Classical music in and around Philly this summer

Pianist Daniel Hsu will perform with the Philadelphia Orchestra at the Mann.

Time was, summer in Philadelphia meant a vacation for, and from, the arts. Classical groups in particular tended to throw up their hands and wait for audiences to return from Long Beach Island, Eagles Mere, or Maine.

As last season suggested, the city has become a summer playground in its own right, and classical groups are catching on. Yes, the sylvan settings of Marlboro Music Festival and Tanglewood beckon, and there is still room for some really smart group to set down anchor in the city with an ambitious summer arts festival.

But individual groups are already showing what's possible: Summerfest at the Curtis Institute of Music, an organ festival at Longwood Gardens, and, of course, a roster at the Mann Center of two dozen shows - many classical or classical-lite - that will take listeners happily into fall.

Longwood Gardens' Organ Competition (June 14-18)
Composition pushes aside composting and organs edge out the organic at Longwood when organists from around the world arrive to compete for the Longwood Gardens International Organ Competition and its $40,000 Pierre S. du Pont first prize. And where else can you do an "organ crawl?" Organists take listeners on four tours June 16 and 17 of mighty instruments in Center City and Atlantic City. (800-737-5500,

Bowerbird and Moondog (June 17, the Rotunda)
Philadelphia's intrepid arts presenter Bowerbird, specializing in "experimental, outsider, avant, unknown, forgotten, futuristic, and rediscovered types of music," keeps it going all summer with nine concerts, the spirit of which is perhaps best exemplified by the event featuring the music of Moondog. The performance of songs and rounds by the New York street musician, known more formally as Louis Thomas Hardin (1916-99), has the added feature of the debut performance by Bowerbird's Arcana New Music Ensemble, 10 musicians strong. (267-231-9813,

A Quartet of Operas
Gone are the days when the Metropolitan Opera came to Cooper River Park in Camden with live performances. But four encore HD broadcasts of Met Opera productions are scheduled this summer: Tosca (June 22), L'Elisir d'Amore (June 29), La Bohème (July 13), and Così fan tutte (July 20). Not as much fun as opera outdoors, but at least you don't have to worry about rain. (

Mann Center 40th Anniversary Concert (8 p.m., June 21)
Pianist Daniel Hsu is something special. The Curtis Institute of Music student has brought great poetry to his work in intimate venues, and here he is confronted with a different set of tasks as soloist with the Philadelphia Orchestra in the Rachmaninoff Piano Concerto No. 2, celebrating the Mann Center's four decades. We have a hunch he will rise to the challenge. Cristian Macelaru conducts. (800-745-3000,

Side-by-Side Symphony (6 p.m., July 2, Verizon Hall)
Carnegie Hall's Weill Music Institute NYO2, a two-week, intensive summer training program for youth, culminates in a side-by-side concert with members of the Philadelphia Orchestra. Giancarlo Guerrero conducts the Philadelphians in Rachmaninoff's Symphonic Dances, the student group in Tchaikovsky's Capriccio Italien, and musicians from both in Respighi's The Pines of Rome. (215-893-1999,

Patriotic Pops (8 p.m., July 3, Independence Mall)
Picnic blankets spread out down on the lawn and a warm patriotic vibe rises up when the Philly Pops returns to the Mall for its annual concert of all things American. Michael Krajewski conducts while vocalists Allison Blackwell and Justin Hopkins belt it out. (215-875-8004,

One Quartet, No Strings (10:30 a.m., July 6, Free Library)
The Exit 9 percussion group promises rusty brake shoes, garbage cans, and wooden stools recycled as percussion instruments when it performs for a young audience at the Free Library's Parkway Central Library. (215-686-5369,

Curtis Summerfest
Students of the Curtis Institute of Music may go off to festivals in summer, but faculty from the school's own summer institute, Summerfest, perform a five-concert series through Aug. 4 (the first was in May). The July 29 concert promises some great repertoire: Poulenc's Sonata for Oboe and Piano with oboist Katherine Needleman and pianist Amy Yang, plus the Shostakovich Quintet in G Minor, Op. 57. (1726 Locust St.; $15 per concert; 215-893-7902,

See more summer picks from our critics: