Journeying to the places where Johann Sebastian Bach lived and worked is an experience as near to pilgrimage as is offered by the history of music. Hearing his works in buildings which he frequented must rank among the highest delights available to music lovers. This unique biennial festival provides the opportunity.
Ten concerts, ranging from a selection of Weimar cantatas to the St John Passion, from an organ recital to the Mass in B Minor, from solo violin to full orchestra, present a comprehensive range of Bach’s output. For this, the eighth Johann Sebastian Bach Journey, we have assembled artists and ensembles who are world leaders in performance of the repertoire.
The festival is emphatically a journey. It starts, as Bach did, in the little towns and cities of the principality of Thuringia and finishes, again like Bach, in the free city of Leipzig.
To cater for different budgets, there is a choice of four packages which differ only in the standard of the hotels included. You stay in three places, Eisenach or Mühlhausen, Weimar and Leipzig, and the performances take place here and in three other towns.
Admission to the concerts is exclusive to those who take a package which includes accommodation, flights from London (optional), travel by private coach, most dinners and lunches, interval refreshments, and daily lectures.
Only two hundred people can enjoy this extraordinary experience, which happens only every two years. Seize the opportunity now and make a booking.
The Dunedin Consort was founded in 1995 and is named after Din Eidyn, the ancient Celtic name of Edinburgh Castle.
Under the direction of John Butt, the ensemble has become one of the most exciting Baroque ensembles in Europe. They have recorded all Bach’s major choral works; their St John Passion was nominated for Recording of the Year in both Gramophone and BBC Music Magazine. Recordings of Handel’s Messiah and Mozart’s Requiem were both Gramophone Award winners.
Gardiner Professor of Music at the University of Glasgow and musical director of Edinburgh’s Dunedin Consort.
He has published several books on Bach and the historical performance movement. He is Principal Artist with the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, and guest conductor for the Scottish Chamber Orchestra and Stavanger Symphony Orchestra. He has been awarded FBA, FRSE, the Dent Medal of the RMA and the RAM/Kohn Foundation’s Bach Prize.
Winner of Gramophone Artist of the Year 2018, Rachel Podger has established herself over the last two decades as a leading interpreter of Baroque and Classical music. She has won many awards for her recordings, including J. S. Bach’s Sonatas and Partitas for Solo Violin and his Sonatas for Violin and Harpsichord (with Trevor Pinnock). Currently she is recording the Cello Suites on violin.
Rachel holds chairs for Baroque violin at the Royal Academy of Music and the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama. She is also founder and artistic director of the Brecon Baroque Festival.
Founded in 2007 and initially resident at Rachel Podger’s annual Brecon Baroque Festival, the group has gone on to tour Europe and Japan.
They have recorded six discs for Channel Classics, one of which, Bach Double and Triple Concertos, received a Choc du Monde de la Musique and CD of the week on BBC Radio 3, Classic FM, and US radio station WQXR.
Their most recent recording, Le Quattro Stagioni, was released in April 2018.
Ciara studied singing and piano at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, graduating with distinction. She works frequently with leading Baroque ensembles at festivals and venues throughout the country and beyond, including the London Handel Festival, Wigmore Hall and Lille Opera House. She has also appeared regularly at the Oxford Lieder Festival, and is one of the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment’s ‘Rising Stars’ for the 2018–19 season.
Mahan Esfahani appears as a soloist in major recital and concert halls worldwide.
His recordings on Hyperion and Deutsche Grammophon have been honoured with a Gramophone Award, three Gramophone nominations, and BBC Music Magazine’s Newcomer of the Year. He studied musicology and history at Stanford University and harpsichord with Zuzana Ruzickova in Prague.
Freiburg Baroque Orchestra
The FBO is recognised worldwide as among the very finest of period-instrument orchestras. They are directed by the leader rather than a conductor, an arrangement they believe produces an intensity reminiscent of chamber music and a unique timbre.
Founded in 1987, they have given over a thousand concerts, in all the major European cities, Southeast Asia and the Americas and performed at many of the top festivals.
Martina Pohl began playing music at the age of three and studied at the Hochschule für Kirchenmusik (College for Church Music) in Halle 1980–86. She focusses principally on the German Romantics and J.S. Bach. She accompanies soloists, instrumentalists and choirs on concert tours in Germany and elsewhere and on recordings.
Since 2004 she has had charge of the Hildebrandt organ in Sangerhausen.
Founded in 2004 in Namur, Vox Luminis specialises in 16th- to 18th-century vocal music and aims for a blend of high quality individual voices, exquisite tuning and clarity of sound. They have performed in festivals and concert halls all over Europe and the USA, with regular appearances at Wigmore and Cadogan Halls.
Director Lionel Meunier’s musical education began in his birthplace, Clamecy in central France, and continued at The Hague. In 2013 he received the Namurois de l’Année award for culture (Citizen Of The Year, Namur province).
Sir Nicholas Kenyon is a key figure in British musical life, as Managing Director of the Barbican Centre since 2007, former Controller of BBC Radio 3 and Director of the BBC Proms. He has been music critic for The New Yorker and The Observer and editor of Early Music. He is author of the Faber Pocket Guides to Bach and Mozart and a biography of Simon Rattle, and edited Authenticity & Early Music. This will be his fourth Bach Journey as speaker.
The festival package
Access to the concerts is exclusive to those who take our festival package, which includes:
All ten concerts.
Hotels for six nights – you choose between four options. Please see the Practicalities section.
Choice of flights between London and Germany (reduced price if you arrange your own). Please see the Practicalities section.
Travel by private coach, five dinners, at least three lunches, all tips.
Talks on the music by Nicholas Kenyon.
The assistance of festival staff and a detailed programme book.
In addition, there are extra services which can be booked:
Arriving a day early. Please see the Practicalities section.
Day -1 (arrive a day early), Sunday 12 May
Eisenach or Mühlhausen
We are offering the option of arriving at your hotel in Eisenach or Mühlhausen a day before the festival begins. The price includes the amended flight, transfer from Frankfurt to Eisenach or Mühlhausen and an extra night at your festival hotel. Lunch or afternoon tea are included (dinner is independent).
Day 1, Monday 13 May
Eisenach or Mühlhausen
We have booked seats on a number of flights from Heathrow to Frankfurt. You choose, though options are linked to where you choose to stay for the first two nights - please see Practicalities section.
J. S. Bach was born in Eisenach in 1685 and he was raised here until the death of his father ten years later. He was baptised in the Gothic church of St George – the font is still there – and the interior is as Bach would have known it. Eisenach is dominated by the Wartburg castle, a UNESCO World Heritage Site where Martin Luther stayed while translating the Bible into German.
Mühlhausen is where Bach held the post of organist at the church of St Blasius 1707–8. The town is a delight, a dense matrix of streets and alleys and little open spaces threaded between half-timbered and stone buildings. Six Gothic churches rise heavenwards, and all is bounded by a complete circuit of walls.
The first festival event is dinner in your chosen hotel or nearby restaurant.
Overnight Eisenach or Mühlhausen.
Day 2, Tuesday 14 May
The first of the talks by Nicholas Kenyon precedes a recital in Mühlhausen Town Hall, a charming set of rooms which is little changed since Bach’s time. The size of the hall means the audience has to split and the event repeated.
Concert, 11.40am & 9.00pm: Mühlhausen, Town Hall Bach and his predecessors. Brecon Baroque, Rachel Podger director, Ciara Hendrick soprano.
Bach’s Non sa che sia dolore (BWV 209) and Triple Concerto in A minor (BWV 1044) are joined by works by Buxtehude and Johann Christoph Bach’s famous chaconne Mein Freund ist mein und ich bin sein.
There is lunch for all participants.
Free time in Eisenach – an opportunity to visit the excellent Bach Museum – followed by a concert at St George’s Church.
Concert, 3.40pm: Eisenach, Church of St George The Bach Dynasty. Vox Luminis, Lionel Meunier director.
In the church where Johann Sebastian was baptised, there is a concert of cantatas by older members of the Bach family, great uncle Johann Bach (1604–73), uncles Johann Michael (1648–94) and Johann Christoph (1642–1703, also organist at this church). It finishes with a motet from J.S. Bach, the famous Jesu meine Freude (BWV 227, Leipzig 1730–35).
Dinner for all participants and overnight in Eisenach or Mühlhausen.
Day 3, Wednesday 15 May
Ohrdruf, Arnstadt, Weimar
Leave Eisenach and Mühlhausen and drive to Ohrdruf. Here Bach lived with an elder brother for five years after the death of his father. The town is small, but a rambling ducal Schloss, formerly home to the brother’s employer, sits on its edge. Here in the refurbished hall there is a recital.
Concert, 11.00am: Ohrdruf, Schloss Ehrenstein Harpsichord recital. Mahan Esfahani harpsichord.
Pieces by J.S. Bach and his sons, Johann Christian and Carl Philipp Emanuel – the J.C. one being performed for the first time.
Drive on to Arnstadt in time for lunch.
Spreading down the side of a hill, Arnstadt has retained much of its highly picturesque centre. Bach’s first significant employment (1707–08) was as organist at the Neukirche, as it was then called; the St John Passion is performed here, wrapped around by the white and gold wooden interior. There is time also for the small Bach museum.
Concert, 4.00pm: Arnstadt, Bachkirche St John Passion (BWV 245). Vox Luminis, Lionel Meunier director.
Of Bach’s two extant Passion settings, the St John Passion is the more dramatic and more concentrated. In recent years, thanks to a wide variety of performances using historically based forces, the St John Passion has been revealed as an equally affecting and powerful work.
Drive to Weimar. There is time to settle in before dinner.
Weimar is the liveliest and loveliest of Thuringian towns, and is adorned with a magnificent range of classical architecture and landscaped parks. As the last home of Lucas Cranach and the first site of the Bauhaus school, the significance of the city in the history of art reaches across four hundred years.
First of two nights in Weimar.
Day 4, Thursday 16 May
Weimar has few rivals among the smaller cities of Europe in terms of its importance in the history of literature and music. Bach worked at the court in 1703 and again 1708–17. Liszt’s period of residence (1842–61) attracted many musical visitors including Wagner, Brahms, Smetana and Borodin, and turned Weimar into an international centre of the musical avant-garde. Richard Strauss was court Kapellmeister 1889–94.
Weimar is also revered as a centre of literature and Enlightenment thought, largely owing to the sixty-year residence and service at court of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. Herder, Schiller and Nietzsche are among the other great names to have spent time here.
Much of the day is free for wandering the enchanting streets and squares and park, and for exploring the many museums. In the morning or the afternoon, there is a talk followed by a recital; the event repeated.
Concert, 11.45am, 1.45pm & 4.45pm: Weimar, Cranach House, Violin Solo. Rachel Podger violin, Cello suite in C minor (BWV 1011) (transcribed for violin into G minor).
Lucas Cranach set up his workshop here in the market square in 1552, and died a year later. The small ground floor hall has Late Gothic cell vaults.
Dinner is independent today, so you can choose to have it before or after the evening concert.
Concert, 7.00pm: Weimar, Church of St Peter & Paul Bach’s Weimar cantatas. Dunedin Consort, John Butt director, organ.
A selection of cantatas from Bach’s time in the employ of the Weimar ducal court, including BWV 182 – interspersed with recitals on the Wilhelm Sauer organ.
The Church of St Peter and Paul (Herderkirche) is the most important church in the town, and its present appearance is largely eighteenth century. The main altarpiece is by Cranach. Four of Bach’s children were baptised here.
Second of two nights in Weimar.
Day 5, Friday 17 May
Leave Weimar and drive to Leipzig via the attractive small town of Sangerhausen.
Concert, 11.15am: Sangerhausen, Church of St James Organ Recital – Bach organ pieces on a 1726 instrument. Martina Pohl organ.
The church of St James (Jakobikirche) possesses a fine organ by Zacharias Hildebrandt, a pupil and rival of Silbermann and occasional collaborator with J. S. Bach.
After lunch in Sangerhausen, reach Leipzig in the early afternoon.
Bach was employed at Leipzig as Kantor of St Thomas in 1723. With his various additional responsibilities he effectively became director of music for the city until his death in 1750.
Concert, 6.00pm: Leipzig, Altes Rathaus (former Town Hall) Concertos and orchestral suites. Freiburg Baroque Orchestra. Orchestral Suite No.3 in D (BWV 1068), Concerto in D minor (BWV 1043), Brandenburg Concerto No.1 in F (BWV 1046), Concerto for oboe and violin in C minor (BWV 1060R), Easter Oratorio Sinfonia (BWV 249).
The venue is the former Town Hall, one of the more important buildings of the Renaissance in Germany.
Dinner in hotels or nearby restaurants follow after the concert. First of two nights in Leipzig.
Day 6, Saturday 18 May
Leipzig is the only large city of the Journey – though with a population of just half a million, and a fifteen minute walk to traverse the historic centre, it is not a metropolis. After the degradation of the GDR years, the subsequent transformation of the city seems little short of miraculous. Restoration and rebuilding have gone hand in hand with the emergence of pavement cafés, smart shops and good restaurants.
There are good museums and art galleries here including an outstanding collection of musical instruments, an apartment where Mendelssohn lived and the excellent Bach Archive.
Concert, 11.00am: Leipzig, Salles de Pologne Sonatas and trio sonatas. Freiburg Baroque Consort.
Two of Antonio Vivaldi’s twelve trio sonatas for two violins and basso continuo feature in this morning’s concert, including No.12 in D minor, La Follia. The programme also includes Bach’s own sonata in A for violin and harpsichord (BWV 1015) and several of his flute sonatas.
The Salles de Pologne is a Neo-Baroque hall of the nineteenth century which has been recently restored.
We have dinner before this evening’s concert.
Concert, 8.00pm: Leipzig, Nikolaikirche (Church of St Nicholas) Mass in B Minor. Dunedin Consort, John Butt conductor.
Bach’s B-Minor Mass is among the greatest achievements in the history of music. Compiled and composed towards the end of his life, Bach may have regarded it as a summation of his life’s work. Whatever its enigmas – was it intended to be performed in its entirety? why did this stalwart Lutheran steer so close to Catholic tradition? – it remains a work of exceptional potency and beauty.
One of the four Leipzig churches where Bach was in charge of music, the Church of St Nicholas (Nikolaikirche) is a Gothic construction of the early sixteenth century which underwent a spectacular Neo-Classical transformation in the late eighteenth century.
Second of two nights in Leipzig.
Day 7, Sunday 19 May
Depending on your flight option there may be some free time in Leipzig. Please see the Practicalities section for details of transfers and flights.
More about the concerts
Private. All the concerts are planned and administered by us, and the audience consists exclusively of those who have taken the full festival package.
Seating. Specific seats are not reserved. You sit where you want. Consider bringing a cushion for concerts in churches.
Acoustics. This festival is more concerned with locale and authenticity than with acoustic perfection. Some venues have idiosyncrasies or reverberations of the sort not found in modern concert halls.
Capacity. There will be up to 210 participants on the festival. At venues which cannot accommodate this number, the concerts are repeated.
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
Participation in our festivals is a very different experience from conventional group travel – no repetitive or redundant announcements, no herding by elevated umbrella, no unnecessary roll calls, little hanging around. We work on the assumption that you are adults, and our staff cultivate the virtue of unobtrusiveness.
We provide sufficient information to enable you to navigate the festival events without needing to be led. However, festival staff are also stationed around the events to direct you if needed.
Sir Nicholas Kenyon
Managing Director of the Barbican Centre since 2007; former Controller of BBC Radio 3 and Director of the BBC Proms. He has been music critic for The New Yorker and The Observer, music editor of The Listener and editor of Early Music. He is author of the Faber Pocket Guides to Bach and Mozart, and edited Authenticity & Early Music and The City of London: a companion guide.
Accommodation & Prices
About the hotels
The audience stays in three different towns during the course of the festival. Choose between four different hotel options, A–D. If you intend to share a twin room with a friend, the best options are D, C and B (due to visibility of the shower cubicles from the bedroom area at the Park hotel in Leipzig).
Wireless internet is available free of charge in all hotels except the Fürstenhof in Leipzig and the Elephant in Weimar, where access is charged at €6 per night.
Mühlhausen or Eisenach
12 or 13 May – 15 May (two nights, or three if you are arriving a day early).
Depending on which hotel option you choose (A–D), you stay for the first two or three nights in either Mühlhausen or Eisenach. Mühlhausen has few hotels. Categories A & B stay in the same 3-star hotel. The bathrooms have showers only. Twin and double beds are usually two mattresses on a single base. The hotel does not have air conditioning. Eisenach has a range of accommodation. Stay in either a 5-star establishment perched by the Wartburg castle or a well-appointed 4-star hotel in the centre. Bathrooms are almost all baths with shower fitments. Twin and double beds are usually two mattresses on a single base.
15 – 17 May (two nights)
Weimar has a very good range of 3-, 4- and 5-star hotels. A small city, the hotels we have selected are no more than 10 or 15 minutes’ walk from the venues. There is no air-conditioning in the Elephant (Option D), nor at the Anna Amalia (Option A) but windows can be opened.
17 – 19 May (two nights)
Leipzig, as a trade fair city, has a good selection of hotels of all categories though some lack charm and individuality. We have selected ones within the periphery of the mediaeval core of the city; none is more than 15 or 20 minutes on foot from the venues. All have air-conditioning.
Mühlhausen: Brauhaus zum Löwen. An old timber-framed building of great character in the centre of town. Rooms are in the modern annex, 3 minutes walk from the main building. While the buildings are less characterful, rooms have recently been redecorated and have either a modern or a more rustic feel. All rooms are spacious and there is a lift.
Weimar: Anna Amalia. A family-run hotel in a quiet cobbled street in the centre of town. Rooms are simply furnished with cream walls and light wood furniture. Bedrooms vary in size.
Leipzig: Park. This is a modern and comfortable hotel. The quirky design uses plenty of wood and is vaguely nautical. Bedrooms are a good size. There is a glass panel in the wall separating bathrooms and bedrooms. There is a good restaurant.
Mühlhausen: Brauhaus zum Löwen. The same hotel as for option A, but with rooms in the main building. Bedrooms are simple and mostly spacious. Some overlook the (quiet) street; most are not served by a lift, but porters are available.
Weimar: Dorint am Goethepark. Comprising two historic houses connected by a new addition, this is now a modern hotel pleasantly situated by the park and a short walk from the town centre. Décor is a little austere, but the rooms elegant and comfortable. There is a restaurant in the hotel.
Leipzig: Arthotel ANA Symphonie. A modern hotel which opened in 2016. Situated between the Ring and the central market square, some rooms overlook the sometimes busy street. Geared more to the business market, its interior of contemporary elegance is nevertheless comfortable.
Eisenach: Steigenberger Thüringer Hof. A large, centrally-located hotel with a Neo-Classical façade. Bedrooms are bright and simply decorated. Two restaurants, a bar, as well a spa with sauna, exercise room and rooftop terrace. There is no air-conditioning.
Weimar: Russischer Hof. An elegant hotel dating to 1805 and furnished in a partially modernised, opulent Russian Neo-Classical style. Impressive public areas and restaurants, comfortable rooms with luxurious bathrooms, excellent location.
Leipzig: Marriott. A traditional hotel decorated in marble, wood and brass. Rooms are spacious with cosy, country-style furnishings and all mod cons. Centrally-located but quiet. There is a swimming pool.
Eisenach: Romantik Hotel auf der Wartburg. Beside the hilltop castle, this elegant, 5-star boutique hotel is a 3 km drive from the town centre. There is a good restaurant, a bar with terrace and a spa and sauna. Most bathrooms have baths with shower fitments. The hotel does not have a lift.
Weimar: The Elephant. Famous, historic establishment blending classical gravity with contemporary understatement. Bedrooms are spacious and very well equipped and there are two restaurants, including the finest in Weimar.
Leipzig: Fürstenhof. The best hotel in the city, although not large, and with the feel of a private club. A 19th-century building, it is furnished with antiques. Rooms are spacious and superbly equipped. Service is impeccable. There is a restaurant, wine bar and pool.
Prices – per person
|Arriving on 12 May
(a day before the festival begins)
Arriving on 13 May
|Hotel option||Two sharing||Single occupancy||Two sharing||Single occupancy|
|D (with a single room in Eisenach)||£4,410||£4,230|
Not taking one of the festival flight options? Deduct £190 for the prices above.
Joining and leaving the festival
Flights from London Heathrow are included in the price – all options fly into Frankfurt and back from Berlin.
If you select hotel option A or B, you can travel on flight options 1, 3 or 5.
If you select hotel option C or D, you can travel on flight options 2, 4 or 6.
There is the option to fly out on the 12th May, the day before the festival begins – see above for accommodation details and prices.
Arriving 12th May (a day early)
Option 1 – for hotel options A or B.
12th May: depart Heathrow 09.30, arrive Frankfurt 12.05 (LH 901).
19th May: depart Berlin 12.25, arrive Heathrow 13.30 (BA 983).
Option 2 – for hotel options C or D.
12th May: depart Heathrow 10.30, arrive Frankfurt 13.05 (LH 903).
19th May: depart Berlin 14.25, arrive Heathrow 15.25 (BA 993).
Arriving 13th May
Option 3 – for hotel options A or B.
13th May: depart Heathrow 09.30, arrive Frankfurt 12.05 (LH 901).
19th May: depart Berlin 12.25, arrive Heathrow 13.30 (BA 983).
Option 4 – for hotel options C or D.
13th May: depart Heathrow 10.30, arrive Frankfurt 13.05 (LH 903).
19th May: depart Berlin 14.25, arrive Heathrow 15.25 (BA 993).
Option 5 – for hotel options A or B.
13th May: depart Heathrow 11.00, arrive Frankfurt 13.45 (BA 904).
19th May: depart Berlin 16.45, arrive Heathrow 17.40 (BA 985).
Option 6 – for hotel options C or D.
13th May: depart Heathrow 11.30, arrive Frankfurt 14.05 (LH 905).
19th May: depart Berlin 16.45, arrive Heathrow 17.40 (BA 985).
Making your own arrangements
You can take the package without flights and make your own arrangements for joining and leaving the festival. You are welcome to join our airport transfers from Frankfurt and back to Berlin, though we cannot wait for you should you be delayed. There is a reduction in the price of £190 per person for this option.
Fitness for the festival
This is a physically demanding festival and fitness is essential. Within towns and cities, you will be expected to walk for anything up to 25 minutes and at a pace which is unlikely to slow others down when moving together.
Many streets are uneven or cobbled and there are some ascents and descents. There are often stairs to negotiate, we change hotel three times, and we will travel long distances by coach.
If you think you will need a wheelchair at any stage, including at the airport, then this festival is unlikely to be suitable for you.
We ask that prospective participants assess their fitness by trying these simple exercises:
1. Chair stands. Sit in a dining chair, with arms folded and hands on opposite shoulders. Stand up and sit down at least eight times in thirty seconds.
2. Step test. Mark a wall at a height that is halfway between your knee
and your hip bone. Raise each knee in turn to the mark at least sixty times in two minutes.
3. Agility test. Place an object three yards from the edge of a chair, sit, and record the time it takes to stand up, walk to the object and sit back down. You should be able to do this in under seven seconds.
An additional indication of the fitness required, though we are not asking you to measure this, is that you should be able to walk unaided at a pace of three miles per hour for at least half an hour at a time, and to stand for at least fifteen minutes.
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.
'Beyond superb! The perfromances, the choice of repertoire, the venues…all perfect in my opinion!'
'The JS Bach tour was immensly enjoyable; it was hugely stimulating, I feel enriched. To have heard music of the calibre and in the very place where those works were performed was a real joy.'
‘This was a very special holiday. Congratulations on organising it so well – it was a complex operation!’
‘Sublime. I am still on a high. I loved the St. John and the Mass particularly.'
‘Organised with MRT perfection, music performed brilliantly by a great variety of performers and an interesting programme.’