August 2019: Classical off the Beaten Track

Get off the beaten track this summer with our guide to the alt-classical scene in the UK: there’s so much happening in all sorts of locations, from gardens and garden centres to barns and boats. There are fringe festivals, guerrilla gigs, opera with hog roast and a night-time event that requires you bring a torch. Intrigued? Keep reading and share your favourite events on Instagram, Facebook or Twitter. Oh, and sign up for our mailing list to receive recommendations once a month.

29 July - 7 September, £12+
Arcola Theatre, Dalston

“Take any opera-related stereotypes you might have and bin them” – Time Out

Bold new versions of classic operas; rarely-seen and long-forgotten works; and brand-new pieces from the most exciting musicians. Our picks include Cabildo, an exploration of the dark underside of the American dream by Amy Beach; Sane and Sound, a new chamber opera about schizophrenia, bipolar, major depressive disorder and psychosis; and Don Jo, a queer take on Mozart’s perennially problematic classic.

Saturday 31 August, 6.30pm-7.45pm, £8-£12
The Palace Gardener, Putney Bridge

🌳 Find a moment of calm in the lush surroundings of a garden centre next to Fulham Palace at the launch event of Secret Sanctuary Concerts, which brings live music to tranquil green spaces. There will be a programme of (mainly) classical music for oboe and classical guitar themed around gardens, performed by Julia White and Rebecca Baulch. You can pay £12 for a seat or save a few pounds by bringing your own cushion.

19-28 August, free

The biggest ever tour of the Hebrides by an orchestra, and not just any orchestra: this one has popped up in swimming pools, train stations, farms and even at the summit of Ben Nevis! They’re planning 35 concerts in public spaces and community venues across 17 locations including Barra, Harris, Skye, Oban, Fort William and Glasgow. Music by Hildegard of Bingen (born in 1098!), Handel, Mozart, Debussy, Lutoslawski, James MacMillan and Shiori Usui, as well as pop music by A-Ha and Toto, and arrangements of Scottish ceilidh tunes and Gaelic songs. Guaranteed to bring a smile to your face! 😃

Thursday 1 August, 8pm, £9.50
Kings Place, King’s Cross

Taking the extraordinary life and work of 12th-century female polymath Hildegard von Bingen as its starting point, Hildegard: Visions is a sensory opera-happening that transports its audience through a journey from intimacy to ecstasy using voice, sculptural light installation, electronic soundscapes and ideas of ritual from across cultures and times. Watch and get involved from the comfort of your beanbag.

15 August - 26 October, £18 (£12 member)
Kew Gardens, Kew

Kew Gardens hosts an after-dark experience with illuminated artworks, food and drink, and music commissioned by Guest Artists based on a new work by Nico Muhly, featuring wind instruments and vocals. The soundscape changes each evening and includes a rotating line-up of musicians, including improvising quartet The Hermes Experiment, organist James McVinnie and the UK’s only glass harmonica player Alasdair Malloy.

P.S. Take a torch! 🔦

Tuesday 13 August, 10.15pm, £6-£28.52
Royal Albert Hall, Kensington

A late-night wind-down Prom with music to calm the mind and nourish the soul. With an eclectic range of classical and contemporary sounds, this concert explores the fringes of minimalism and meditative listening with music by the godfathers of ‘holy’ minimalism – Arvo Pärt and Peteris Vasks – emerging out of the sublime classicism of JS Bach and Schubert. Performed by Tenebrae choir and the 12 Ensemble. You can queue on the day for a cheap ticket (with optional lying down!).

13-20 August, £8-£10

The Night With… presents salon-style concerts of interesting music in intimate, informal venues across Scotland. They have nine concerts (both lunch and evening slots) as part of the Edinburgh Fringe at the Stills Gallery and the Scottish Storytelling Centre. If you’re curious about what music for trumpet, tuba and electronics sounds like, or have never heard a viola and accordion duo, this is your chance!

Thursday 15 August, 8.30pm, £12 (£10 under 26s)
Centre for Contemporary Arts, Glasgow

Crossing musical genres and styles, head to the relaxed surroundings of the CCA’s downstairs bar to hear impressive displays of virtuosity across a diverse selection of music. Music choices include works for solo strings and full ensemble, Celtic-inflected pieces of haunting beauty, and intriguing 20th-century gems.

8-11 August, £10-£55
The Octagon Barn, Norwich

Into Opera does what it says on the tin: it wants to get more people ‘into’ opera. Headlining this year is an imaginative production of Donizetti’s comic opera The Elixir of Love, set in rural Norfolk during World War 1, preceded by a hog roast. Opera Unwrapped offers an informal concert (complimentary glass of Champagne included) with an assortment of music by Verdi, Mozart, Puccini and Gershwin, with a chance to find out what got each of the singers into opera. It’s a 17-minute drive from Norwich station and you’re welcome to take a picnic to enjoy in the grounds of the Octagon Park beforehand.

29 July - 25 August, £10-£12
King’s Cross and Islington

This is the London alternative to the Edinburgh Fringe, filled with new writing, opera, stand-up, cabaret, improv and more. Take a punt on: Comic Quartets by Fringe Classical, an informal programme of works by serious composers that were written as a joke. Laughs absolutely not guaranteed 😂 Madame Chandelier’s Rough Guide to the Opera is joyfully ridiculous fusion of comedy, cabaret and opera from an anti-diva. Memories - From The Life of an Opera Singer reveals the highs (above the stave) and the lows (below the stave) of being an opera singer. Do You See What I Hear? combines spoken word and music with a modern take on orchestral impressionism performed on electric cello with adjoined drum synth.

20 August - 7 September, £8-£30
Bridewell Theatre, Fleet Street

You’re promised “fresh, bold, innovative, accessible, daring” opera at this opera festival in the City of London. This year’s programme includes Wear, where contemporary opera meets high fashion and dance; Vivaldi Meets Werther, a multi-disciplinary show combining The Four Seasons and Goethe’s tragic novel The Sorrows of Young Werther; and R’Otello, a rugby opera that scrutinizes domestic violence in the world of opera and sport.

31 July – 26 August, 11.50am, £8-£12
Pleasance Dome, Edinburgh

Progressive brass band Perhaps Contraption uses daring, intricate music, dynamic choreography, spectacular light shows and beautiful choral harmonies to illustrate the journey of one lonely atom in their first theatrical show. Part choir, part chamber orchestra, part avant rock troupe, they create a truly unique musical experience; melding elements of jazz, punk, art pop and post-minimalism, with influences from John Adams, David Lang and Steve Reich. If you’re at the Edinburgh Fringe, make sure to check it out!

Photo credits: Into Opera by Emily Gray Photography, Perhaps Contraption by Rah Petherbridge.

Hannah Fiddy