Discover Dresden’s rich classical music heritage at these top venues and local festivals.
Dresden is a major European center for music, with a long operatic tradition and one of the richest classical music landscapes in all of Germany. For centuries, the capital of Saxony drew renowned musicians from around the world who supplied the royal court with music for its vast array of events, from weddings and balls to church masses. Legendary composers Johann Sebastian Bach, Robert Schumann, Richard Wagner, Sergei Rachmaninoff, and Richard Strauss all visited or lived in Dresden, and you can still feel their presence throughout the city—in famed concert venues like the Semperoper (Semper Opera House) and during the many music festivals staged each year. Here are nine ways to discover Dresden’s glorious musical history.
Semperoper (Semper Opera House)
Dresden’s magnificent opera house has mounted just about every major opera and hosted over 40 world premieres in its long history. Three of Richard Wagner’s operas, including “The Flying Dutchman,” debuted here (Wagner also served as the Semper’s conductor) as did nine of Richard Strauss’s 15 works. First opened in 1841 as the Royal Saxon Opera House, the Semper was lovingly reconstructed in 1985 after the air raids of World War II left it in rubble. Today it showcases a wide repertoire, staging around 30 operas and 15 different ballets each season. The Semperoper’s orchestra, Staatskapelle Dresden, is Germany’s oldest continuous orchestra, dating from 1548.
Frauenkirche (Church of Our Lady)
After several years of angling for the job, J.S. Bach (1685–1750) was named Dresden’s Royal Court Composer in 1736 under the reign of Augustus III. In December of that year, Bach played the inaugural concert on the Silbermann organ, newly installed in the city’s beautiful baroque Frauenkirche. Though the bombing of Dresden destroyed much of the original church, including the organ, the building’s meticulous restoration—completed in 2005—offers a glimpse of what it must have been like when the composer played there. The Frauenkirche dedicates many concerts to Bach’s music, notably during the Frauenkirchen-Bachtage (Bach cycle) fall, featuring 20 evenings of Bach’s organ works. Check the website Bach in Dresden for an up-to-date list of all Bach concerts in the city.
Kulturpalast (Palace of Culture)
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Though many a Dresdener bemoans the stark Soviet-style architecture of the building, which opened in 1969, the Kulturpalast is one of the most revered institutions for concerts, ballet, and theater. Restored in 2017 with an uber-modern façade and a new main concert hall, it’s the home of the illustrious 150-year-old Dresden Philharmonic. On other nights, it hosts everything from musicals to ballet to pop and jazz concerts.
Dresdner Kreuzchor (Choir in the Church of the Holy Cross)
For more than eight centuries, the Dresden boys’ choir has been performing in the vast Kreuzkirche, Saxony’s largest church, seating 3,000 people. The choir is made up of 130 singers aged 9 to 19 who perform sacred and secular a cappella music and classic choral compositions by heavyweights like J.S. Bach, Brahms, Haydn, and Mendelssohn. The choir also sings regularly during the week, for morning services and evening vespers, and performs with the Dresden Philharmonic and the Staatskapelle Dresden orchestra.
This independent operetta company moved to its new home in a converted 19th-century former power plant, Kraftwerk Mitte Dresden, in 2016. Inside the colorful contemporary concert hall, you can see a variety of operetta and musical repertoire; recently staged was “My Fair Lady,” Kurt Weill’s “A Touch of Venus,” Bertolt Brecht’s “Threepenny Opera,” and Stephen Sondheim’s “Follies.” For more conventional fare, its New Year’s Concerts feature works by established composers such as Richard Strauss and Ludwig van Beethoven.
Die Hochschule für Musik Carl Maria von Weber (College of Music)
Around 300 performances are given each year by students and professors of Dresden’s College of Music, one of Germany’s premier music conservatories. The focus is on classical music, but opera, jazz, and world music are also featured; concerts take place at the modern 450-seat hall at Wettiner Platz. In addition to evening concerts, there are also morning and afternoon performances. Most are free; others have a minimal charge. You can also catch exciting performances by visiting ensembles like DoodulSori, a traditional Korean percussion and dance group.
Dresden Music Festival
Taking place for one month starting in mid-May, this annual festival is packed with classical and contemporary classical concerts featuring world-renowned orchestras and performers. The event takes place across the city, in some 25 different venues, including churches, museums, concert halls, castles, and public parks and squares. Performers have included the Berlin Philharmonic, the BBC Symphony Orchestra, the London Philharmonic, and Renee Fleming, as well as local Dresden orchestras and choirs. The event also includes a handful of pop concerts by the likes of Sting and Jamie Cullum.
The Wallpavilion at the Zwinger palace hosts occasional classical music concerts, with the Dresdner Residenz Orchestra performing popular works from the likes of Antonio Vivaldi, Tchaikovsky, and family-friendly selections from Mozart. Several times a day, the carillon of Zwinger’s Glockenspiel Pavilion chimes out well-known classical melodies tied to the respective seasons—expect to hear J.S. Bach’s “Christmas Oratorio” in winter and Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons” year-round.
For two weeks every August, the countryside around Dresden becomes a mecca for chamber music. Artists from around the world perform in spectacular venues, including the 18th-century Moritzburg Castle, the grand neoclassical Albrechtsberg Palace in Loschwitz, and curiously, in an aircraft hangar at the Dresden Airport (Elbe Flugzeugwerke). Past programs have featured chamber pieces by Schumann, Brahms Rossini, and Mahler. A festival highlight is the Long Night of Chamber Music, where young talents perform at the baroque Moritzburg Church.