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10 unmissable virtual festivals to add to your diary this summer

From online literary extravaganzas to live-streamed opera and digital film premieres, the British summer season is going virtual this year

The arrival of sunny days and longer evenings usually heralds the start of one thing: the British festival season. From Hay-on-Wye’s literary weekend to elegant afternoons at Glyndebourne, this is the time of year we normally look forward to gathering in sun-bleached fields for a heady dose of culture and revelry. But while many of this year’s biggest events have been cancelled due to the Covid-19 crisis, a number of them are taking their offerings online in a bid to keep us all entertained. Here we’ve rounded up the best virtual festivals to tune into this summer.

Glyndebourne

The grounds at Glyndebourne, which this year is hosting a solely virtual festival

Britain’s beloved opera festival is the epitome of summer elegance, when music lovers come to gather in the grounds of the beautiful East Sussex stately home in their finest attire, to feast on sumptuous picnics and listen to world-class opera. With its virtual offering, Open House, the festival is doing its best to recreate that magic at home, with free live opera screenings every Sunday at 5pm – the next performance will be Mozart’s Don Giovanni on 31 May, followed by Così Fan Tutte on 7 June. Alongside these live streams they’re running handy tips on their website to bring a bit of Glyndebourne glamour into your living room, with smart picnic recipes and downloadable Zoom backgrounds featuring the estate’s bucolic grounds.
A new performance is released every Sunday at 5pm and available to view for a week thereafter
glyndebourne.com

All Points East Festival

Singer Lianne La Havas is taking part at the All Points East virtual festival
Lianne La Havas

Instead of its regular location in east London’s Victoria Park, this year All Points East is hosting a 10-day celebration online, bringing together the best of the festival’s line-up. As well as exclusive performances created in lockdown from the likes of Lianne La Havas and Jehnny Beth, there’ll be special videos from Christine and the Queens and Tame Impala, evening cocktail-making sessions, yoga classes with MoreYoga and, for the kids, half term theatre performances from Half Moon and online workshops with the Museum of London Docklands.
Until 31 May
allpointseastfestival.com

Hay Festival

Flyers from the Hay Festival, which this year is going virtual

Following the theme of #ImagineTheWorld, this year Hay is running a virtual festival programme that’s totally free to view, bringing together over 100 award-winning writers, historians and innovators to celebrate the best new releases, as well as explore some of the biggest issues of our time. Upcoming highlights include historian Simon Schama on Nationalism in the age of global disaster at 4pm on Wednesday 27 May, Hilary Mantel discussing the final volume of her Thomas Cromwell trilogy, The Mirror and the Light, at 2.30pm on Saturday 30 May, and Allie Esiri, Helena Bonham Carter and Dominic West’s celebration of Shakespeare at 5.30pm on Saturday 30 May. If you miss an event, don’t panic – the entire programme will be available to re-watch afterwards.
Until Sunday 31 May
hayfestival

Garsington Opera Festival

The grounds at the Garsington Opera Festival

Usually held at the Getty family’s enchanting 2,700-acre estate in Buckinghamshire, this year Garsington is having to make do with a virtual festival, hosting a range of digital offerings. They’re currently screening last year’s joyous production of The Bartered Bride until the end of May, while John Cox’s much lauded recreation of Le Nozze di Figaro can be streamed until the end of September. Alongside this you can tune into their new Garsington at Home documentary series, which looks at opera side by side with visual art and literature to draw new connections between masterpieces, and listen to their series of ‘Isolated Arias’, featuring musical performances from artists currently in lockdown, with a new one released every Thursday.
Available to view now
garsingtonopera.org

Lockdown Lit Fest

This global literature and culture hub was created in response to Covid-19 as a way to bring real-world festival experiences straight into your home. So far they’ve hosted interviews with Kate Mosse, Levison Wood and Ian Rankin discussing their latest books, while their newest offering is a video featuring actor Miriam Margolyes in conversation with British author Janet Todd. While all of their events remain free to view, they are encouraging donations through their ‘Become a Patron’ scheme, with all proceeds going to support struggling writers and authors.
Available to view now
lockdownlitfest.com

The Big Book Weekend

Sir Tim Rice takes part in the Big Book Weekend virtual festival
Sir Tim Rice

Bringing together the best of the British book festivals cancelled due to coronavirus, including the Cambridge Literary Festival, Shoreham Wordfest and the London Library’s event, the Big Book Weekend features some of the biggest names in arts and literature, including Maggie O’Farrell, Sir Tim Rice, Alexander McCall Smith and Bernardine Evaristo. Co-founded by the authors Kit de Waal and Molly Flatt and supported by the BBC and Arts Council England, all of the 28 videos, which range from interviews, panel discussions, ‘in conversation’ debates, performances and interactive sessions, are free to watch.
Available to view now
bigbookweekend.com

We Are One: A Global Film Festival

With several of the world’s biggest film festivals, including Cannes and BFI London, being forced to cancel this year, there were fears about how the latest cinema releases would reach their audiences. Luckily, We Are One has stepped in to save the day – this digital-only 10-day event, which is being curated by Jane Rosenthal of the Tribeca film festival, will be streaming arthouse feature films, shorts and documentaries from over 20 film festivals around the world via YouTube. While all the screenings are free, they are encouraging donations to the World Health Organization’s Covid-19 fund.
From 29 May – 7 June
youtube.com

#SheInspiresMe Virtual Feminist Festival

Women for Women International is back with their popular #SheInspiresMe LIVE festival, only this time it’s been given a 2.0 reboot to return as a solely digital offering. Focusing on the theme of how we can make our post-pandemic world a fairer, kinder and more resilient one, the live-streamed event will feature inspiring talks and panels with activists and prominent supporters of the charity including Annie Lennox, period poverty campaigner Amika George and journalist Basma Khalifa. Alongside this there will also be a range of interactive health and wellbeing workshops held throughout the day, including a fitness session with School of SOS Dance and a meditative sound bath with Jasmine Hemsley.
From 10am to 5pm on Saturday 20 June 
womenforwomen.org.uk

Glastonbury

Sir David Attenborough at Glastonbury in 2019
Sir David Attenborough acknowledging the Pyramid Stage at Glastonbury in 2019. Photography by Alex Board

With the excitement around the festival’s 50th anniversary celebrations close to fever pitch, Worthy Farm devotees were devastated when this year’s Glastonbury was cancelled in March. But now the BBC has announced it will be running a special weekend of coverage in honour of the milestone anniversary, bringing the spirit of Glastonbury into our homes. They’ll be launching a pop-up channel on iPlayer to broadcast back-to-back iconic sets and highlights from previous festivals, while BBC Two and BBC Four will be showcasing classic performances from some of the world’s biggest artists, including Beyoncé’s 2011 set, Coldplay’s 2016 show and David Bowie’s setlist from 2000, which has never been broadcast in full on television before. It’ll also be taking over the airwaves, with Jo Whiley hosting a series of special shows on BBC Radio 2 from Monday 22 June and Lauren Laverne being joined by the festival’s co-organiser Emily Eavis on her BBC Radio 6 Music morning programme on Friday 26 June.
From 25-28 June
bbc.co.uk

Wireless Connect

Wireless Festival, which this year is going virtual
Wireless Festival. Photography by Ashley Verse

While Wireless Festival’s usual Finsbury Park spot may be off limits this year, the team have just announced that they’ll be taking the three-day music event online with Wireless Connect over the first weekend of July. While the full line-up is yet to be released, they have teased that the weekend will feature unseen pre-recorded performances and exclusive new footage, all available in 360-degree virtual reality via the MelodyVR app. With this year’s headliners set to include A$AP Rocky and Skepta, you can expect some of the biggest names in urban music to take part.
From 3-5 July
wirelessfestival.co.uk

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