By Mario R. Mercado
August 24, 2012

Just as most summer music festivals are winding down in the United States and abroad, the Stresa Festival at Lake Maggiore, set on the southern banks of the Italian Alps kicks into high gear. The festival runs a fortnight, August 24-September 8, and although this year marks its 51st season, the Settimane Musicali di Stresa may still be one of the best-kept secrets in the music world. But not for long.

Under the dynamic artistic direction of conductor Gianandrea Noseda, the festival draws today’s leading musicians and young performers, ensembles, and orchestras to Stresa and neighboring towns—and islands—around a western stretch of the lake known as the Borromeo Gulf.

The concerts take place in lakeside palaces and garden villas, historic churches and chapels, a medieval castle and a converted factory. Against this evocative background, youth is on prominent display: Noseda leads the European Union Youth Orchestra and Daniele Gatti conducts the Gustav Mahler Jugendorchester in compelling programs that range from Tchaikovsky and Wagner to Berg and Ravel.

Conductor on the rise Daniele Rustioni leads the world premiere of the opera Tagete e la Terra dell’Arcobalento (Tagetes and Rainbow Land), a musical fairy tale, by Andrea Portera. There’s more: chamber music, recitals, even Tango Nuevo, all packed into two weeks. Like the patina of many of its sites and venues, Stresa exudes a special, almost rarefied atmosphere. Yet, as Noseda and his colleagues look forward to the next 50 years they are making the festival accessible to a larger public and have introduced a new schedule of prices, with tickets starting at 15 euros, that’s 18 bucks.

It’s hard to imagine any greater value or beautiful place—or time—to capture summer’s end.

Mario Mercado is the arts editor at Travel + Leisure.