The greatest composer of all time. This 26th iteration of our Danube festival focuses on Beethoven in the 250th anniversary year of his birth. An eight-day celebration of arguably the greatest composer of all time, it includes nine concerts which showcase both the depth and breadth of his musical genius, from his larger masterpieces, such as Symphonies 1 and 7 and glorious Mass in C, to his more intimate piano works and string quartets. A smattering of Schubert provides variation.
Musicians of the highest calibre from Austria, the Czech Republic and Britain. As with all Martin Randall Festivals, the musicians are among the finest in their fields. They include Imogen Cooper, Roderick Williams OBE, the Pavel Haas Quartet and the Nash Ensemble. Outstanding local artists also perform, such as the Wiener Kammerchor, Bach Consort Wien and the Haydn Philharmonic. Musicians love playing for this festival. Not only are the venues an inspiring change from conventional concert halls, but the audiences are among the
best in the world – attentive, knowledgeable and appreciative.
A singularly beguiling combination of music and place. Concerts take place in historic buildings which are some of the most beautiful in the Danube valley – palaces, churches, monasteries and country houses. But the value of the juxtaposition goes deeper. The buildings are often of the same period as the music performed in them, and in some cases there are specific and potent historical associations between the two, such as the Bergkirche in Eisenstadt where Beethoven’s Mass in C was first performed. The performances are private, being exclusive to the participants who take the festival package. The small size of the audience and venues leads to an intimacy that engenders a rare intensity of musical communication.
Musical insight from a leading expert. Daily talks by music critic, writer and broadcaster Richard Wigmore enlighten, stimulate, and inform.
Travelling in comfort. To this exceptional artistic and intellectual experience is added a further pleasure: the comfort and convenience of a first-class river cruiser, chartered exclusively for the festival audience (160 maximum). Acting as both hotel and principal means of transport, the MS Nickovision sails from Passau to Linz, enabling passengers to attend all the concerts and enjoy the art and architecture in the region without having to change hotel or drive long distances. The itinerary takes you through some of the most picturesque stretches of the Danube. In many ways, however, this venture is far removed from the usual cruising routine. There is little regimentation, no obligatory seating plan, no on-board entertainment, no intrusive announcements – and absolutely no piped music.
Meet the musicians
Pavel Haas Quartet
The Pavel Haas Quartet was founded in 2002 by the violinist Veronika Jarůšková and the violist Pavel Nikl. Following their victory in the Prague Spring Festival Competition and Premio Paolo Borciani in Reggio Emilia in 2005, they soon established themselves as one of the world’s most exciting contemporary chamber ensembles.
Performing at renowned concert venues around the globe, the PHQ have to date recorded six critically acclaimed CDs, which have received numerous prestigious awards.
Highlights of the 2018/19 season include the Edinburgh International and Schubertiade Festivals.
Andreas Staier first became world famous as a harpsichordist. After studying with Lajos Rovatkay and Ton Koopman, he worked for three years with the Musica Antiqua Köln.
Whether at the harpsichord or the fortepiano, Staier performs at numerous renowned music festivals worldwide with ensembles such as the Freiburg Baroque Orchestra, Concerto Köln and the Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin.
Long-time musical partners include the pianists Alexander Melnikov, Christine Schornsheim and Tobias Koch, the violinists Isabelle Faust and Petra Müllejans and the tenor Christoph Prégardien.
The Haydn Philharmonic – orchestra in residence at Esterházy Palace – was founded by Adam Fischer in 1987 as Austro-Hungarian Haydn Philharmonic with the intention of bringing together the best musicians from both countries to perform the works of Joseph Haydn in an effort to overcome the border created by the Iron Curtain.
The orchestra has made a name for itself outside the Esterházy Palace thanks to numerous tours and performances throughout Europe, the USA, Japan, Korea and China.
Enrico Onofri is guest conductor of the Haydn Philharmonic. He has worked with the Akademie für Alte Musik, Festival Strings Lucerne, Kammerorchesterbasel, Opéra de Lyon and the Vienna Chamber Orchestra. Enrico has been Baroque Violin Professor at the Conservatorio Scarlatti in Palermo since 1999. He gives masterclasses worldwide.
Roderick Williams is one of the most sought after baritones of his generation. He performs a wide repertoire from baroque to contemporary music, in the opera house or on the concert platform worldwide.
He enjoys partnerships with all the major UK opera houses and orchestras, as well as the Berlin Philharmonic, Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin, Russian National Orchestra, Ensemble Orchestral de Paris, Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia in Rome, Cincinnati Symphony, Music of the Baroque Chicago, New York Philharmonic and Bach Collegium Japan.
He was awarded an OBE in June 2017.
Susie Allan, best-known for her work as a perceptive vocal accompanist, performs with international vocal soloists including Emma Bell, Susan Gritton, Rowan Pierce, Jonathan McGovern and Mark Padmore.
Susie’s long-standing musical partnership with Roderick Williams stretches over 20 years. In an exploration of the three Schubert song cycles, a tour of Scwhanengesang, illustrated with poetry readings by Jenny Agutter, took them both sides of the Atlantic from New York City’s Park Avenue Armory to the Sam Wanamaker Theatre, London.
They record a third disc exploring the songs of Arthur Somervell in summer 2019.
Guarneri Trio Prague
Formed in 1986, the Guarneri Trio Prague is a leading classical piano trio in Europe. All members of the trio were born in Prague and studied at the Prague Academy of Music.
The trio performs regularly at international festivals including Schleswig-Holstein, Prague Spring and Folle Journée in Nantes. The trio has toured successfully throughout
Europe, Canada, Australia, North and South America, Japan and China.
The ensemble has recorded the complete piano trios of Beethoven, Mendelssohn, Shostakovich, Schubert, Brahms and Mozart for the Paris-based label Praga Digitals.
Regarded as a fine interpreter of Classical and Romantic repertoire, Imogen Cooper is internationally renowned for her virtuosity and lyricism.
Imogen has a widespread international career and has appeared with the New York Philharmonic, Philadelphia, Vienna Philharmonic, Royal Concertgebouw, Leipzig Gewandhaus, Budapest Festival, NHK and London Symphony Orchestras.
Recent and future concerto performances include the Berliner Philharmoniker with Sir Simon Rattle, Sydney Symphony with Simone Young, the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra with Thomas Dausgaard and the Aurora Orchestra with Nicholas Collon.
The Wiener Kammerchor (Vienna Chamber Choir) performs throughout Austria and abroad and has made many recordings.
Since its founding in 1947, the Choir has developed into a trend-setting international ensemble for the modern interpretation of choral music. It occupies a place on the Austrian cultural scene and at a range of important European festivals that would otherwise be difficult to fill.
Its conductor, Michael Grohotolsky, teaches at Vienna’s University of Music and Performing Arts and is also a freelance voice coach and lecturer.
Bach Consort Wien
Bach Consort Wien, co-founded by Rubén Dubrovsky in 1999 in Vienna, counts among Austria’s most important Baroque ensembles. In addition to numerous performances in the Vienna Musikverein, it is regularly present on concert stages throughout Europe. The ensemble found its specific musical language in the intensive study and analysis of J.S. Bach’s work.
Soloists have included Verónica Cangemi, Florian Boesch, Bernarda Fink, Carlos Mena, Emma Kirkby, Terry Wey, Deborah York, Antonio Giovannini, Kirsten Blaise, Yetzabel Arias, Yeree Suh, Gianluca Buratto, Daniel Johannsen, Christophe Coin and Erich Höbarth.
The Nash Ensemble, Resident Chamber Ensemble at Wigmore Hall since 2010, is acclaimed for its adventurous programming and virtuoso performances. It presents works from Haydn to the avant-garde, and is a major contributor towards the recognition and promotion of contemporary composers.
Numerous accolades have been won over the years, including The Edinburgh Festival Critics award ‘for general artistic excellence’ and two Royal Philharmonic Society awards.
In the 2019/20 season the Nash places the music of Schubert and his contemporaries at the centre of its annual series.
Elias String Quartet
The Elias Quartet take their name from Mendelssohn’s oratorio, Elijah. They formed at the Royal Northern College of Music where they became Junior Fellows and Associate Quartet. They spent a year studying at the Hochschule in Cologne with the Alban Berg String Quartet.
In 2009 the Elias participated in BBC Radio 3’s New Generation Artists’ scheme and was recipient of a Borletti-Buitoni Trust Award. As a result, the quartet mounted ‘The Beethoven Project’: performing Beethoven’s string quartets as cycles. The project culminated with a cycle at Wigmore Hall, recorded live for the Wigmore live label.
Discover the place
To write about the Danube is to embark on the life story of a large part of Europe. And nowhere on Earth can match the region for its contribution to the canon of Classical music over the course of several hundred years.
Unlike every other long river between the Urals and the Bay of Biscay, this majestic stream has never been the possession of any single state or even of any single empire – whether Frank or Slav, Magyar, Teuton or Turk. Through all geo-political obsessions, the Danube has moved with serene impartiality.
A wonderful diversity of scene complements the ethnic, linguistic and national variety. The stretch of river between Passau and Bratislava is one of the loveliest lengths of riparian scenery anywhere in the world. Its monuments are many and remarkable.
This is simply the biggest river of Europe. From its origins in south-western Germany, the Danube flows to the Black Sea over a course of about 1,750 miles, gathering force from waters which drain 300,000 square miles, passing through 10 countries. More than 300 often furious tributaries pour their national waters into the Danube, but the river placidly swallows them all.
To travel with the Danube is a European experience. There may be no better way of growing into the knowledge of why Europe, even this middle Europe of so many conflicts in the past, has been more than the sum of its parts; and of why these parts, however little they may have seemed to belong to each other (much less love each other), have remained members of one body and segments of one civilisation.
Day 1: Monday 24 August
Fly from London or Manchester to Munich and transfer by coach to Passau, or make your way there independently.
The ship is ready for boarding from 4.00pm. Afternoon tea is available upon arrival.
Piled up on promontories at the confluence of three rivers, the Bavarian city of Passau is dominated by a great Baroque cathedral and crammed with historic buildings. It was an important episcopal seat in Central Europe and served as a refuge for the Habsburg court in times of danger.
In the early evening, once sailing, there is a reception followed by dinner.
Day 2: Tuesday 25 August
Moor at Grein, an attractive little town squeezed between the Danube and the hills with a 16th-century Schloss rising to one side. The series of daily lectures begins.
It is a short walk from the ship to the main square where the town hall houses a tiny theatre. Constructed in 1791, it is the oldest working theatre in Austria. Seating fewer than 150, the audience splits and the hour-long concert is performed twice.
Concert, 10.30am & 12.00 noon:
Pavel Haas Quartet
The Pavel Haas Quartet performs two great contrasting Beethoven String Quartets: No.11, Op.95 Serioso and No. 9 Op.59, No.3, Razumovsky.
Return to the ship for lunch and sail downstream through the Wachau, a beautiful stretch of the Danube. Moor at Dürnstein, where a gorgeous Baroque abbey, perched on the waterfront, is the venue for the evening concert.
Dürnstein Abbey, Prälatensaal
Andreas Staier fortepiano
A fascinating programme of late Beethoven Bagatelles and Sonatas.
Return to the ship for dinner and sail overnight to Vienna.
Day 3: Wednesday 26 August
Moor at Handelskai, a short coach transfer from the centre of Vienna.
Principal seat of the Habsburgs for over 600 years, Vienna became capital of a vast agglomeration of territories that encompassed much of Central and Eastern Europe. The fabric of the city is a glorious mix of the magnificent and imperious and the charming and unpretentious. It remains one of the world’s greatest centres of art and music.
There is time to explore the city and an art gallery or two – the Kunsthistorisches Museum should not be missed – before the late-afternoon concert.
Vienna, Palais Ferstel
Enrico Onofri conductor
The concert takes place at the Palais Ferstel, an opulent neo-medieval building of the 1860s. It formerly accommodated the stock exchange and a bank and still houses offices, shops and the famous
With his exuberant First Symphony Beethoven announced himself as the successor of Haydn and Mozart, while the Seventh, dubbed by Wagner 'the apotheosis of the dance', was on of the greatest triumphs of his career.
After the concert join the ship at Handelskai for dinner. Sail downstream overnight to Bratislava.
Day 4: Thursday 27 August
The ship is moored in Bratislava.
Drive to Schloss Eckartsau, a Baroque hunting lodge, which was extended for Archduke Franz Ferdinand (he of the 1914 Sarajevo assassination). Four years later, until March 1919, it became the final Austrian residence of the last Emperor of Austria.
Eckartsau, Schloss Eckartsau
Roderick Williams OBE baritone
Susie Allan piano
Linked by their themes of distant or lost love, Beethoven’s revolutionary song cycle An die ferne Geliebte, Op.98 and Schubert’s sublime last songs Schwanengesang D957 (‘Swan song’, sung in English) are performed here by one of Britain’s leading song duos.
Return to the ship after the concert for lunch. Some free time in Bratislava.
Now capital of Slovakia, Bratislava was for 70 years the second city of Czechoslovakia and for 300 years before that the capital (as Pressburg) of the Habsburg rump of Hungary, while Ottoman Turks occupied most of the country. Its compact historic centre is a delight, a dense mesh of unspoilt streets, squares and well restored façades. There are several museums and historic buildings to visit before an early-evening concert.
Bratislava, Primatial Palace
Guarneri Trio Prague
The concert takes place in the Mirror Hall of the Primatial Palace, formerly the seat of the Archbishop of Hungary, now the town hall. When completed in 1781 it was the grandest building in Bratislava after the castle.
The Guarneri Trio performs Beethoven’s Piano Trio in D Major, Op.70 No.1 Ghost and Schubert’s Piano Trio No.2 in E flat, Op.100, both with a particularly haunting slow movement.
Return to the ship for dinner and sail upstream to Vienna overnight.
Day 5: Friday 28 August
Moor at Handelskai, where we return to Vienna for a morning concert at the Palais Auersperg, built between 1706 and 1710. After hosting the resistance movement during the Second World War, the palace became the seat of the first postwar Austrian government.
Vienna, Palais Auersperg
Imogen Cooper piano
Famed for her performances of the Viennese classics, Imogen Cooper brings her insights to Beethoven’s late, monumental set of Diabelli variations Op.120, the 19th century’s answer to Bach’s ‘Goldbergs’.
Return to the ship for lunch before driving to Eisenstadt, an attractive country town to the south-east of Vienna. It is dominated by a vast 17th century mansion, the principal seat of the Esterházy family, where many of Haydn’s works were first performed.
Up the hill stands the 18th century Bergkirche, a presbytery of a much larger building that was planned but never built.
A successor to Haydn’s late masses, Beethoven’s glorious Mass in C is performed here, where it was premiered in 1807. The church interior is a rococo trompe l’oeil fantasy in pinks and greys.
Mass in C
Bach Consort Vienna
Sail overnight to Melk, mooring after lunch tomorrow.
Day 6: Saturday 29 August
Shortly after lunch Melk Abbey appears ahead, dramatically rising on a rock outcrop beside the Danube. Disembark here for a visit to the abbey, a brilliant creation of the Age of Baroque, a sequence comprising ceremonial courtyards, guest apartments, hall and library culminating in a church of unsurpassed decorative richness.
Melk Abbey, Kolomanisaal
Beethoven Septet & Schubert Octet
This is a rare chance to hear in the same programme Beethoven’s ebullient Septet in E-flat, Op.20 – his greatest popular hit in his lifetime – and the ‘twin’ it inspired, Schubert’s irresistbly tuneful Octet in F, D. 803.
Return to the ship for dinner. Sail overnight to Linz, mooring after lunch tomorrow.
Day 7: Sunday 30 August
Arrive in Linz, the historic capital of Upper Austria, towards the end of the morning. A picturesque maze of streets, alleys and historic buildings is grouped around the huge market square, only yards from the mooring.
Linz, Palais Kaufmännischer Verein
Elias String Quartet
Our closing concert includes three contrasting quartet masterpieces, early, middle and late, culminating in the last music Beethoven completed: Op.18 No.4 in C minor, Op.74 No.10 in E flat; and Op.130 No.13 in B flat.
Sail upstream overnight from Linz to Passau, with a reception and dinner against a backdrop of river and wooded hills receding into the dusk.
Day 8: Monday 31 August
The ship moors at Passau and coaches leave for Munich city centre and the airport between 8.30 and 9.30am. Selecting Option 2 allows for an afternoon of independent sightseeing in Munich.
Music writer, lecturer and broadcaster for BBC Radio 3. He writes for BBC Music Magazine and Gramophone and has taught classes in Lieder history and interpretation at the Guildhall, Trinity College of Music and Birkbeck College. He read French and German at Cambridge and later studied Music at the Guildhall. His publications include Schubert: the complete song texts and Pocket Guide to Haydn. Twitter: @wigmoresworld | Website: wigmoresworld.co.uk
Accommodation and prices
Launched in 2018, the MS Nickovision is a new ship in the Nicko fleet, and one of the more modern river cruisers in Europe.
Public areas: lounge, bar and three restaurants, the largest of which can accommodate the majority of passengers in one sitting.
There is a smaller restaurant (seating 30 passengers), where an à la carte menu is served. This can be booked on the day and passengers choose to eat at a time that suits them (schedule permitting). The cost of dinner is included regardless of where one decides to eat on board. The third restaurant (seating 60 passengers) is available for an early bird breakfast only.
Cabins on the top decks (Middle and Upper) are the most desirable, withfloor-to-ceiling windows that slide open. Cabins on the lowest deck have smaller windows that don’t open.
In layout and furnishings the cabins are identical, significant differences being the size of windows and height above water level (higher cabins enjoy better views and fewer stairs). The floor area of 14m2 (all cabins) is smaller than some comparable cruisers.
Daily lectures take place in the lounge. Please note that sightlines can be poor and as a result the lecturer is not always visible.
All cabins have windows, adjustable air-conditioning, telephone, TV and safe. Bathrooms have showers only.
There are no single cabins as such but we are allocating a number of twin-bed cabins for single occupancy.
Main deck – lowest
Two sharing: £3,110 per person
Single occupancy: £3,580
Two sharing: £3,710 per person
Single occupancy: £4,270
Two sharing: £4,180 per person
Single occupancy: £4,810
No flights: subtract £170 per person from the prices above.
We are offering a choice of three scheduled Lufthansa flights to Munich, from London or Manchester.
Or you can choose to make your own arrangements for travel to and from the festival, for which there is a price reduction.
Please note that each outbound flight is tied to a particular inbound flight. You cannot mix flights from different options.
Option 1: London Heathrow, lunch at Landshut
Monday 24th August
Fly from London Heathrow to Munich (LH 2471) departing 09.00, arriving 11.45. Break the drive to Passau with lunch at Landshut, a former capital of Bavaria. There are two hours here; it should be possible to see the main street with its Renaissance and Baroque house fronts, the great Gothic church of St Martin or the precociously Italianate Renaissance ducal palace.
Monday 31st August
Return to London Heathrow (LH 2476) departing Munich 14.40 and arriving in London at 15.45.
Option 2: London Heathrow, free time in Munich
Monday 24th August
Fly from London Heathrow to Munich (LH 2473) departing at 10.55, arriving 13.40. Drive from the airport to the ship at Passau, a journey of under two hours.
Monday 31st August
Return to London Heathrow (LH 2480) departing Munich 18.35, arriving in London at 19.40. Coaches take you first to the centre of Munich, where you have about four hours of free time.
Option 3: Manchester
Monday 24th August
Fly from Manchester to Munich (LH 2501) departing 10.45, arriving 13.45. Drive directly from the airport to the ship at Passau, a journey of under two hours.
Monday 31st August
Return to Manchester (LH 2502), departing Munich 15.55, arriving 17.00. Coaches take you first to the centre of Munich, where you have about two hours of free time.
Please note that it is not usually possible to arrange connecting flights between Manchester and other regional UK airports.
The No-flights Option
You can choose not to take any of these flights and to make your own arrangements for joining at Passau, boarding the ship between 4.00pm and 6.00pm. You are welcome to join one of the group transfers from Munich Airport.
More about the concerts
Private. All the performances are planned and administered by us, and the audience consists exclusively of those who have taken the festival package.
Acoustics. This festival is more concerned with locale and authenticity than with acoustic perfection. The venues may have idiosyncrasies or reverberations of the sort not found in modern concert halls.
Seating. Specific seats are not reserved. You sit where you want.
Changes. Musicians fall ill, venues may close for repairs, airlines alter schedules: there are many circumstances which could necessitate changes to the programme. We ask you to be understanding should the unforeseen occur.
Floods and droughts. We cannot rule out changes to the programme arising from exceptionally high or low water levels on the Danube, either of which may bring river traffic to a halt. These might necessitate more travel by coach or the loss of a concert, though we would always try to minimise the impact on the itinerary.
Franconia (17–24 August 2020). This has its own outbound flight arrangement, please see Franconia's Practicalities for details.
Fitness for the festival
Quite a lot of walking is necessary to reach the concert venues and to get around the towns visited. The ship has a lift, but some of the venues do not. Participants need to be averagely fit, sure-footed and able to manage everyday walking and stairclimbing without difficulty.
If you have a medical condition or a disability which may affect your holiday or necessitate special arrangements being made for you, please discuss these with us before booking – or, if the condition develops or changes subsequently, as soon as possible before departure. There is no age limit but we do ask that you assess your fitness by trying the following simple exercises:
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.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice.
'The opportunity to hear top class artists in attractive surroundings without the hassle of booking, travel and planning is worth a lot.'
'Outstanding. It would be hard to think of where else one might attend such a series of concerts of such a high standard in so short a period of time. It was a quality tour, in a beautiful part of the world, with world class concerts supported by good food and wine.'
'This was my first experience of cruising but I hope not my last. The ship was comfortable and the crew provided good service. The food was excellent.'