Boston’s biennial Early Music Festival has a global reputation for programming music from the Middle Ages to the classical period with leading artists in the field of historical performance. Directed by Paul O’Dette and Stephen Stubbs, two of the world’s foremost lute-players and music directors, each festival is designed around a theme. For 2019, this is ‘Dreams and Madness’, offering opportunities for performers to devise programmes around the wilder aspects of the human imagination.
The centrepiece is a fully-staged production of Agostino Steffani’s 1691 opera Orlando generoso, performed in the Cutler Majestic Theatre, a spectacular Beaux-Arts auditorium. Based on Ariosto’s sixteenth-century epic poem, Orlando furioso, Steffani’s opera is a masterpiece that explores themes of romance, jealousy and madness against a fantastical backdrop of myth.
Five of the six concerts we include on the tour are performed in Jordan Hall, the acoustically superb auditorium of the New England Conservatory. The programmes include chamber music for fortepiano and wind by Mozart and Beethoven, Bach’s St Matthew Passion, a programme of cantatas by other Bach family members and a spectacular concert of music from Rameau’s tragédies en musique Castor et Pollux and Dardanus – accompanied in part by dance of the period. We move to the Gothic Revival Emmanuel Church for the final concert, an exquisite programme of Tallis, Byrd and Dowland.
Founded in 1630, Boston is an historic city with a long-standing reputation for culture and learning, making it the ideal base for a tour of this kind. Now a centre of the high-tech revolution, sleek glass towers co-habit with districts of narrow cobbled streets, the red brickwork of Federal Boston, and an important set of monuments from the colonial and revolutionary era. Some of America’s most magnificent public buildings and art collections are to be seen here and in neighbouring Cambridge.
The tour is accompanied throughout by Professor John Bryan, who gives daily lectures on the music. The walks and visits are led by local guides with some museums visited independently.
London to Boston. Fly at c. 11.15am (British Airways) from London Heathrow to Boston (c. 7½ hours). Settle into the hotel in the Back Bay district of Boston. An early dinner is followed by a reception to mark the opening night of the festival.
Morning lecture on today’s performance. A guided walk through central Boston includes Downtown, Beacon Hill and Boston Public Garden. End with visits to two of the city’s greatest buildings: Trinity Church (1877) and Boston Public Library (1895). Dinner before the 8.00pm concert at Jordan Hall: Dunedin Consort, directed by Kristian Bezuidenhout: Bach, St Matthew Passion.
The morning is spent at The Museum of Fine Arts, a fabulous collection with highlights including the Barbizon School, American art, Impressionism and Post-Impressionism. Free time back at the hotel followed by a lecture on the evening performances. 5.00pm concert at Jordan Hall: ‘Out of Italy’ music by Boccherini, Geminiani, Vivaldi, with Phoebe Carrai (cello), Beiliang Zhu (cello), Jeffrey Grossman (harpsichord), Charlie Weaver (lute). A canapé supper before the 8.00pm concert: Vox Luminis, directed by Lionel Meunier: ‘Bach: The Arnstadt Connection’.
Cambridge and Harvard. Morning lecture. Cross the Charles River to Cambridge, home of Harvard University and the world-class University Art Museums. Free time here. We recommend the Fogg, renowned for its early Italian paintings and Impressionists, and the Busch-Reisinger Museum of German and Nordic painting. Return to the hotel mid-afternoon. 7.00pm opera at the Cutler Majestic Theatre: Orlando Generoso (Agostino Steffani), Paul O’Dette & Stephen Stubbs (musical directors), Aaron Sheehan, Amanda Forsythe, Emőke Baráth, Christopher Lowry, Kacper Szelążek, Jesse Blumberg, Flavio Ferri-Benedetti, Zachary Wilder, Teresa Wakim.
The day is free until the mid-afternoon lecture on this evening’s performances. 5.00pm concert at Jordan Hall: Kristian Bezuidenhout (fortepiano), Nicola Boud (clarinet), Emmanuel Laporte (oboe), Peter Whelan (bassoon) and Bart Aerbeydt (natural horn): ‘Piano and Wind Quintets of Mozart and Beethoven’. Canapé supper followed by the 8.00pm concert with the Boston Early Music Festival Orchestra & Soloists, Robert Mealy (concertmaster), Emőke Baráth (soprano), Teresa Wakim (soprano) and Christian Immler (baritone): ‘Dreams and Monsters: The Theatrical Orchestra of Jean-Philippe Rameau’.
Concord, Walden Pond. Morning lecture. Drive into rural New England to Concord, a picturesque town with strong philosophical and literary connections – and scene of the first military engagements of the American War of Independence. Visit the town museum followed by free time for Louisa M. Alcott’s home or the Ralph Waldo Emerson House. Continue to Walden Pond, where Henry Thoreau lived and mused in a cabin on the water’s edge. Return to the hotel for some free time. Dinner before the 8.00pm concert at Emmanuel Church: Stile Antico, ‘Queen of Muses: Music of Thomas Tallis, William Byrd, and John Dowland’.
The morning is free. Leave the hotel in the early afternoon to visit the Isabella Stewart Gardner Collection, a sumptuous Renaissance-style mansion crammed with magnificent works of art and furnishings. From here, drive to Boston Logan Airport for the flight to London departing at c. 7.15pm. Day 8. Arrive at Heathrow at c. 6.45am.
Price – per person
Two sharing: £5,410 or £4,690 without flights. Single occupancy: £6,150 or £5,430 without flights.
Flights with British Airways (World Traveller, Airbus A380, Boeing 747); travel by private coach; hotel accommodation for 6 nights; breakfasts and 5 dinners (2 are canapé suppers) plus meals on flights, with wine, water, coffee; all admissions for visits specified in the itinerary; all tips; all state and airport taxes; the services of the lecturer and tour manager.
Tickets (top category) for 7 performances are included, costing c. £515.
British citizens can enter the USA without a visa by applying for a visa waiver online. We will advise on this. If you have travelled to Iran, Iraq, Sudan or Syria since March 2011 you are not eligible for the waiver and will need to apply for a visa.
Fairmont Copley Plaza, Boston: An elegant, opulent 4-star hotel opposite Trinity Church and Boston Public Library. Single rooms are doubles for sole use.
How strenuous? The concerts are all in the late afternoon and evening which combined with jet lag could be tiring. To participate fully in the visits and excursions a good level of fitness is necessary. Average distance by coach per day: 11 miles.
Between 12 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.