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Concertgebouw Mahler Festival - Ten symphonies in Amsterdam for the first time in 100 years

A century after the first Mahler Festival in Amsterdam, all ten symphonies are performed in one of the finest concert halls in the world.

First-rate international orchestras, many of which Mahler himself conducted.

Some visits with a local guide and free time for Amsterdam’s outstanding museums and canalside streetscape.

Talks by Stephen Johnson, writer and broadcaster, whose book on Mahler’s Eighth Symphony is published in 2020.



  • Amsterdam, De Heere Gragt, aquatint c. 1790.
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‘The Symphony must be like the world’, said Mahler, ‘it must embrace everything’. Even as a child he was playing with extremes: his first composition, at the age of ten, was a funeral march followed by a polka. Dance music and dirges, tenderness and extreme violence, exquisite song-like melodies and brash military marches, evocations of the heartbreaking beauty of nature and nightmare visions of the abyss - it’s all there.

The miracle is that these teeming musical collages somehow hang together, tell compelling stories, and for all the apparent self-dramatisation, they can seem to be addressed to us personally. With his ability to confront the fullness of life in all its joy and terror, Mahler can help us confront and endure stark reality. He can take us to the edge of despair, then sing us the sweetest songs of consolation. If we allow ourselves to make this journey with him, we may find that we too are the better for it.

In his own lifetime Mahler was revered as a conductor, but only a precious few understood his music. Most scratched their heads or sneered. But one crucial early champion was Willem Mengelberg, chief conductor of the Concertgebouw, who gave the world the first ever Mahler Festival in 1920, at a time when Mahler remained a minority interest even in his adopted home-city Vienna. After the Second World War, when his name was erased throughout Nazi-occupied or -Allied territories, the Concertgebouw spearheaded the Mahler revival, soon taken up throughout the world. There is no more fitting place to celebrate Mahler’s enduring significance than this great concert hall, one of the first in the world to welcome him.

All concerts take place at the Concertgebouw, in either the Great Hall or the Recital Hall.

Day 1

Fly at midday from London Heathrow to Amsterdam Schiphol (KLM). After a lecture and dinner, walk to the Concertgebouw. Concert with the New York Philharmonic, Jaap van Zwenden (conductor), Roderick Williams (baritone): Mahler, ‘Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen’; Symphony No.1 ‘Titan’.

Day 2

With its concentric canals and 17th-century mansions, Amsterdam is one of the loveliest capitals in the world. Our visit with an art historian to the brilliantly refurbished Rijksmuseum concentrates on the major works in its unrivalled collection of Golden Age paintings, Rembrandt’s Night Watch and four Vermeers among them. Afternoon visit to the Museum Van Loon, a private residence built in 1672. Concert with the New York Philharmonic, Jaap van Zwenden (conductor), Netherlands Radio Choir, Joélle Harvey (soprano), Sasha Cooke (mezzo-soprano): Mahler, Symphony No.2 ‘Resurrection’.

Day 3

Guided tour of the Concertgebouw; opened in 1888, both the Great Hall and the Recital Hall are renowned for their acoustics. Continue to the Van Gogh Museum, which houses the biggest holding (over 200) of the artist’s works. Evening concert with the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, Netherlands Radio Choir, Netherlands National Children’s Choir, Gerhild Romberger (contralto): Symphony No.3.

Day 4

Free morning before lecture and lunch. Afternoon concert with soloists of the Amsterdam Sinfonietta: Wagner, Introduction from ‘Tristan und Isolde’; Mahler, Piano Quartet in A minor; Schnittke, Piano Quartet; R. Strauss, Metamorphosen. Some free time for dinner. Concert in the Great Hall with the Berlin Philharmonic, Kirill Petrenko (conductor), Christiane Karg (soprano), Elisabeth Kulman (mezzo-soprano): Mahler, ‘Rückert-Lieder’; Symphony No.4.

Day 5

A morning lecture before free time. Afternoon recital with Julius Drake (piano), Barbara Kozelj (mezzo-soprano), Milan Siljanov (bass-baritone): from Mahler’s ‘Des Knaben Wunderhorn’. Some free time, and dinner. Evening concert with the Vienna Philharmonic, Daniel Barenboim (conductor), Okka von der Damerau (mezzo-soprano): Mahler, ‘Kindertotenlieder’; Symphony No.5.

Day 6

Morning tour of the Royal Palace, formerly the very grand town hall, decorated by the leading painters of the 17th century (subject to closure for royal functions). In the afternoon visit the Hermitage Museum, which celebrates the historical ties between Amsterdam and St Petersburg. Evening concert with the Berlin Philharmonic, Kirill Petrenko (conductor): Mahler, Symphony No.6.

Day 7

The day is free apart from a lecture on the evening’s performance. Perhaps revisit the Rijksmuseum (there is much to see other than the Golden Age paintings) or the Stedelijk Museum of Modern Art. Evening concert with the Vienna Philharmonic, Daniel Barenboim (conductor): Mahler, Symphony No.7.

Day 8

Day trip to Den Haag (The Hague), seat of the court and parliament. The Mauritshuis contains a superb collection of Dutch 17th-century paintings, while the Gemeentemuseum displays the 19th-century Hague School, the realist milieu from which Van Gogh emerged, and works by the pioneer abstractionist Mondriaan. Visit also the Mesdag Panorama.

Day 9

A free morning before a lecture and lunch. Afternoon concert with the Gustav Mahler Youth Orchestra, Netherlands Radio Choir, Daniel Harding (conductor): Symphony No. 8 in E-flat major ‘Symphony of a Thousand’. Some free time. Evening concert with the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra: Rick Van Veldhuizen, world première (commissioned by the Mahler Foundation and the Concertgebouw Orchestra); Mahler, Symphony No.9.

Day 10

Visit the reconstructed house where Rembrandt lived for nearly 20 years, and view the collection of paintings at the Maritime Museum. Evening lecture and dinner. Final concert with the Budapest Festival Orchestra, Iván Fischer (conductor), Gerhild Romberger (contralto), Andrew Staples (tenor): Adagio from Symphony No.10; ‘Das Lied von der Erde’.

Day 11

Fly from Amsterdam to London Heathrow, arriving at c. 5.10pm.

Price, per person

Two sharing: £5,720 or £5,590 without flights. Single occupancy: £6,620 or £6,490 without flights.


Flights (economy class) with KLM (Boeing 737–900); travel by private coach; hotel accommodation as described below; breakfasts, 2 lunches and 5 dinners, with wine; all admissions; tips for restaurant staff, drivers and guides; state and airport taxes; the services of the lecturer and tour manager and on some days a local guide.


Tickets (first plus, first and second categories) for 10 symphony concerts and 2 recitals are included, costing c. £1575. Tickets for the 2 recitals are confirmed in June 2019.


Amsterdam Marriott Hotel: comfortable 5-star hotel, 10-15 minutes’ walk from the Concertgebouw and 500 metres from the Rijksmuseum. Single rooms are doubles for sole use.

How strenuous?

Visits require a fair amount of walking and standing around. Vehicular access is restricted in the city centre and participants are expected to walk to the opera house. There are some late nights but starts are leisurely.

Are you fit enough to join the tour?

Group size

The tour will operate with between 10 and 22 participants.

Travel advice

Before booking, please refer to the FCDO website to ensure you are happy with the travel advice for the destination(s) you are visiting.