Ever since its inauguration over seventy years ago, with a concert conducted by Arturo Toscanini in the grounds of the lakeside house where Wagner had stayed, the Lucerne Festival has been regarded as one of the most prestigious music festivals in Europe.
The event has been further enhanced by a brilliant venue. The KKL (Kultur- und Kongresszentrum) is a giant glass-and-steel arts complex located right on the lake just a few hundred yards from the old town of Lucerne. Designed by Frenchman Jean Nouvel and completed in 2000, this is modern European architecture at its finest. Its colossal cantilevered roof projects over the water’s edge, bringing the changing moods of the lake right into the building, and water channels separate the various wings. The most advanced acoustical science has been lavished on the beautiful Konzertsaal.
And could there be a lovelier city in which to attend a summer music festival? Lucerne occupies one of the most picturesque settings in Switzerland, divided into two parts by its river, bordering on the dramatic shores of the Vierwaldstätter Lake and overlooked by craggy mountains. Its mediaeval prosperity is still visible in the squares, guildhalls and churches that line its riverbanks. The nineteenth century was a heyday for Lucerne as it led the way in attracting tourism to Switzerland.
Fly at c. 12.15pm from London Heathrow to Zurich (British Airways). Drive to Lucerne, a lively, historic city amid lake and mountain.
A morning walking tour of Lucerne, starting at the oldest road bridge in Europe, the richly decorated Chapel Bridge, and continuing to the Spreuerbrücke, another historic covered bridge notable for its ‘Dance of Death’ roof panels. Visit the Rococo interior of the huge Jesuit Church and the 13th-century Franciscan Church. Free afternoon. Evening concert at the KKL with the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra, Lahav Shani (cond.), Daniel Barenboim (piano): Brahms, Piano Concerto No. 2 in B flat, Op. 83; Ligeti, Lontano for large orchestra; Ravel, Suite No. 2 from Daphnis et Chloé.
A second walking tour includes Hofkirche, a 17th-century church with a lovely Italianate cloister and two Romanesque towers, visit the city’s chief 19th–century monuments including the famous Löwendenkmal, a great lion-statue hewn from a cliff-face in 1821 in honour of Swiss mercenaries killed in the French Revolution, and the Bourbaki Panorama, a giant circular mural depicting events of the Franco-Prussian War of 1870. Optional afternoon visit to Richard Wagner’s home on a headland by the lake where the composer spent some of his happiest years. Evening concert at the KKL with Igor Levit (piano): Beethoven, Sonata in D minor, Op. 31, no. 2 ‘The Tempest’, Sonata in B-flat, Op. 22, Sonata in C, Op. 2 no. 3, Sonata in C minor, Op. 13 ‘Grande Sonate Pathétique’.
All-day excursion to Mount Rigi, traversing lake Lucerne by boat and taking the funicular to the start of the walk. Lunch on the mountainside with a majestic 360° panorama of the Swiss plateau before returning to Lucerne. Evening concert at the KKL with Sir András Schiff (piano), Jan Petryka (tenor), Ema Nikolovska (alto): Beethoven, An die ferne Geliebte, Op. 98; Schumann, Fantasie in C, Op. 17; Janáček, ‘The Diary of One Who Disappeared’.
A morning visit to the Sammlung Rosengart, an extraordinary collection devoted to 20th-century art including many works by Picasso. Lunchtime concert in the Lukaskirche with Timothy Ridout (viola) and Frank Dupree (viola): Beethoven: Horn Sonata in F, Op. 17. (arr. for viola by Rudolph Leopold); Schumann, Fantasy Pieces Op. 73; York Bowen, Sonata for viola and piano No. 2 in F, Op. 22. Free afternoon. Evening concert with Lucerne Festival Orchestra, Riccardo Chailly (cond.): Denis Matsuev (piano): Rachmaninov, Piano Concerto No. 2 in C minor, Op. 18; Symphony No. 2 in E minor, Op. 27.
Drive to Zurich Airport for the return flight to London Heathrow, arriving c. 2.00pm.
Dr Michael Downes
Director of Music at the University of St Andrews, musical director of St Andrews Chorus, Scotland’s largest choral society, and founding artistic director of Byre Opera, which mounts fully staged productions each summer around Scotland and Northern England. He writes programme notes for Wigmore Hall and Aldeburgh Music and reviews music books for the Times Literary Supplement, and his publications include a highly praised study of contemporary British composer Jonathan Harvey.
Price, per person
Two sharing: £3,680 or £3,420 without flights. Single occupancy: £4,120 or £3,860 without flights.
Flights (Euro Traveller) with British Airways (Airbus 319); private coach travel; breakfasts, 2 lunches and 3 dinners with wine; admissions; all tips for drivers, waiters and local guides; state and airport taxes; the services of the lecturer, tour manager and local walking guide.
Tickets (first category) for 5 concerts are included, costing c. £670. Tickets are confirmed in March 2020.
Romantik Hotel Wilden Mann: a 4-star hotel dating back to the 13th century located in the heart of the historic town centre. All double rooms in the hotel have two single mattresses on one bed frame, as is the usual style in Switzerland. Single rooms are doubles for sole use.
A good level of fitness is necessary. It should not be attempted by anyone who has difficulty with everyday walking and stair-climbing. The concert hall is located half a mile from the hotel. The drive from Zurich Airport to Lucerne takes approximately 1 hour.
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.
'A wonderful musical experience.'
'A most rewarding tour. Just a brilliant few days in Lucerne.'
'Very good indeed and mixture of walks and music perfect.'
'Top marks to the lecturer who offered brilliant insights into the vary varied works to be performed.'
'The itinerary was excellent, varied and well-balanced. We had a good mixture of culture, concerts, excellent food, sightseeing, trips, with each day in itself a balance of all of these.'