Smetana’s epic Má vlast (My Country) – six symphonic poems celebrating the history, mythology and glorious countryside of Bohemia – traditionally opens the Festival and is always a memorable and moving occasion; this year Jakub Hrůša, now one of the leading Czech conductors, and the Bamberg Symphony Orchestra bring their expertise to this majestic work.
The spectacular success of Le Nozze di Figaro in the Estates Theatre secured Mozart’s reputation among the Czechs; enjoy the same work in the delightful surroundings of this beautiful and historic theatre.
No less an authority than Paganini was overwhelmed by Berlioz’s symphony-concerto for the viola, Harold in Italy, one of the most vivid orchestral works of the 1830s, paired here with his inspiring and magnificent Te Deum conducted by John Nelson, one of the finest interpreters of Berlioz’s music today.
The world-renowned Chamber Players of the Boston Symphony Orchestra are joined by Garrick Ohlsson, one of the United States’ greatest piano soloists, in a richly rewarding programme of chamber classics.
The Orchestra dell’Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia conducted by the celebrated Sir Antonio Pappano perform two of the most colourful works of Russian romanticism along with Bartok’s striking first violin concerto.
Given that the festival is also a celebration of Czech nationhood, this tour is not only about attending concerts. You also have the opportunity to join guided walks and excursions through the beautiful city of Prague. There are daily talks and discussions with distinguished Czech musicologist, writer and broadcaster, Jan Smaczny. However, afternoons are left free for independent exploration – or for preserving your energies for the evening performances.
Fly at c. 9.45am from London Heathrow to Prague (British Airways). After settling in to the hotel there is a private guided tour of the Estates Theatre, where Don Giovanni had its première in 1786.
Morning walk through the Old Town, a dense maze of streets and squares with buildings of all ages and an exceptionally lovely main square. A visit to the Obecní dům (‘Municipal House’) to see the glorious suite of assembly rooms created 1904–12. Evening concert at the Obecní dům: Bamberg Symphony Orchestra, Jakub Hrůša (conductor): Smetana, Má vlast.
Drive up to Prague Castle, the extensive hilltop complex, long-time residence of the Dukes and Kings of Bohemia and now the home of the President. Visit the medieval Old Royal Palace, within it the largest stone hall in Europe with incredible late-Gothic vaulting, and the Cathedral of St Vitus, a pioneering monument of High Gothic, richly embellished with chapels, tombs, altarpieces and stained glass. Evening opera at the Estates Theatre: Mozart, Le Nozze di Figaro (cast to be confirmed).
Visit the Veletržni (Trade Fair) Palace of 1928 which now houses fascinating Czech art of the 19th and 20th centuries and a remarkable holding of modern French art. Free afternoon. Evening concert at the Obecní dům: Prague Radio Symphony Orchestra, John Nelson (conductor): works by Berlioz.
Walk across the 14th-century Charles Bridge, the greatest such structure in Europe, wonderfully adorned with sculptures. In the Lesser Town visit St Nicholas, one of the finest Baroque churches in Central Europe and the Czech Museum of Music, which houses an interesting collection of musical instruments. Evening concert at the Rudolfinum: Boston Symphony Chamber Players, Garrick Ohlsson (piano): works by Haydn, Barber, Brahms.
A morning walk in and around Wenceslas Square, threading through a succession of arcades which takes in some outstanding turn-of-the-century architecture, decoration and early modernist masterpieces. Free afternoon. Evening concert at the Obecní dům: Orchestra dell’Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia, Antonio Pappano (conductor).
Strahov Monastery has commanding views over Prague and two magnificent library halls, which by special arrangement we enter. Then walk down the hill, passing the formidable bulk of the Černín Palace and the delightful façade of the Loreto Church. The flight returns to London Heathrow at c. 2.45pm.
Professor Jan Smaczny
Hamilton Harty Chair of Music at Queen’s University, Belfast, and an authority on Czech music. An author, broadcaster and journalist, he has published books on the Prague Provisional Theatre, Dvořák’s Cello Concerto, Music in 19th-century Ireland and Bach’s B-minor Mass. He is a graduate of the University of Oxford, has studied at the Charles University in Prague and has worked extensively in university education.
Price, per person
Two sharing: £3,110 or £2,970 without flights. Single occupancy: £3,580 or £3,440 without flights.
Flights (Euro Traveller) with British Airways (Airbus A320); private coach for airport transfers and excursions; hotel accommodation as described below; 4 dinners, 1 lunch with wine; all admissions; all tips; all taxes; the services of the lecturer and Czech guide-interpreter.
Tickets (top category) to 4 concerts and 1 opera are included, costing c. £450. Tickets are confirmed in January 2019.
Hotel Paris is a 5-star hotel built in 1904 that retains the Art Nouveau theme throughout. Comfortable and elegant but not fussy with a good restaurant and café. Very well located in the Old Town close to Obecní dům (Municipal House). Single rooms are doubles for sole use.
There is quite a lot of walking, much of it on roughly paved streets, some on inclines. The tour would not be suitable for anyone with difficulties with everyday walking and stair-climbing.
Between 10 and 21 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.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice.
'Professor Smaczny was on very good form and perhaps especially informative given his links with the area and the music. His lectures were interesting, amusing, beautifully pitched for the audience. '
'Thank you for a marvellous trip. We enjoyed it enormously!'