivals, you can start to have some fun.” Frank Kuznik said that people have pointed out the armchair traveler aspect to the book. “Although I didn’t plan it that way, I do think it’s more than just a guide book.”
The book also includes helpful information on finding housing and transportation in and around the cities and regions, as well as suggestions of interesting activities to do when you’re not attending a concert, most which can be found on the festivals’ websites.
Festival Europe 2015: 70 enchanting places to hear the world’s greatest music, can be purchased on Amazon.
Photo Credits: Violin – Media Bakery; Grafenegg Stage – Exceptional Pictures; Author Photo – Casey Batule.
Published on ClevelandClassical.com April 16, 2015.
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