Spring in the context of the Budapest Festival is more metaphorical than seasonal, musical rather than meteorological. The selection of this early-bird slot from the outset was cunningly intended to sidestep serious competition on the international festival circuit, and to increase the number of visitors in a lean month of tourism.
The festival need fear no competition now; it is indubitably international in stature and artistic quality, yet retains a highly distinctive flavour through the preponderance of Central European music and musicians.
The beauties of Budapest probably need no introduction. Straddling the Danube, the ancient citadel of Buda is ensconced on an outcrop on the right bank, while the broad boulevards and grand buildings of Pest spread across the flatter terrain of the left bank.
There are some medieval and Renaissance survivals (though much was obliterated by Turkish occupation and the struggle for liberation), much Baroque and a splendid array of nineteenth-century architecture, the result of the burst of prosperity which accompanied growing Magyar demands for national self-determination.
As with all our music tours, we have arranged a programme of walks and visits to familiarise participants with the city and its treasures, major and minor, to feed the eye as well as the ear. However, most of the afternoons are left free in order not to sap the energies required for the evening concerts.
Fly at c. 12.45pm from London Heathrow to Budapest (British Airways). Time to settle into the hotel in Pest before dinner.
Morning lecture, as on most mornings, followed by a walk around the old heart of Pest to see architecture and decoration from the 18th century to the Bauhaus period. Visits to the inner city Parish Church and the vast 19th-century basilica of St Stephen. Some free time. Evening performance at the Bartók National Concert Hall (Müpa) with Kristīne Opolais and the Hungarian State Opera Orchestra: Arias by Verdi, Cilea, Mascagni, Giordano and Puccini.
Cross the Danube to the hill-top Castle District of Buda – within the 18th- and 19th-century Royal Palace are the remains of its medieval and Renaissance predecessors – the National Gallery housed here has a marvellous collection of Hungarian art from the Middle Ages to the present day. Evening concert at the Pesti Vigadó. Accord Quartet: Beethoven, String Quartet No. 10 in E flat, Op. 74 and String Quartet No. 15 in A minor, Op. 132.
Tour of the Parliament building, an elaborate Gothic construction modelled on London’s – housed here is the precious Coronation regalia including the 10th-century crown of St Stephen. Continue to the museum dedicated to Hungarian composer Franz Liszt. Evening piano recital at the Liszt Academy with Gábor Farkas (piano): Schubert, Four Impromptus, D. 935, Op. 142; Schumann, Carnival Scenes from Vienna, Op. 26; Schubert/Liszt, No. 6–7 from Soirées de Vienne; Strauss/Grünfeld, Soirée de Vienne.
Travel by underground railway (the first on the continent) to Heroes Square and the Millennium Monument (celebrating the founding of the Hungarian state ad 896) – the Museum of Fine Arts has an excellent collection of antiquities and European painting. Evening concert at the Bartók National Concert Hall (Müpa) with Staatskapelle Weimar, Giampaolo Bisanti (conductor), Joyce El-Khoury (Mirra, an Ionian slavegirl), Airam Hernández (Sardanapalo, King of Assyria): Sardanapalo (Liszt).
Fly to London Heathrow from Budapest, arriving at c. 3.00pm.
Price, per person
Two sharing: £2,610 or £2,400 without flights. Single occupancy: £3,050 or £2,840 without flights.
Flights with British Airways (Airbus A320); travel by private coach throughout; accommodation as described below; breakfasts, 3 dinners and 2 lunches with wine, water, coffee; all admissions; all tips; all taxes; the services of the tour leaders.
Tickets(first category) to 4 performances are included.
The Marriott Budapest: modern hotel located on the banks of the Danube in the centre of Pest. Rooms are of a good size and all have views of the river. Single rooms are doubles for sole use.
There is a reasonable amount of walking on the morning excursions and standing around in art galleries. Average distance by coach per day: 8 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.