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Top 7 classical music festivals in the Netherlands

Top 7 classical music festivals in the Netherlands

Top 7 classical music festivals in the Netherlands

Musical life in the Netherlands is so eclectic! Being a melting pot of many cultures and musical styles, it’s only natural that the Dutch classical music scene is superb. Many music-lovers look to cultural hubs like Berlin, Vienna and Paris for inspiration, but the Netherlands has a rich music scene going on in its own right.

Classical music festivals in the Netherlands

Take a look at our selection of just a few of the world-renowned events that are likely to be important for anyone in the know about classical music around these parts and, of course, those who wish to get more acquainted. Here's our ultimate guide to classical music festivals in the Netherlands:

1. Grachtenfestival

Grachtenfestival in Amsterdam is the predominantly outdoor classical music festival, featuring 150 concerts on the famous canal ring of Amsterdam, which has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site, as well as many other somewhat unusual venues around Amsterdam, transforming the most unlikely spots into stages for the rousing sounds of classical music.

One of the most breathtaking, stirring moments of the Grachtenfestival is the Prinsengracht Concert. And it's free! A sizeable part of the canal close to Hotel Pulitzer is typically built up into a floating podium. Listeners take their places on the bridges in the surrounding area and even inside canal houses, looking out the windows, for one of the most picturesque free concerts in the world, and where better than on lively city canals? ​​​​

This is arguably the annual highlight of the festival and it’s broadcast on national television. If you experience it for yourself, you may be fighting back the tears, as the festival comes to a close with everyone singing “Aan de Amsterdamse Grachten” (On the Amsterdam canals) together.

2. Utrecht Early Music Festival

  • Where: Utrecht
  • When: Late August, early September

At the end of summer, there's no better place to experience music from the Middle Ages, Renaissance and Baroque eras than in lovely Utrecht! Music connoisseurs from far and wide flock to Utrecht for this “musical mecca”! The swanky modern TivoliVredenburg acts as the festival's heart.

The largest festival in the whole wide world that focuses on these particular eras, the annual Utrecht Early Music Festival presents more than 200 concerts at prestigious venues, featuring big names in early music like Ton Koopman and Jordi Savall. The festival is a hive of activity, with not only concerts but also lectures, exhibitions, a symposium and more.

The average attendee to this festival is a seasoned music-worshipper who knows what he or she wants, and this is reflected in the way the event is organised, down to the minute details. The festival website, for instance, is a music lover's dream because, in the search for your favourite concerts, you can filter by era, genre, location and ensemble setting. 

3. Holland Festival

  • Where: Amsterdam
  • When: June

The largest and longest-running multidisciplinary arts festival in the Netherlands, Holland Festival is renowned for its staggering creativity in theatre, music, opera and dance at the most celebrated music venues in Amsterdam, as well as free outdoor events in the streets, museums and parks. Experience prolific performances by the Dutch National Opera and Ballet, Concertgebouworkest and others.

Here are just a few examples: the underpass of the Rijksmuseum transforms into a reverberating performance space overcome with impressive sounds. The nearby Stedelijk Museum becomes a pop-up performance space. Operas are often streamed on massive screens in city parks, meaning that everyone and anyone can enjoy performances for free.

The Holland Festival Proms is the famous standing-room-only event, inviting audiences into the glorious Concertgebouw for only 11 euros per ticket. It’s a nifty way of presenting classical music to a broader audience than usual, echoing the intentions of the BBC Proms in London. Last year, for instance, saw a David Bowie-inspired performance in the proms part of the festival.

4. International Chamber Music Festival

  • Where: Utrecht
  • When: December

Each year, Utrecht becomes the beating heart of chamber music performances, as the Tivoli Vredenburg welcomes some of the most sought-after musicians to perform on its renowned concert stages, with musicians like Janine Jansen, Harriet Krijgh, Simone Lamsma, Benjamin Appl, Martin Fröst and Lucas and Arthur Jussen.

The International Chamber Music Festival is a yearly celebration of world-class chamber music. Critically-acclaimed Dutch violinist Janine Jansen is the artistic leader of the festival and has curated an alluring programme performed by some of the eminent figures in chamber music.

The event gives you the chance to explore many magnificent buildings in Utrecht! The impressive multi-storey concert venue Tivoli Vredenburg serves as the heart and soul of the festival, with many other concerts in gorgeous old buildings.

For five years, the festival took place in summer, but as of 2019 the festival moved back to its original winter timeslot, so it will be an important occasion for your Christmas holidays.

5. Festival Classique

Festival Classique, the 10-day event with short concerts and performances in unique locations, has been dubbed the "Lowlands of classical music".

It has to be said: classical music is becoming increasingly accessible, lively and down-to-earth, shaking off its elite, old-fashioned image. This has been the goal of Festival Classique for many years, creating the perfect festival for all ages to enjoy classical concerts!

Since classical music sounds great almost everywhere, concerts can be performed in the open air or at unexpected locations like McDonald’s, a coffee shop or in museums in The Hague. The famous pier and the Kurhaus in Scheveningen have also featured as picturesque backdrops to Festival Classique in recent years. 

Prepare to witness concerts left, right and centre, for free! And for concerts that you do have to pay for, you won’t be parting with a massive sum: tickets range from 5 euros to around 40 euros, so there’s something in there for everyone!

6. Opera Forward

  • Where: Amsterdam
  • When: March / April

The Opera Forward Festival is organised each year by the Dutch National Opera. The festival presents dazzling opera performances and seminars by keynote speakers and exciting, cutting-edge roads into opera with the newest crop of young composers, singers and instrumentalists.

The festival aims to prompt new initiatives, new work and new talent. It takes in opera, art, talks, performances, food and DJs! One example from a recent edition of the festival was We Shall Not Be Moved, a Dutch-American music theatre piece which mixed classical, spoken word, R&B and jazz.

The operas are as varied as they are magnificent. From the 17th century Italian canon to 20th-century heavyweights, the opera programme has plenty, no matter what sort of opera fan you may be. All this with cut-price tickets!

7. Gergiev Festival

Organised by the Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra and the conductor Valery Gergiev, the Gergiev Festival is one of the most majestic and large-scale classical music festivals Rotterdam. The festival comprises not only symphony orchestra concerts but also piano marathons, children's concerts and collaborations between the orchestra and the conservatoire.

It all began with the vision of Valery Gergiev when he was principal conductor of the orchestra back in the 1990s and has grown from a single themed concert to a fully-fledged multi-day orchestral festival.

Each year, a different theme is chosen to give the festival a degree of uniformity and to let visitors know what to expect, be it a city, a composer or a state of mind.

Get your tickets, sit back and listen to great music

The range of events taking place is astounding and this is just a small selection of what's going on in the Netherlands! Get your tickets and enjoy the show!

Thumb photo credit: Rob van Dam, courtesy of Grachtenfestival

Rachel Deloughry

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Rachel Deloughry

Rachel is a writer, editor and digital content creator, passionate about the arts, culture and lifestyle.

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