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The Danube Festival of Song

Twelve of the world’s greatest Lieder singers, seven of the finest pianist-accompanists, eleven beautiful, historic and appropriate halls; eight days of recitals, lectures and discussion: this can only be the MRT Festival of Song.

The third edition takes place along the Danube in July 2016.

Soprano: Mary Bevan, Susan Bullock, Véronique Gens, Miah Persson.

Mezzo-soprano: Katarina Karnéus, Dorottya Láng, Renata Pokupić.

Tenor: Ian Bostridge, Christoph Prégardien.

Baritone: Benjamin Appl, André Schuen, Roderick Williams.

Piano: Susie Allan, Julius Drake, Daniel Heide, Susan Manoff, Malcolm Martineau, Christoph Schnackertz, Roger Vignoles.

  • Grein, lithograph by A. Kunike c. 1840.
  • Wood engraving c. 1880.
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An exceptional line-up of artists

Just look at the list – every one is an exceptional talent; many are internationally known as leaders in their fields.

The repertoire performed ranges widely. Schubert has a leading role, which is particularly appropriate in the landscapes and cityscapes he knew so well. Schumann and Liszt figure prominently.

But there are also programmes of Hungarian, Nordic, French and English songs, performed by singers in their mother-tongue – respectively Dorottya Láng, Katarina Karnéus, Véronique Gens and Roderick Williams. The Czech programme is almost in this category, being sung by a Croatian, Renata Pokupić.

Miah Persson sings Mozart and Susan Bullock sings Wagner, composers for which each is famous. André Schuen inserts songs in the Ladin language from the region of his childhood. Mary Bevan and Benjamin Appl perform duets: an electric combination. Ian Bostridge sings Schumann, a matchless combination, while Christoph Prégardien is the principal Schubertian.

A private audience

There is only one audience, of no more than 120, consisting of those who take the package which includes not only all the recitals but also accommodation, transport, meals and nearly everything else. They live for the week on board a modern and comfortable river cruiser, which is both hotel and principal means of travel.

Beautiful historical halls

Each recital takes place in a different hall. Charming and beautiful, the venues are all of historical significance as well as being excellent spaces for song recitals. Many reflect in their architecture and decoration the music performed in them.

Most are small, creating the closeness between performers and audience which so enhances the experience of this most intimate and reflective of musical forms.

The spoken word

The spoken word, analytical, historical and anecdotal, plays an important role in the festival. There are daily talks by Richard Stokes, who has an unsurpassed knowledge of German-language poetry and art song and is a much sought-after lecturer and singing teacher.

The comfort of a river cruiser

We have chartered the MS Amadeus Royal, one of the more comfortable ships on the waterways of Europe, exclusively for this festival. This enables you to attend all the concerts and see some of the finest scenery and townscape from Budapest to Passau without having to change hotels or drive long distances.

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 – and no piped music.

Richard Stokes Speaker & Artistic Director

An inspiring and widely acclaimed lecturer, Richard Stokes plays a key role in the festival through daily lectures and discussions on poets, composers, comparative settings and social background.

Few people in the world know as much about Lieder and art song as Richard. A linguist and literature teacher as well as a musicologist, he taught at Westminster School for many years and is now Professor of Lieder at the Royal Academy of Music. He gives lectures and master classes all over Britain and abroad, and is a regular jury member of international song competitions.

He has written books on French, German and Spanish song, and his latest volume, The Penguin Book of English Song, will be published in the spring of 2016 by Allen Lane.

He has translated a number of works for the operatic stage including Parsifal, Lulu, Wozzeck, La voix humaine and Jakob Lenz (Wolfgang Rihm), all of which have been performed at English National Opera. Other published translations include J.S. Bach – The Complete Cantatas, Kafka’s The Trial, Metamorphosis and Letter to his Father, and Jules Renard’s Histoires naturelles.  

Day -1, Monday 4th July: Budapest

We are offering the option of arriving in Budapest a day before the festival begins (see 'Practicalities' for prices and flight options).

The price for this includes a coach transfer from Budapest airport to the InterContinental Hotel and one night’s accommodation. Dinner is independent, though festival staff will be on hand to help make restaurant bookings if required.

Overnight Budapest.

Day 1, Tuesday 5th July: Budapest

For information on travelling to Budapest, see 'Practicalities'. 

The ship, MS Amadeus Royal, is moored in Budapest and is ready for boarding from 4.00pm.

A buffet lunch is provided from c. 1.30pm for all participants at a restaurant near this afternoon’s concert venue.

Budapest results from the triumphant amalgamation of Buda, an impregnable citadel around which the city on the right bank of the Danube developed, and Pest on the left bank whose Parisian elegance extends over less encumbered terrain. The two were rival cities until formal unification in 1872. Now Budapest is the principal metropolis of East-Central Europe, a city of vitality, splendour and controversy.

Recital 1, 4.00pm
Budapest, The Liszt Academy of Music, Solti Hall: Hungarian Song
Dorottya Láng mezzo-soprano
Julius Drake piano

Starting in Budapest, the festival had to begin with Hungarian songs, and a Hungarian singer. The venue is the Solti Hall in the Liszt Academy, recently returned to its original 1907 Secessionist appearance, and the programme includes works by Franz Liszt, Zoltan Kodály and György Ligeti.

Dorottya Láng is an exciting young mezzo-soprano who so far is little known to English-speaking audiences. Born in Budapest, she studied singing in Vienna and is a member of the Hamburg State Opera.

One of the world’s leading accompanists, British pianist Julius Drake works with many leading artists, both vocal and instrumental, in recital and on disc. This is the first of four recitals in this festival on which he collaborates.

Board the ship, MS Amadeus Royal, after the concert. There is a reception and dinner on board. Sail overnight to Bratislava.

Day 2, Wednesday 6th July: Bratislava

The series of daily lectures begins. Moor at Bratislava.

Now capital of Slovakia, Bratislava (formerly Pressburg) was for 300 years capital 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 façades. Comprehensive restoration has transformed it in the last 20 years into one of the loveliest towns along the Danube.

Recital 2
Bratislava, Moyzes Hall: Czech songs & Frauenliebe
Renata Pokupić mezzo-soprano
Roger Vignoles piano

Acknowledging the Slavic location of the recital, the programme includes songs by Antonín Dvořák and Václav TomáŠek (1774–1850), whose songs have recently been recorded by Pokupić and Vignoles. Schumann’s cycle Frauenliebe und -leben follows. The Moyzes Hall is a hidden gem, a modestly sized concert hall built at the turn of the 19th century.

Renata Pokupić is a Croatian mezzo-soprano known internationally for her performances of Baroque, Classical and coloratura opera repertoire as well as for Lieder. Her expressiveness and beauty of tone win hearts worldwide.

Roger Vignoles is recognised as one of the world’s most distinguished piano accompanists. He regularly partners the finest singers in major venues around the world and is regarded as a leading authority on the song repertoire. He performs at two of the concerts in this festival.

After lunch on board there is free time before the 6.00pm recital. There is plenty to do and see in Bratislava.

Recital 3
Bratislava, Primatial Palace: Duets & solos
Mary Bevan soprano
Benjamin Appl baritone
Julius Drake piano

The second concert of the day takes place in the Mirror Hall in 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 downtown Bratislava.

Mary Bevan is an outstanding young British singer, whose numerous awards include the Royal Philharmonic Society’s Young Artist Award in 2015. Benjamin Appl is a German baritone who studied at the Guildhall School in London and now performs in opera and Lieder throughout Europe.

The recital includes songs by Schumann, Mendelssohn and Brahms.

After the concert, sail upstream and moor early next morning at Vienna-Nussdorf.

Day 3, Thursday 7th July: Vienna

The ship is moored all day at Nussdorf, 20 minutes by coach 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 magnificently imperious and the charmingly unpretentious, and it remains one of the world’s greatest centres of art and music.

Recital 4
Vienna, Konzerthaus, Schubert-Saal: Nordic song
Katarina Karnéus mezzo-soprano
Julius Drake piano

The prolific architectural firm of Fellner & Helmer designed opera houses and concert halls throughout the Habsburg Empire, but the Konzerthaus (1911–13) was their largest undertaking. The 300-seat Schubert-Saal is the smallest of the three auditoria within the complex.

Befitting the origins of the singer, the programme features composers from Norway, Sweden and Finland – Grieg, Sibelius, Wilhelm Peterson-Berger and Wilhelm Stenhammar. Their careers encompassed the years of national reawakening in the Nordic countries, a highly fruitful period of creativity in all the arts.

Born in Stockholm, Katarina Karnéus studied in London at Trinity College and the National Opera Studio. She won BBC Cardiff Singer of the World in 1995 before going on to an international career with major roles at the Metropolitan Opera, Covent Garden, Glyndebourne and the Deutsche Staatsoper.

Return to the ship for lunch after the recital, or remain in Vienna – your choice. The afternoon is free for independent exploration of the city or for a guided tour.

Recital 5
Vienna, Musikverein, Brahms-Saal: Schubert – poems by Ernst Schulze & others
Christoph Prégardien tenor
Christoph Schnackertz piano

Christoph Prégardien is one of today’s truly great Lieder singers. His highly distinguished career is also notable for his work in opera, oratorio and Baroque music. He regularly works with the young pianist Christoph Schnackertz who is from Cologne.

This carefully constructed all-Schubert programme begins with nine settings of Ernst Schulze and continues with poems by Rückert, Schlegel and others.

Built in 1869 as home of the Vienna Philharmonic, the Musikverein is perhaps the most famous concert hall in the world. This recital of songs by Schubert takes place in the Brahms-Saal, the smaller of the two auditoria.

Return to the ship for dinner. Moor overnight in Nussdorf.

Day 4, Friday 8th July: Eisenstadt, Eckartsau

Drive 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. Josef Haydn was in Esterházy service in one way or another for most of his adult life so many of his compositions were first performed in this Schloss.

Recital 6
Eisenstadt, Schloss Esterhàzy, Empiresaal: Haydn & Mozart
Miah Persson soprano
Roger Vignoles piano

Miah Persson, our second Swedish singer, is in demand at leading opera houses around the world. She began her career in Stockholm singing mainly Mozart roles, and though her repertoire is now broad she regularly returns to Classical composers.

Haydn and Mozart form the bulk of this morning’s programme, with a smattering of Scandinavian nuggets.

The concert takes place in the smaller of the two halls, which was refurbished in Neo-Classical style towards the end of Haydn’s life.

Return to the ship and during lunch sail from Vienna-Nussdorf to Hainburg, a small walled town close to the Slovakian border, where Haydn went to school. Drive to Schloss Eckartsau.

Recital 7
Schloss Eckartsau, Festsaal: Wagner & beyond
Susan Bullock soprano
Malcolm Martineau piano

Susan Bullock CBE is one of Britain’s leading dramatic sopranos. She was the first to sing four cycles of Wagner’s Ring at Covent Garden. Other roles include Strauss’s Elektra, Wagner’s Isolde, and more recently Puccini’s Minnie in The Girl of the Golden West, Mrs Lovett in Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd and Elizabeth in Britten’s Gloriana.

This programme includes Wagner’s Wesendonck Lieder and moves through Berg, Marx and Wolf.

Schloss Eckartsau is a Baroque hunting lodge which was extended for Archduke Franz Ferdinand (he of the Sarajevo assassination 1914). Four years later, in March 1919, it became the last Austrian residence of the last Emperor of Austria.

Return to the ship and sail back upstream to Vienna-Nussdorf during the course of the evening.

Day 5, Saturday 9th July: Vienna

Wake up in Vienna-Nussdorf where, after the morning talk, coaches take you to the centre for a second opportunity to explore the city and visit an art gallery or two. Recommendations include the great Baroque library of the Habsburg palace, the Belvedere Palace for the Klimts and Schieles, the excellent Museum of Historical Musical Instruments and the Kunsthistorisches Museum, one of the greatest art collections in the world.

Recital 8
Vienna, Albertina: Schubert & Liszt
André Schuen baritone
Daniel Heide piano

The Albertina, a Habsburg residence named after a son-in-law of Empress Maria Theresa, is home to one of the world’s greatest collections of prints and drawings. The building was refurbished at the beginning of the 19th century, and the light-filled, delicately Neo-Classical Hall of Muses where the concert takes place is contemporary with Schubert’s maturity.

André Schuen comes from South Tyrol in Italy and studied at the Salzburg Mozarteum where he won numerous prizes and awards. He has performed in opera houses and festivals in Austria and has developed a wide Lieder repertoire with the pianist Daniel Heide.

Educated in Weimar, Daniel has performed at numerous Lieder recitals in Germany, Austria, Switzerland, France, Italy, Greece and the Czech Republic.

The programme is a fascinating compilation of mainstream songs by Schubert and Liszt (Three Petrarch Sonnets) with a dose of South Tyrolean folksongs in Ladinish by the regional composers Felix Dapoz and Jepele Frontull.

After the concert, return to the ship and sail throughout the evening upstream to Krems.

Day 6, Sunday 10th July: Grafenegg, Dürnstein

The boat moors in Krems during the night. Disembark for the short drive to Schloss Grafenegg, a mediaeval country residence, which was augmented with one of Austria’s most flamboyant and successful essays in Gothic Revival.

Recital 9
Schloss Grafenegg, Gartensaal: French song
Véronique Gens soprano
Susan Manoff piano

At the end of a procession of rooms, elaborately decorated with carved and inlaid woodwork, the 1840s Garden Room is filled with natural light.

Véronique Gens is one of the finest living French singers. Initially acquiring fame in Baroque opera, she has widened her repertoire to include roles by Mozart and songs by 19th and 20th-century French composers. Susan Manoff was born in New York of Latvian and German descent. She has become a much sought-after accompanist for art song and also performs chamber music and solo piano in the world’s leading concert halls.

This morning’s programme includes songs by Duparc, Chausson, Hahn and Debussy.

Return to the ship and sail through the Wachau, one of the most beautiful stretches of the Danube. Moor at Dürnstein, perhaps the loveliest little town on the river. The ruins of a castle in which Richard the Lionheart was imprisoned cling to a steep hill which rears behind, while a gorgeous Baroque abbey church perches on the waterfront. Disembark for an early evening concert.

Recital 10
Dürnstein Abbey, Prälatensaal: Songs by Schumann
Ian Bostridge tenor
Julius Drake piano

The venue is the principal reception room in the abbey, perfect in size and shape for a Lieder recital, handsomely decorated with Neoclassical frescoes and looking out over the Danube.

Ian Bostridge is one of Britain’s most distinguished and distinctive tenors, with an international recital career and appearances at Covent Garden, English National Opera, the Bavarian State Opera and elsewhere. His recordings have won international prizes and have been nominated for 12 Grammys.

The programme consists of settings by Robert Schumann of poetry by Eichendorff, Justinus Kerner and Hans Christian Andersen.

Return to the ship and sail overnight to Linz.

Day 7, Monday 11th July: Linz

Moor at Linz, the historic capital of Upper Austria. A picturesque maze of streets, alleys and historic buildings is grouped around the huge market square a few metres from the mooring. There is some free time in Linz before either returning to the ship for lunch or remaining in the centre until the afternoon recital.

Recital 11
Linz, Palais Kaufmännischer Verein: English song
Roderick Williams baritone
Susie Allan piano

The Palais Kaufmännischer Verein was built in the 1890s with a suite of lavishly decorated halls for assorted gatherings and celebrations. The Picture Hall is a fin-de-siècle creation enriched with gilded Baroque motifs and ennobled with fine history paintings.

Roderick Williams is one of Britain’s most brilliant and versatile baritones and performs repertoire from Baroque to contemporary, in the opera house and on the concert platform. He is also a composer. Susie Allan studied at Oxford and the Guildhall School and has performed all over Britain and Europe with a variety of well-established singers, in particular Roderick Williams.

Their programme is a wonderful compilation of songs by English composers of the early 20th century – Ralph Vaughan Williams, Roger Quilter, John Ireland, Ivor Gurney, George Butterworth, Gerald Finzi, Peter Warlock, Ernest John Moeran and Benjamin Britten.

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, Tuesday 12th July: Passau, Munich

The ship moors at Passau and coaches leave for Munich city centre and the airport between 8.30 and 9.30am. See 'Practicalities' for the options available for return travel to London. Selecting Option 6 allows for five hours of independent sightseeing in Munich.

More about the concerts

Private events. These concerts are planned and administered by Martin Randall Travel. The audience, no more than 120, consists exclusively of those who have booked the full festival package.

Seating. Specific seats are not reserved. You sit where you want.

Acoustics. This festival is more concerned with authenticity and ambience than acoustical perfection. While some of the venues have excellent acoustics, others have idiosyncrasies not found in modern concert halls.

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.

Changes. Musicians fall ill, venues require restoration, programmes are subject to artists’ changes of mind: there are many unforeseeable circumstances which could necessitate changes to the programme. We ask you to be understanding should they occur.

Booking online

If you wish to travel on Day-1, we recommend that you contact us by telephone to make your booking.


Haydn Deck (lowest)
Two sharing: £3,190 per person
Single occupancy*: £3,830

Strauss Deck (middle)
Two sharing: £3,820 per person
Single occupancy*: £4,590

Mozart Deck (top)
Two sharing: £4,250 per person
Single occupancy*: £5,100

Suites (Mozart Deck)
Two sharing: £4,990 per person

*All cabins are designed to accommodate two passengers. 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 £4,150; Strauss £4,970; Mozart £5,530).

The above prices do not include flights. We are offering seats on a selection of flights which vary in price. See the end of the itinerary for details.

The festival package

The price includes: admission to eleven concerts; accommodation for seven nights on board a first-class river cruiser; all meals, from lunch on the first day to breakfast on the last; wine is provided with lunch and dinner; interval drinks; afternoon tea or morning coffee on board the ship when it fits with our itinerary; travel by coach to the concert venues when they are beyond walking distance; lectures by a musicologist; all tips for crew, restaurant staff and drivers, and all state and airport taxes; practical and historical information and a detailed programme booklet; the assistance of an experienced team of festival staff.

Joining & leaving the festival

Flights are not included in the basic price of the festival, but we have reserved some seats on the flights offered below.

Fly out on Monday 4th July:

Option 1: morning, a day early London Heathrow to Budapest, departing 8.50am (BA 866, arriving Budapest 12.20pm). Coach transfer to the Hotel InterContinental Budapest, where one night is spent. Price, including flight (one-way), airport transfer and one night’s hotel accommodation: £250 per person (two sharing) or £300 (single occupancy).

Option 2: afternoon, a day early London Heathrow to Budapest, departing 2.35pm (BA 868, arriving Budapest 6.00pm). Coach transfer to the Hotel InterContinental Budapest, where one night is spent. Price, including flight (one-way), airport transfer and one night’s hotel accommodation: £210 per person (two sharing) or £260 (single occupancy).

Fly out on Tuesday 5th July:

Option 3: morning, day 1 London Heathrow to Budapest, departing 8.50am (BA 866, arriving Budapest 12.20pm). Coach to the centre of Budapest. Board the ship after the concert. Price, including flight (one-way) and airport transfer: £220.

Fly back on Tuesday 12th July:

Option 4: early-afternoon Munich to London Heathrow, departing 12.55pm (BA 951, arriving London Heathrow at 2.00pm). Price, including flight (one-way) and airport transfer: £90.

Option 5: mid-afternoon Munich to London Heathrow, with a stop in Landshut, departing 4.25pm (BA 953, arriving London Heathrow at 5.25pm). Participants have two hours in Landshut, a former capital of Bavaria with its Renaissance and Baroque house fronts, the great Gothic church of St Martin and the precociously Italianate Renaissance ducal palace. Price, including flight (one-way) and airport transfer: £130.

Option 6: evening Munich to London Heathrow, with free time in Munich, departing 6.50pm (BA 961, arriving London Heathrow at 7.50pm). Participants have until 3.50pm in Munich. Price, including flight (one-way) and airport transfer: £100.

Participants on the pre-festival tours 'Vienna’s Masterpieces' and 'Budapest':

Participants are booked on the 12.55pm flight BA 951 (Option 4) on the final day of the festival (12th July). You do not have to make a choice of inbound journey, or pay an extra supplement for your flight as flights are already included in the cost of the pre-festival tours.

The ship

The MS Amadeus Royal is one of the more comfortable cruisers on the waterways of Europe and was completely renovated in 2015. 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., individually adjustable air-conditioning, telephone, TV and safe. Special attention has been paid to noise insulation.

In layout and furnishings the cabins are identical, the significant differences being the size of windows and height above water level (higher cabins enjoy marginally 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, having floor to ceiling windows which slide open. Also on the Mozart deck are four suites measuring approximately 22m2 which have a bath and minibar. Cabins on the Haydn deck have smaller panoramic windows that cannot be opened.

There are no single cabins as such but we are allocating some two-bed cabins for single occupancy.

The public areas on the upper deck include the lounge and bar, a library area and a restaurant which can seat everyone at a single sitting. The sun deck has a small jacuzzi and a tented area for shade. The ship has a lift.

Information about the ship is available at

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 most of the venues do not. Participants need to be averagely fit, sure-footed and able to manage everyday walking and stair-climbing without difficulty.

This festival is not really suitable for wheelchair users but please speak to us if you would like to discuss this.

There is no age limit for this festival or for the pre-festival tours but we do ask that prospective participants assess their fitness by trying some simple exercises described here:

Self-assessment tests

  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.

'The selection of artists, locales and programs were faultlessly combined to present thrilling concerts.'

'Sublime! What more can one say – so many good memories.'

'We have been on many MRT Music Festivals, starting in 1997 on the Danube. They have always been the BEST travel experience we have ever had!'

'The planning and implementation were superb in every tiny detail... This was a holiday of a lifetime.'

'The quality of the singers and pianists was what drew us to this festival, with the special venues an added attraction – since our return, we have not stopped telling friends how special it was.'

'Thank you to everyone concerned for an unforgettable experience... The whole week was a triumph.'