Indoor venues across the UK re-opened their doors to the public on May 17, for the first time since last year. There are still safety restrictions in place, including social distancing and the use of masks (keep up to date with the latest rules here), but the cultural world is roaring back to life. In this guide, our critics pick the summer's must-see shows – from May to August – and recommend the hottest tickets.
Best opera and music concerts to book in 2021
CLASSICAL Chineke! Chamber Ensemble
Europe’s first BAME chamber group plays Schubert’s Trout Quintet alongside two works from early 20th-century African-American composer Florence Price’s “Five Folksongs in Counterpoint”, with the group’s founder Chi-chi Nwanoku on double-bass.
Brighton Dome (brightonfestival.org), May 19
CLASSICAL Ragged Music Festival
For its third outing, this superb chamber music festival set in a perfectly preserved Victorian school boasts top-rank young performers, including violinist Alina Ibragimova and pianist Pavel Kolesnikov.
Ragged School Museum (raggedmusicfestival.co.uk), May 21 – May 23
OPERA Kát’a Kabanová
Glyndebourne Festival opens with rising Czech star Kateřina Knĕžíková in the title role of Janáček’s late great opera about a woman’s struggle to free herself from small-town hypocrisy.
Glyndebourne, Lewes, East Sussex (Glyndebourne.com), May 23 – June 19
POP Van Morrison
You can’t keep an old crooner down. Despite mixed reviews for the 75-year-old Northern Irish singer’s pugnacious anti-lockdown album, he’s stayed the course and can still stir up magic live. London Palladium, W1 (vanmorrison.com), June 1 – June 5, then touring
JAZZ Tim Garland Quartet
The legacy of the great jazz pianist and composer Chick Corea, who died earlier this year, is celebrated by terrific soprano saxophonist Tim Garland and a quartet including pianist Jason Rebello.
Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club (ronniescotts.co.uk), June 2
OPERA Der Rosenkavalier
Richard Strauss’s most beloved opera receives a new production with Hanna Hipp as the titular “Knight of the Rose”, Miah Persson as the Countess he woos, and Derek Ballard as her cousin, Baron Ochs. Garsington Opera, Wormley Estate, Buckinghamshire (garsingtonopera.org), June 2 – July 3
OPERA Dido’s Ghost
The new opera by Belize-born composer Errollyn Wallen grows out of Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas, imagining what becomes of the characters in later life – and beyond the grave.
Barbican, London EC1 (barbican.org.uk), June 6; then Buxton Opera House, July 11-17
Beethoven’s stirring tale of female heroism is given a concert performance by Opera North, with an excellent cast including Rachel Nicholls and Toby Spence.
Leeds Town Hall (operanorth.co.uk), June 9 – June 19, then touring
Superb new-music group the Riot Ensemble performs this immersive piece by Georg Friedrich Haas in which the audience is plunged into total darkness – until the wonderful ending when light returns.
Kings Place London N1 (kingsplace.co.uk), June 11
OPERA Ivan the Terrible
Grange Park Opera’s season offers a real rarity: Rimsky-Korsakov’s Ivan the Terrible, which softens the image of the vengeful despot with a tender family drama. David Pountney directs this new production.
Grange Park Opera, West Horsley Place, Surrey (grangeparkopera.co.uk), June 19 – July 14
POP Tom Odell
The Brit-winning, piano-playing singer-songwriter returns to the stage with a three-night residency to promote his fragile new album, Monsters.
Jazz Café London NW1 (thejazzcafelondon.com), June 20 – June 22
OPERA A Midsummer Night’s Dream
Paul Curran directs a cast of young rising stars in a production that celebrates the 61st anniversary of Benjamin Britten’s Shakespearean classic (it was originally planned for the 60th anniversary in 2020).
Grange Festival, Northington, Hampshire (thegrangefestival.co.uk), June 24 – July 2
POP Rag’n’Bone Man
Bearded, tattooed, neo soul singer songwriter Rory Graham returns to his natural live habitat with gigs in venues big and small, and festival dates too. His new album Life By Misadventure unleashes that big, expressive voice to powerful effect.
Kenwood House, London NW3 (ragnboneman.com), June 25 and touring
POP James Blunt
The always amiable English singer-songwriter reopens a full capacity Royal Albert Hall with crowd-pleasing songcraft. It will be emotional.
Royal Albert Hall, London SW7 (jamesblunt.com), July 6 and touring
CLASSICAL The City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra
The CBSO winds up its excellent summer season with Prokofiev’s enchanting First Violin Concerto, performed by star violinist Alina Ibragimova, alongside Schubert’s Fourth Symphony and Judith Weir’s entertaining Heroic Strokes of the Bow.
Symphony Hall Birmingham (cbso.co.uk), July 7
OPERA A Little Night Music
The Buxton Opera Festival opens with Sondheim’s wonderful fairy-tale musical, and continues with a little-known comic opera by 19th-century soprano Pauline Viardot, Malcolm Arnold’s The Dancing Master, and operas by Handel, Massenet, and Errollyn Wallen.
Buxton Opera House, Derbyshire (buxtonfestival.co.uk), July 8 – July 24
CLASSICAL London Philharmonic Orchestra
The Aldeburgh Festival is not happening alas, but the Snape Summer Music season is some consolation. A highlight is LPO's performance of Robin Holloway's brand-new new orchestration of Britten’s song-cycle Winter Words.
Snape Maltings, Suffolk (snapemaltings.co.uk), July 11
POP Latitude Festival
This arty, bucolic and laid back affair hopes to be the first major music festival to proceed post-lockdown, with Snow Patrol, Bastille and First Aid Kit headlining.
Henham Park, Suffolk (latitudefestival.com), July 22 – July 25
POP Truck Festival
Bombay Bicycle Club, Royal Blood and the Kooks headline the sold-out 25,000 capacity festival, renowned for its friendly atmosphere.
Hill Farm, Steventon, Oxfordshire (truckfestival.com), July 23 – July 25
CLASSICAL Three Choirs Festival
The oldest music festival in Europe takes place this year in Worcester and has a comfortingly traditional feel, with Vaughan Williams’s Songs of Travel, Elgar’s The Music Makers, and Purcell’s King Arthur rubbing shoulders with new pieces.
Worcester Cathedral and other venues (3choirs.org), July 24 – Aug 1
POP Communion Presents
The indie record label set up by Ben Lovett of Mumford & Sons takes over Clapham Grand for five nights of rootsy, soulful music from Lianne la Havas, James Bay, the Staves, Jack Garratt and Bear’s Den.
Clapham Grand, London SW1 (claphamgrand.com), July 28 – Aug 1
POP Camp Bestival
A family-friendly, dance-oriented event held beneath the ramparts of Lulworth Castle with Fatboy Slim, Kelis and Groove Armada. Sophie Ellis-Bextor will break out of her lockdown kitchen disco, and the CBeebies star Mr Tumble will be on hand to keep the kids happy.
Lulworth, Dorset BH20 5QS (campbestival.net), July 29 – Aug 1
CLASSICAL Mozart Jupiter
One of four first-rate concerts taking place at Glyndebourne over the summer, this all-Mozart programme from the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment conducted by Bernard Labadie includes two concert arias and Masonic Funeral Music as well as the Jupiter Symphony.
Glyndebourne, Lewes, East Sussex (glyndebourne.com), Aug 5 and Aug 18
POP Edinburgh Summer Sessions
Princes Street Gardens plays host to a series of one-off shows, featuring pop star Anne Marie, singer-songwriter Michael Kiwanuka, Scottish heroes Travis and Simple Minds, and the great Tom Jones.
Princess Gardens, Edinburgh (smmrsessions.com), Aug 6 – Aug 15
POP Boardmasters Festival
An eco-friendly, surfing themed festival on the Cornish coast featuring rousing rock from Foals, hip-hop soul from Jorja Smith, and a cartoon extravaganza from Damon Albarn’s Gorillaz. There’s a strong supporting line up and fairground attractions.
Trebelsue Farm, Watergate Bay, Cornwall (boardmasters.com), Aug 11 – Aug 15
POP Hampton Court Palace Concerts
Civilised summer fun in the beautiful grounds of Hampton Court Palace, in a series of one-off concerts featuring Van Morrison, Tom Jones, Keane, Bastille and Björn Again, as well as the great Nile Rodgers and Chic.
Hampton Court Palace, Richmond, Surrey (hamptoncourtpalacefestival.com), Aug 15 – Aug 24
CLASSICAL Presteigne Festival
A real jewel set in the beautiful England-Wales border country, this year’s festival includes premieres from no fewer than 10 composers and a focus on Ravel and Tippett.
Various venues, Presteigne, Powys (presteignefestival.com), Aug 26 – Aug 31
Puccini’s lurid tale of a woman’s revenge on her tormenter is given a semi-staged production by English National Opera in Crystal Palace, with the terrific Welsh soprano Natalya Romaniw in the title role.
Crystal Palace Bowl, London SE19 (eno.org), Aug 27 – Aug 29
POP Reading and Leeds Festival
Rappers Stormzy and Post Malone join indefatigable singalong rocker Liam Gallagher to lord it over a huge rock, pop and hip-hop supporting bill.
Richfield Avenue, Reading and Bramham Park, Leeds (readingandleedsfestival.com), Aug 27 – Aug 29