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The Seine Music Festival

Nine private concerts in beautiful historic buildings along the Seine Valley.

Major international musicians from France and Britain.

The mainly French music is appropriate to the buildings in which it is performed.

Daily talks on music and architecture by leading experts.

Accommodation is on board a comfortable modern river cruiser. All meals are included, provided by the ship’s excellent chefs. The meticulously planned itinerary is full but relaxing and unobtrusively managed by experienced staff.

Historic towns and pretty villages; great churches, abbeys and châteaux; outstanding gardens and the lovely scenery of the Seine valley.

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Music in appropriate historic buildings

This festival presents a thrilling range of French music from the 15th to the 20th centuries – all in appropriate settings.

The Orlando Consort bring music of the 1430s to Carl Theodor Dreyer’s La Passion de Jeanne d’Arc (1928), one of the greatest films of all time, to a 15th-century church in Rouen near the site of her immolation in 1431. Pascal and Ami Rogé perform ‘Impressionist’ music for the piano adjacent to Monet’s garden at Giverny. There is viol music by Couperin and Marais in the Château de Maisons Lafitte, the masterpiece of François Mansart; and francophile Robert Hollingworth directs I Fagiolini in a programme which includes Ode à la gastronomie by Jean Francaix and Poulenc’s Hôtel in Le Meurice in Paris.

And this is just to mention four of the nine concerts (of which five are full length, four are around an hour). All take place in architectural settings which are both beautiful and appropriate, being of the same period as the building or having some other sort of association.

Music and musicians of the highest quality

We have engaged outstanding performers from Britain and France. In addition to those mentioned above, there is Christoph Rousset (harpsichord), Tenebrae directed by Nigel Short, Kenneth Weiss (harpsichord), Juliette Hurel (flute), the Ensemble Gilles Binchois and the Van Kuijk String Quartet.

The potency of the music is magnified by both by the appropriateness of the buildings and their size, which is modest in comparison with conventional concert halls. The audience will number not much over a hundred, but nevertheless three of the concerts have to be repeated because the halls are too small to acommodate everyone in a single sitting. This creates an intimacy of musical communication which greatly enhances the artistic experience.

Great French buildings

As with most of our festivals, the key feature is that the music is performed in appropriate historic buildings. Performances are in châteaux, churches and a hotel ballroom beside the River Seine or a short drive away. All are historic buildings of charm or beauty, some of them seldom-visited architectural jewels.

From the grand and splendid to the small and charming, these venues have been chosen to bring out the best in the performers and the music they play. Usually the music is of the same period as the building in which it is played and sometimes there are specific historical connections.

Exclusive access

The concerts are private, being exclusive to around a hundred festival participants who book a package which also provides accommodation on a first-class river cruiser, all meals, first-class Eurostar between the UK and Paris (if required), travel by luxury coach and talks on music and architecture.

The spoken word is an important ingredient of the festival. There are daily talks on the music by Richard Langham Smith, a former professor of the Royal College of Music and a leading specialist on French music, and on architecture by John McNeill, the renowned art historian and author of a book on Normandy.

The comfort of a river cruiser

To this exceptional artistic experience is added a further pleasure: the comfort and convenience of the ship, the MS Amadeus Diamond, chartered exclusively for the festival audience.

As both hotel and principal means of transport, the ship enables passengers to attend the concerts and visit some fine buildings in the region without having to change hotel or drive long distances. The succession of fine meals is prepared by the excellent on-board chefs.

There is little regimentation, no obligatory seating plan, no onboard entertainment, no intrusive announcements – and absolutely no piped music.

The programme

Day 1, Thursday 23rd June: Paris

The ship, MS Amadeus Diamond, will be moored in Paris at the Port de Javel in the 15th arrondissement and ready for boarding from 4.00pm.

After dinner on board, coaches take participants to the church of St Etienne du Mont for the first concert.

Concert, 9.00pm
Eglise de St Etienne du Mont,
French choral music of penance & praise

Nigel Short Director

Tenebrae’s performances are renowned for creating an atmosphere of spiritual and musical reflection while epitomising the finest attributes of modern English choral singing – precise, vital, expressive of text. Nigel Short was a consort singer with leading ensembles before founding Tenebrae in 2001. Members have experience with choirs such as those of Westminster Abbey, Westminster Cathedral and Kings College Cambridge and early music ensembles including the Monteverdi Choir and the Gabrieli Consort.

Tenebrae takes its name from the dark hours before Easter, and a Renaissance setting of the Lamentations sung on those days dominates the first part of this panorama of French church music. Then we move to light, with two jubilant masses, the first by Duruflé, for many years Director of Music at St. Etienne du Mont, the other by Fauré: his delightful low mass, written for a fisherman’s church in Normandy.

Construction of the glorious church of St Etienne du Mont started at the end of the 15th century and was not finished until the 17th, thus spanning the last period of Gothic architecture and the beginnings of the French Renaissance.

After the concert, return to the ship, which remains moored in Paris overnight.

Day 2, Friday 24th June: Maisons-Laffitte

Sail at 9.00am. There are morning lectures on music and architecture. Moor at Conflans-Sainte Honorine around 2.30pm.

Drive to the château at Maisons-Laffitte.

Concert, 4.00pm
Château de Maisons-Laffitte,
Baroque chamber music

Kenneth Weiss harpsichord
Lucile Boulanger viol
Julien Leonard viol

One of the most accomplished keyboard players of his generation, Kenneth Weiss focuses on recitals, chamber music, teaching and conducting. He has directed many of the leading Baroque ensembles in Europe. As a harpsichordist, recordings include Goldberg Variations, Bach Partitas and transcriptions of opera and ballet by Rameau. He was born in New York, studied in Amsterdam and teaches at the Conservatoire National Supérieur de Musique de Paris.

Julien Léonard and Lucile Boulanger both studied with Christophe Coin. Julien now teaches in Angers while Lucile performs widely as a chamber musician and has been awarded prizes for her interpretations of Bach.

The French basse de viole could hardly have been more different from its English counterpart the bass viol, especially in the way composers wrote for it. While English music was often introvert, with players facing each other round a table, French viol music featured the instrument in solos or duets and became more and more virtuosic. This was especially the case in the hands of its greatest exponent, Marin Marais, whose music features alongside pieces by William Lawes as well as Louis and François Couperin.

Designed by François Mansart and built 1642–51 for the President du Parlement, the Château at Maisons Laffitte was frequently visited by Bourbon kings. One of the finest accomplishments of French architecture, it combines classical perfection, variation of massing and dramatic roofscape, and is exceptionally complete and homogenous.

Sail from Conflans to Vernon, mooring in the early hours of Saturday morning.

Day 3, Saturday 25th June: Bizy, Giverny

Moor at Vernon.

There is a ten-minute drive from the ship to the morning concert (which is repeated: the audience divides).

Concert, 10.00 or 11.30am
Vernon, Château de Bizy,
The French Flute

Juliette Hurel flute
Hélène Couvert piano

Juliette Hurel is in great demand as a chamber musician on French and international stages. She has been principal flute with Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra since 1998. Hélène Couvert is her accompanist on all her recordings, and enjoys a solo career with acclaimed discs of Haydn, Beethoven and Janácek.

During the early 20th-century, French flute playing was the best in Europe – the classes at the Paris Conservatoire renowned worldwide. Flautists such as Taffanel, Fleury and Moyse drew from French composers a rich repertoire. Juliette Hurel programmes some of its highlights including the turbulent Sonata by Melanie Bonis, paired with better-known stalwarts by Poulenc and Fauré. The lascivious antics of Debussy’s flute-playing satyr are captured in a clever piano reduction of his Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune.

The venue is the privately-owned Château de Bizy, a beautifully detailed 19th-century reconstruction of a château of the 1740s. The monumental stable block is indeed eighteenth-century, and magnificent grounds are laid out in true Baroque form.

Lunch is on board the ship.

Giverny is only six kilometres from Vernon. Claude Monet lived here from 1883 until his death in 1926, progressively extending his garden and creating one of the finest horticultural domains in France. There is time before the concert to see the garden or visit the exhibition Gustave Caillebotte, painter and gardener at the Musée des Impressionnismes.

Concert, 5.00pm
Giverny, Musée des Impressionnismes,
Impressionist piano

Pascal & Ami Rogé

Pascal Rogé exemplifies the finest in French pianism, his stylistically perfect phrasing and elegant performances winning him awards and acclaim during his esteemed solo career.

In recent years he has turned his attention to the piano duet with his wife Ami. Together, they have travelled the world appearing at prestigious festivals and concert halls.

Where better to hear Impressionist piano music than in a concert hall adjacent to Monet’s garden? The young Debussy’s charming Petite Suite evokes those leisurely days of early Impressionism while Ravel’s Rapsodie Espagnole is one of many French impressions of Spain. But this concert also explores the undercurrents that swept Impressionism away: Satie’s Parade, originally a surrealist ballet, is particularly captivating in the piano-duet version.

The Musée des Impressionnismes brings new perspectives to the history of Impressionism through temporary exhibitions. Our concert venue is the auditorium on the lower level.

Return to the ship for dinner and sail overnight to Caudebec-en-Caux.

Day 4, Sunday 26th June: Caudebec-en-Caux, Etelan, Jumièges, St Wandrille

This morning’s concert is at the Château d’Etelan, whose small drawing room requires the audience to split and the concert to be performed twice.

When not attending the concert there is time to visit the Flamboyant parish church in Caudebec-en-Caux. Begun under English occupation in 1426, it is one of the most ambitious parish churches of late mediaeval Normandy, famed for the virtuosity of its architecture and the dazzling quality of its sixteenth-century glass.

Concert, 10.00 or 11.30am
Château d’Etelan, Debussy & Mozart

Van Kuijk Quartet

‘Style, energy and a sense of risk’, wrote the Guardian critic of this young Quartet who triumphed in the Wigmore Hall Quartet competition in 2015. Created in Paris in 2012, they are fast becoming known on the international music scene.

The same reviewer went on to say how ‘they made the music smile’. What more could you want from the Debussy Quartet – his only one – which moves between shimmering textures and long-breathed melodies to some gritty, challenging moments of real excitement? Also heard is Mozart’s Dissonance Quartet from just about 100 years before.

The Château d’Etelan, a manor house built in the first decade or two of the sixteenth century, is evocatively located in tranquil countryside on the edge of a plateau overlooking the final bend in the Seine. Though modest in scale, it is quite advanced for its time and is unique in Normandy for the use of banded brick and stone. It is still in private hands.

After lunch there is an optional excursion. The ruin of the once great abbey of Jumièges – monumental, roofless, sun-bleached and spare – is one of the seminal buildings of Romanesque Europe and was particularly influential in England. Likewise ruinous, the most striking remains of the Benedictine Monastery of St Wandrille are the 13th-century choir and the 14th-century cloister walk. Rejoin the ship in Rouen.

Alternatively stay on board while the ship sails from Caudebec to Rouen, where it remains overnight.

Day 5, Monday 27th June: St Martin de Boscherville, Rouen

Drive from Rouen to the pretty village of St Martin de Boscherville.

Concert, 11.00am
St Martin de Boscherville, Eglise
Abbatiale de St Georges,
Forgotten polyphony

Ensemble Gilles Binchois
Dominique Vellard Director

Dominique Vellard has directed the Ensemble Gilles Binchois since its creation in 1979. Devoted to 15th- and 16th-century repertoire and mediaeval song, they have released over forty recordings and performed all over the world.

The Abbey at Boscherville has a monastic fruit garden and a garden of aromatic plants hidden in its cloisters. To walk from these into the vast Romanesque basilica provides an unparalleled way of plugging into the past – especially if the church is filled with French church music. This programme has uncovered four centuries of polyphonic music from regional France based on Gregorian chant, ornamented with what are known as faux-bourdons.

The afternoon is free in Rouen, capital of Normandy, architecturally and scenically one of the finest cities in France. You can join a talk in the cathedral or explore the city independently; the mooring is within walking distance of the cathedral and the quartier St-Maclou.

The celebrated cathedral is a showpiece of Gothic architecture, juxtaposing a rather quirky and beautifully detailed nave with a simplified, 13th-century choir, and reserving its more extravagant later mediaeval architecture for the west front that so mesmerised Monet. Nearby are other Gothic masterpieces, St Ouen and St Maclou, and the contrasting church of Sainte Jeanne d’Arc, finished in 1979 but equipped with a breathtaking display of 16th-century stained glass.

Concert, 9.00pm
Rouen, Eglise St Maclou,
The Passion of Joan of Arc

The Orlando Consort

The Orlando Consort is one of Europe’s most expert and consistently challenging early music vocal ensembles. Celebrated at festivals and in concert halls throughout the world, they perform repertoire from 1050 to 1550 with scholarship, skill, imagination and unfailing beauty.

This ambitious concert is centred on the showing of a 1928 film by the Danish artist Carl Theodor Dreyer whose subject is the suffering and death of Joan of Arc. The Orlando Consort have devised this pairing of the film with music composed during the life of the saint herself: the early 15th century. The music illuminates every step of this extraordinary film, lauded by film-makers and banned in certain countries.

It is performed in the very city in which Joan was burned at the stake in 1431. The Eglise St Maclou presents the 15th century at its most jewel-like, and is one of the best examples of Flamboyant Gothic architecture in France.

Sail overnight from Rouen to Les Andelys.

Day 6, Tuesday 28th June: Les Andelys, La Roche Guyon

Château Gaillard, built by Richard the Lionheart in 1196, occupies a commanding site with tremendous views over the Seine valley. Though ruined, the remains are sufficient to demonstrate that this was one of the most formidable fortifications of the Middle Ages.

In Grand Andely, the town below, Notre-Dame is a fascinating and beautiful church which incorporates late Gothic parts with elements of Italianate Renaissance design and outstanding stained glass. An alternative would be free time in Petit Andely, a charming village where the ship is moored.

Sail downstream to Vernon for an afternoon concert (for which the audience divides) at La Roche-Guyon, a small town nestling between the Seine and the high chalk cliffs behind.

Concert, 3.00 or 4.30pm
Château de la Roche-Guyon,
Couperin’s dynasty

Christophe Rousset harpsichord

Christophe Rousset has gained international acclaim with his extraordinary talent as a harpsichordist and chamber musician, performing and recording on the most beautiful period instruments. He is sought-after both as a guest conductor and as leader of his own ensemble, Les Talens Lyriques.

The concert provides an opportunity to hear music by three of the pillars of the French harpsichord repertoire on an instrument similar to those for which it was conceived. Louis Couperin was the uncle of François dit-le-Grand and was celebrated for his free ‘unmeasured’ preludes. François developed character pieces, often given evocative and sometimes puzzling titles. Music by Rameau, a masterful operatic composer who didn’t start writing for the harpsichord until his fifties, completes the programme.

The keep of the Château de la Roche Guyon is perched on the clifftop, merely the topmost element of an extensive series of fortifications (developed further by Rommel in 1944) and of a grand residence which evolved between the 16th and the 18th centuries. Somewhat ramshackle inside, the Grand Salon has precious tapestries and its large windows look out towards the Seine.

The ship sails overnight from Vernon to Conflans.

Day 7, Wednesday 29th June: Auvers-sur-Oise, Paris

There is a morning excursion to Auvers-sur-Oise, an artists’ colony frequented by Impressionists and Post-Impressionists. See the church that Van Gogh painted and the Auberge Ravoux where he lived for the last few weeks of his life.

Continue upstream to Paris in the afternoon.

Concert, 6.30pm
Paris, Hotel Le Meurice,
Ode à la gastronomie

I Fagiolini
Robert Hollingworth Director

Founded by Robert Hollingworth in 1986, I Fagiolini is among the world’s most exciting exponents of Renaissance and 20th-century repertoire, famed for its entertaining and imaginative performances. They won the Royal Philharmonic Society’s Ensemble Prize in 2005, the only early music ensemble ever to be so honoured.

A song in praise of the erotic powers of the black truffle, this ‘Ode à la Gastronomie’ takes its name from a 12-voice piece by the witty French composer Jean Françaix. It harks back to the rebellious – but sometimes deeply moving – spirit of the 1910s and 20s, typified by the poets Cocteau, Éluard and Apollinaire. These were set by the audacious young Poulenc whose seven songs for vocal ensemble form a centrepiece of this highly original programme, which also includes songs by Milhaud and a new arrangement by Roderick Williams of the heart-breaking adagio from Ravel’s G major concerto for piano and voices.

Situated on the rue de Rivoli, Le Meurice is one of the finest hotels in Paris. The guest list includes many famous names from the arts; Salvador Dalí spent a month in the Royal Suite each year for thirty years. The Salon Pompadour, a recreation of 18th-century opulence, provides the perfect backdrop for this teasing autour du piano.

Moor in Paris overnight.

Day 8, Thursday 30th June: Paris

Leaving the festival. Participants have to disembark by 9.30am.

The ship, prices

The MS Amadeus Diamond, launched in 2009, is one of the more comfortable cruisers on the waterways of Europe. The multi-national crew is dedicated to the highest standards of service.

With a minimum floor area of 15m2 the cabins are reasonably spacious by the standards of river cruisers. All have windows to the outside and are equipped with the facilities one would expect of a first-class hotel including shower, w.c., toiletries, individually adjustable air-conditioning, telephone, TV and safe.

In layout and furnishings the cabins are identical, the significant differences being the size of windows and height above water level (higher cabins enjoy better views and fewer stairs). Beds are twins which can be pushed together or separated.

Those on the top two decks (Mozart and Strauss) are the most desirable, with floor to ceiling windows which slide open. Also on the Mozart deck are twelve suites measuring approximately 22m2 which have a sofa, table and armchair, a bath, minibar and safe.

Cabins on the lowest (Haydn) deck have smaller windows which do not open. There are no single cabins as such but we are allocating some two-bed cabins for single occupancy.

The public areas include the lounge and bar, a library area, gym and a restaurant which can seat everyone at a single sitting on tables of six. The food is good, though more international than French. The sun deck has a chess board, golf putting green and a tented area for shade. Free wireless internet is available and most reliable when the ship is stationary.

There is no lift.

Haydn deck (lowest)
Two sharing: £2,890 per person
*Single occupancy: £3,533

Strauss deck (middle)
Two sharing: £3,630 per person
*Single occupancy: £4,426

Mozart deck (top)
Two sharing: £3,990 per person
*Single occupancy: £4,868

Suites (Mozart deck)
Two sharing: £4,760 per person

Making your own arrangements for travel to and from the Festival: deduct £230.

*All cabins are designed for double occupancy. We make a limited amount of cabins on each deck available for single occupancy, which usually sell out quickly. Around three months before the start of the festival we may offer any remaining unsold cabins previously reserved for double occupancy to single travellers on the waiting list at a higher price (Haydn £3,760; Strauss £4,710; Mozart £5,191).

The festival package

The price includes:

Admission to all nine concerts.

Accommodation for seven nights on board a comfortable river cruiser.

All meals from dinner on the first day to breakfast on the last. Wine, water and coffee are provided with lunch and dinner.

Interval drinks.

Tea, coffee and fresh fruit are available all day on the ship. Afternoon tea or morning coffee is served in the lounge when it fits in with our itinerary.

Travel by coach to the concert venues when they are beyond walking distance.

Two lecturers, a musicologist and an architectural historian.

All tips for crew, restaurant staff and drivers.

All admission charges and all taxes.

Practical and historical information and a detailed programme booklet.

The assistance of an experienced team of festival staff.

Joining & leaving the festival

Travel by Eurostar To join the festival, there is a choice between two Eurostar trains from London St Pancras to Paris. These are paired with trains on the last day. Alternatively you are welcome to make your own arrangements for international travel – see Option 3.

Option 1

Thursday 23rd June. Depart London St Pancras at 10.24am or Ebbsfleet at 10.42am. After arriving at Paris Gare du Nord at 1.57pm, you are collected by coach and set down near the Louvre for about two hours of independent time. After rejoining the coach, you board the ship at c. 5.15pm.

Thursday 30th June. Disembark at 9.15am and transfer by coach to the Gare du Nord. Depart Paris by Eurostar at 11.03am and arrive at London St Pancras at 12.39pm. This train does not stop at Ebbsfleet.

Option 2

Thursday 23rd June. Depart London St Pancras at 12.24pm or Ebbsfleet at 12.42pm and arrive at Paris Gare du Nord at 3.57pm. You are then taken by coach directly to the ship, which you board at c. 5.00pm.

Thursday 30th June. Disembark at 9.30am and transfer by coach to the Louvre area for some free time in Paris. Coaches leave for the Gare du Nord at 2.45pm for the Eurostar at 4.03pm. Stop at Ebbsfleet at 5.18pm, arrive London St Pancras at 5.39pm.

Train travel is in first class ‘Standard Premier’ and drinks and refreshments are served at your seat. This is continental breakfast if departure is before 11.00am or a light meal in the afternoon and evening. These times are from the 2015 timetable – changes are likely.

Option 3: no trains

You can choose to make your own way to and from the Festival. There is a price reduction of £230 for this. You are welcome to join our transfers from the Gare du Nord, to meet in the centre of Paris or to go directly to the ship. MS Amadeus Diamond is moored in Paris at the Port de Javel in the 15th arrondissement. Boarding is permitted from 4.00pm but you can deposit your bags before this time.

If you would like to take Option 1 on the outbound journey and Option 2 inbound or vice versa, you would have to make your own arrangements. Unfortunately Eurostar’s group booking conditions do not allow us to make such arrangements.

Pre-festival tours

The cost of return Eurostar is included in the price of the pre-festival tours (unless you make your own arrangements). You return to London at 11.13 on 30th June (Option 1).

Rijksmuseum & Mauritshuis, 19–22 June 2016 (MC 721): participants take the train from Amsterdam to Paris on 22nd June and spend the night at the 4-star Hotel Westminster in Paris before the start of the festival on 23rd June.  

Versailles, 20–23 June 2016 (MC 736): participants are taken to the ship on the final day of the tour.

Post-festival tour

French Gothic, 1–7 July 2016 (MC 740): participants travel to Paris at 10.24am on 23rd June (Option 1). At the end of the Festival, taxis take you to the 4-star Hotel Westminster to spend the night of 30th June. You are free until the following morning, when you transfer by taxi to the Gare du Nord to meet the rest of the group travelling from London.

Fitness for the festival

Quite a lot of walking is necessary to reach the concert venues and to get around the towns visited. Neither the concert venues nor the ship are equipped with a lift. Participants need to be averagely fit, sure-footed and able to manage everyday walking and stairclimbing without difficulty.

Self-assessment tests. There is no age limit for this festival, but we do 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 8 times in 30 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 60 times in 2 minutes.

  3. Agility test. Place an object 3 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 7 seconds.

Are you fit enough to join the tour?

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.

“We continue to be amazed at the way Martin Randall Travel have been able to set up a series of private concerts of the highest calibre and held in some of the most wonderful venues in Europe.”

“An unbeatable combination of wonderful music in great venues and the most congenial travel companions looked after by excellent, pleasant staff. Thank you all!”

“I would have a major problem to think of a single criticism. Planning, execution, the programme itself, the joy and enthusiasm of each and every musician and singer, the competence and friendliness of everyone I met from MRT was of the highest level.”

“The speakers were informative, imaginative and passionate in their presentations. The context and correlations they offered were stimulating and enjoyable.”