The Festival "Settimane Musicali di Stresa" was founded in 1961 by the Venetian lawyer Italo Trentinaglia de Daverio inspired by his great love of music rather than with any interest in commercial gain. He grew up in a musical environment and his father, Erardo, was not only General Director of the Teatro alla Scala di Milano and General Manager of the Teatro La Fenice in Venice but also an avid composer.
The Trentinaglia family owned a villa in Stresa and often hosted musical personalities such as Umberto Giordano and Arturo Toscanini who, together with Victor de Sabata, was one of their most frequent guests. They were all enchanted by the natural beauty and quiet quality of life they found in Stresa, as Stendhal and Wagner had been before them. It was during a staying of Avv. Trentinaglia in his villa that, in the autumn of 1961, the idea was born to create an annual event that would put Stresa on the international musical map.
On August 27th 1962, the "Settimane Musicali di Stresa" were inaugurated with a concert given by the Orchestra del Teatro alla Scala conducted by Nino Sonzogno. Since that day, some of the world's most important musicians have participated in the festival including the pianists Arthur Rubinstein, Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli, Nikita Magaloff, Alexis Weissenberg, Svjatoslav Richter, Maurizio Pollini, Dino Ciani, Vladimir Ashkenazy, Wilhelm Kempff, Martha Argerich, Claudio Arrau, Aldo Ciccolini and Radu Lupu; violinists such as Nathan Milstein, David Oistrakh, Yehudi Menuhin, Gidon Kremer, Anne-Sophie Mutter, Salvatore Accardo, Uto Ughi and Shlomo Mintz; musical legends such as Mstislav Rostropovich, Isaac Stern, Maurice André and Andrés Segovia. Guest orchestras have included great institutions such as the Orchestra del Teatro alla Scala (later the La Scala Philarmonic Orchestra), the London Philharmonic Orchestra, the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra, the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, the Moscow Philharmonic Orchestra, the Orchestra of St. Petersburg, the Royal Concertgebouw, the Staatskapelle Dresden and the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra. Among the conductors that the festival has hosted are Carlo Maria Giulini (one of the festival's most faithful supporters), Hermann Scherchen, Karl Böhm, Zubin Mehta, Riccardo Muti, Lorin Maazel, Wolfgang Sawallisch, Claudio Abbado, Kirill Kondrashin, Vaclav Neumann, Riccardo Chailly, Kurt Masur, Yuri Temirkanov, Valery Gergiev and Kent Nagano.
Vocal recitals have been performed by international stars ranging from Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau to Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, from Gundula Janowitz to Teresa Berganza, from Hermann Prey to Christa Ludwig and Nikolai Gedda.
In addition to the great artists who regularly collaborate with the festival, an initiative of particular interest is the participation of the young winners of various international competitions. Some of these young artists have continued to become leading musicians of our time such as Michele Campanella, Garick Ohlsson, Christoph Eschenbach, Murray Perahia, Jeffrey Swann and, more recently, Andrea Lucchesini, Maurizio Zanini and Nikolaj Znaider. This initiative is still an important part of the festival and, in addition to the winners of the leading instrumental competitions, Placido Domingo's "Operalia" competition has also joined the list of collaborating organisations.
The "Settimane Musicali di Stresa" is a member of the European Festivals Association and, in 1982, Stresa was also the seat of the General Assembly of the Association.
Initially held at the Palazzo dei Congressi in Stresa, on Isola Bella, in the marvellous Salone degli Arazzi, as well as the Loggia Cashmere in the gardens of Isola Madre generously offered by Prince and Princess Borromeo, the Festival has expanded progressively its space including various churches throughout the area and, in 1998, due to the restoration of the Palazzo dei Congressi, the Festival utilised the new venue "La Fabbrica" of Villadossola.
From 1999, the name of the Festival has been modified to "Settimane Musicali di Stresa e del Lago Maggiore" (Stresa-Lake Maggiore Music Weeks) with the intention of broadening its horizons and creating a figurative bridge to the opposite shore of Lago Maggiore: thus adding to the venues the magical Hermitage of Santa Caterina del Sasso for the presentation of J.S. Bach's Suite for solo cello as well as the historical Teatro Sociale in Luino and from the 2000 edition the Rocca Borromeo in Angera.. New venues also are Villa Pallavicino and the Collegio Rosmini in Stresa, Villa San Remigio in Verbania and from the 2000 edition the Sala Congressi in Arona.
From 1999, the Festival has its own "resident orchestra", as well as inviting international symphonic and chamber orchestras and guest artists including both well-known and emerging conductors and soloists. This combination of elements will ensure the continuation along the tracks that were laid out many years ago.
(Parts of the text were taken from "30 years of International Festivals" by Giuseppe Pugliese).