The Lucerne Festival is a series of classical music festivals based in Lucerne, Switzerland. Founded in 1938, it currently produces three festivals per year, attracting some 110,000 visitors annually taking place since 2004 primarily at the Lucerne Culture and Congress Centre (KKL) designed by Jean Nouvel. Each festival features resident orchestras and soloists alongside guest performances from international ensembles and artists, in 2017 including the Berlin Philharmonic, Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, Vienna Philharmonic, Emanuel Ax, Martha Argerich and Maxim Vengerov.
The largest festival is the Summer Festival (Lucerne Festival im Sommer), taking place in August und September and featuring over 100 events. Since 2003 it has been launched by the Lucerne Festival Orchestra, Claudio Abbado's "orchestra of friends" composed of internationally acclaimed soloists, chamber musicians, teachers, and members of the Mahler Chamber Orchestra, since 2016 directed by Riccardo Chailly. Also founded in 2003 was the Lucerne Festival Academy, created by the French composer and conductor Pierre Boulez to bring together young musicians from around the world to perform music of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, since 2016 led by Artistic Director Wolfgang Rihm and Principal Conductor Matthias Pintscher. International artists are also invited to be artistes étoiles and composers-in-residence, forming event around an annual theme, recent topics being "Humour", "Identity" and "Psyche".
The Easter Festival (Lucerne Festival zu Ostern) was founded in 1988 and takes place each spring two weeks before Easter and runs through Palm Sunday, with a special focus given to sacred music. Performances take place in churches throughout Lucerne, as well as a masterclass for young conductors at the KKL with Bernard Haitink and Lucerne Festival Strings and annual guest performances from Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra and Choir.
The Piano Festival (Lucerne Festival am Piano) has taken place every November since 1998, where keyboard virtuosos and emerging stars are invited to Lucerne for nine days to perform recitals, concertos, and chamber music. The "Piano Off-Stage!” programme forms a parallel series of jazz events found in bars around Lucerne.
Alongside the resident orchestra and academy, three additional institutions contribute further to the festival's annual activity. Lucerne Festival Young is responsible of programming classical music performances to youngsters, including since 2014 "Young Performance", an annual production of a staged concert created and first performed in Lucerne and then taken on tour around Switzerland and throughout Europe. Lucerne Festival Ark Nova is an inflatable mobile concert hall, developed by Arata Isozaki and Anish Kapoor in 2011 to make a contribution to the cultural reconstructions taking place in Japan following the earthquake, tsunami and resulting nuclear disaster at Fukishima. Lucerne Festival Alumni represents the musicians that have passed through the academy since 2003, supporting them as they begin their careers and organising further performances of contemporary classical music around the world.
The festival started with the so-called “Concert de Gala” in the gardens of Richard Wagner's villa at Triebchen in 1938 conducted by Arturo Toscanini, who had formed an orchestra with members of different orchestras and soloists from around Europe. With the rise of the Nazi regime several major performers and conductors, including Toscanini, Fritz Busch and Bruno Walter decided not to perform in the traditional German and Austrian music festivals such as the Bayreuth Festival and Salzburg festival. In the 1940s the Swiss Festival Orchestra (Schweizerische Festspielorchester) was founded from members of the elite Swiss orchestras, which became a central part of the festival known since 1943 as the Internationalen Musikfestwochen Luzern (IMF). In 2000 it was renamed as the Lucerne Festival and is currently part of the European Festivals Association.
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