In his all-too-brief life Franz Schubert never crossed the Alps, let alone the Pyrenees. Yet his music knows no boundaries. Among a clutch of European Schubert festivals, one of the most delightful is the annual Schubertiade in the village of Vilabertran, charmingly situated in northern Catalonia. Over the last few years the festival has gained an international reputation, combining an intimate, relaxed ambience with performances from top singers and pianists.
A major attraction of the 2019 festival is the opportunity to hear each of Schubert’s three great song cycles. The fast-rising young baritone Andrè Schuen sings the posthumously published Schwanengesang, while tenor Christoph Prégardien, one of today’s great Lieder singers, relives the young miller’s journey from innocence to disillusion in Die schöne Müllerin. Indulging in a spot of gender-bending, the stunning American mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato performs Winterreise, continuing a tradition of female performances of this tragic cycle that goes back to Lotte Lehmann. Complementing these three all- Schubert programmes is a wide-ranging recital by baritone Matthias Goerne, renowned for the mesmeric intensity of his performances.
All the concerts take place in the Romanesque church of Santa Maria de Vilabertran, situated within an ancient monastery complex. While the tour’s prime focus is music, there are excursions to the city of Girona, with its beautifully preserved Jewish quarter, and to the attractive nearby town of Figueres, famed above all as birthplace of Salvador Dalí.
Figueres. Fly at c. 10.45am (British Airways) from London Heathrow to Barcelona. Drive north to the outskirts of Figueres, where all five nights are spent. Dinner is at Michelin-starred Castell de Peralada.
Girona. Girona has a compact medieval Jewish quarter and Gothic cathedral towering over the river, with important illuminated manuscripts and tapestries displayed in the chapterhouse. Continue to the 13th-century Arab-style baths. Free time in Girona before returning to Peralada for an early evening lecture and dinner. Evening concert with Andrè Schuen (baritone) & Daniel Heide (piano): Schubert, Schwanengesang and other selected songs.
Figueres. Leave Peralada following a morning lecture for free time in nearby Figueres, birthplace of Salvador Dalí and home to his self-curated surrealist ‘Theatre-Museum’. Evening concert with Christoph Prégardien (tenor) & Malcolm Martineau (piano): Schubert, Die schöne Müllerin.
Sant Pere de Rodes. The early Romanesque abbey of Sant Pere de Rodes has wonderful views of the coast. Continue to Castelló d’Empúries for some free time, possibly to see the large 14th-century Gothic church of Santa María, with a Romanesque bell tower. Evening concert: Matthias Goerne (baritone) & Alexander Schmalcz (piano): Lieder by Martin, Shostakovitch, Wolf and Mahler.
Peralada. Return to the nearby Castell de Peralada to visit its substantial and influential winery for a tasting. An early evening lecture and a talk from the festival director precede the final concert in Vilabertan. Evening concert: Joyce DiDonato (mezzo-soprano) & David Zobel (piano): Schubert, Winterreise.
Return to Barcelona by coach for the flight to London Heathrow, arriving at c. 3.00pm.
Price, per person
Two sharing: £2,680 or £2,410 without flights. Single occupancy: £3,020 or £2,750 without flights.
Air travel on British Airways flights (Airbus A320); travel by private coach; hotel accommodation as described below; breakfasts; 1 lunch and 5 dinners with wine, water, coffee; 1 wine tasting; all admissions; all tips; all taxes; the services of the lecturer and tour manager.
Tickets (top category) for 4 performances are included costing c. £250. The festival programme has not yet been released to the public so concert details may still be subject to change.
Hotel Golf Peralada: a 5-star spa and golf hotel situated in the Albera mountains with an excellent restaurant.
Visits require a fair amount of walking in historic town centres where coach access is restricted, and coaches cannot stop in the immediate vicinity of the concert venue. Catalonia is very hot in August. Concerts start at c. 9pm so late nights are inevitable. Average distance by coach per day: 58 miles.
Between 10 and 22 participants.
Before booking, please refer to the FCO website to ensure you are happy with the travel advice for the destination(s) you are visiting: www.fco.gov.uk.