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Toledo: A Festival of Spanish Music

Seven private concerts of music associated with the historic city of Toledo performed in beautiful and appropriate buildings.

Wide ranging programme: Sephardic, Moorish, Christian as well as music from Latin America 
and 20th-century Spain.

Musicians of the highest calibre from Britain and Spain, including The Tallis Scholars, Ex Cathedra, Orphénica Lyra, Musica Antigua, and Carlos Bonell, Soledad Cardoso, Craig Odgen and Clara Mouriz.

Professor Owen Rees and Professor Richard Langham Smith talk about the music, Dr Xavier Bray and Gijs van Hensbergen about art and history.

Suits independent-minded travellers as well as those who like the social aspect of these events.

Time to explore Toledo, optional guided visits to key buildings, excursion to the Palacio de Aranjuez.

  • Toledo, bridge and cathedral, mezzotint c. 1920 by Fred Milland, after a painting c. 1900 by Henry Charles Brewer (1866–1950).
  • oledo, Monasterio de San Juan de los Reyes, lithograph c. 1850.
  • Toledo, 20th-century etching.
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Spain was the dominant power in Europe in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries and her musical life gloriously reflected that status. Whatever the causes of Spain’s subsequent slippage from the centre of European affairs, the twin facts are that, first, some of the finest Renaissance and Baroque music is Spanish and, second, much of this heritage remains unknown.

Toledo makes an incomparable place in which to hear this music. The Old Hispanic or Mozarabic Rite – characteristically Iberian and distinct from the Roman liturgical rites that replaced it elsewhere – survives in Toledo and at its Cathedral. During the Renaissance the Catedral Primada Santa María de Toledo maintained a prodigious musical establishment of singers, organists and wind-players (ministriles), befitting its status as the primatial church of Spain. The chapel masters of the Cathedral during this golden age included Cristóbal de Morales (during the 1540s), Bernardino de Ribera (1560s) and Alonso Lobo (at the end of the century), and the cathedral’s Renaissance music manuscripts constitute the richest collection in Spain.

Toledo displays the masonry residue of a greater mix of peoples and civilizations than perhaps any other city in the world. Capital of Visigothic, Islamic and (from 1085) Christian states, it was a wealthy, sophisticated and tolerant centre which attracted a large and cosmopolitan population. The Jewish community here was one of the most important in Europe; a concert of Sephardic music in one of the city’s synagogues contributes to the festival’s diverse programme.

The repertoire is broadened further with Latin American baroque performed in the monastery of San Juan de los Reyes, which was built by the Catholic Monarchs who authorised and financed the 1492 expedition of Christopher Columbus. An excursion to the Royal Palace at Aranjuez is complemented by a concert featuring Rodrigo’s 1939 Concierto de Aranjuez for guitar.

Music is but one of the ingredients in what promises to be a magical few days. We are accompanied by three expert lecturers who introduce the music, art and history through a series of morning talks.

Shortly after its capital status had been lost to Madrid, El Greco (1541–1614) arrived in Toledo (from Crete by way of Venice and Rome) and during his forty years here fulfilled innumerable commissions. Many of his incandescent and spiritually charged paintings remain in situ. Optional visits with an art historian allow for detailed study of his works.

Crammed onto the crown of a river-girt promontory, Toledo is an enchanting, compact city, its population a quarter of what it was in the Middle Ages. The countryside begins at the foot of the mighty circuit of city walls, the green, undulating plain of La Mancha, playground of Don Quixote. The combination of major architecture and great works of art with the unspoilt and almost deserted backstreets and byways make a stay here deeply rewarding.

The festival package

Access to the concerts is exclusive to those who take the festival package, the price for which includes:

Flights between the UK and Madrid from London Heathrow or Gatwick airports.

Seven concerts. Tickets to individual events will not be available.

Accommodation for five or six nights in one of five carefully selected hotels. 

Coach transfers between Madrid airport and the hotels. If you book your own flights, you can join these transfers if your flights coincide with one of the festival flight options.

Meals. All breakfasts and three dinners with wine, water, coffee. Drinks are provided during concert intervals.

Lectures on the music by Professor Owen Rees and Professor Richard Langham Smith, and on the art and history of Toledo by Gijs van Hensbergen and Dr Xavier Bray.

All tips for restaurant staff, drivers, porters etc.

All taxes and obligatory charges. (We do not surcharge.)

Festival staff will be present to facilitate the smooth running of the event. All speak Spanish.

Programme booklet. Every participant is issued with a booklet which contains information about the itinerary, the concerts and all the arrangements.

In addition, there are extra services which can be booked:

A range of visits and short walks led by art historians and appropriate experts.

A package of an extra two dinners, which means each evening is spent in the company of other festival participants. 

Pre-festival tours. There are four to choose from: The Douro, Art in Madrid, The Heart of Spain or Gastronomic Valencia

The concerts

Convento de Santo Domingo el Antiguo
Music from the time of El Greco
La Grande Chapelle | Albert Recasens director

The musical tradition of Toledo cathedral at the time of El Greco was one of the most magnificent of Spain. This programme includes works dedicated to the Virgin Mary, evoking one of the spectacular Toledan festivities, the Immaculate Conception, when voices and instruments join together to create wonderful polyphony. The music featured was either written by chapel masters of the cathedral (Andrés de Torrentes, Ginés de Boluda, Alonso Lobo and Alonso de Tejeda) or found in books acquired by the Chapter that include works by Francisco Guerrero, Tomás Luis de Victoria, Juan Navarro, Philippe Rogier, Bernardino de Ribera and Rodrigo Ceballos.

La Grande Chapelle is a superb Spanish vocal and instrumental early music ensemble that applies new interpretations to the great vocal works of the 16th to 18th centuries, in particular Baroque polyphony. They also focus on reviving forgotten works from the Spanish repertoire. Under the directorship of Albert Recasens, they have won numerous national and international awards for their recordings.

Santo Domingo el Antiguo is a Cistercian convent, founded in 1085 after Toledo’s recapture from the Moors. But it’s probably much older than that, dating back to the 6th century, when Toledo was the seat of Visigothic kings. The church was rebuilt in the 16th century, and possesses an altarpiece by El Greco. His first major commission in Spain after his arrival from Rome, it’s understandable from its quality why the work brought the Cretan master instant celebrity. El Greco himself is buried here.

Monasterio de San Juan de los Reyes

Baroque Music from Latin America: Fire Burning in Snow
Ex Cathedra | Jeffrey Skidmore director

‘For fire burning in snow is the effect of love’. The final line of Juan de Araujo’s Dime, amor gives this concert its title and conjures up the passion and dramatic contrasts which make it such a delight. Araujo (1646–1712) has been described by many commentators as the greatest Latin American composer of the age, although much of his output is only rarely performed. His music is rhythmically arresting and wonderfully evocative with much indigenous imagery.

With a repertoire that reaches from the 12th to the 21st centuries, Ex Cathedra is one of the UK’s leading choral and Early Music ensembles. They are known for their passion for seeking out the best, the unfamiliar and the unexpected in the choral repertoire, and for giving dynamic performances which are underpinned by detailed research. The group has received rapturous acclaim for their interpretations of the exuberant Latin American Baroque repertoire.

Austere on the outside, flamboyant within, the Monasterio de San Juan de los Reyes was founded by the all-conquering ‘Catholic Kings’, Ferdinand II of Aragon and Isabella I of Castile, who united Spain in the 15th century. Built to celebrate their defeat of Alfonso V of Portugal in 1476, it was originally intended as their mausoleum too, which explains the richness of the decoration and the unusually spacious layout. Its double-height cloister is the prettiest in the city, and is planted with myrtle, cypress, orange, and pomegranate.

Sinagoga del Tránsito

The Golden Age of Sephardic music
Musica Antigua | Eduardo Paniagua director

Close Arabic-Jewish interaction in Spain in the 10th and 11th centuries led to a flourishing Jewish culture and the production of poetry and literature in Hebrew, both sacred and secular. Muslim Spain became known for its poets, musicians and instrumentalists and for every event there was a song or piece of music. While the melodies have not survived, emotive themes from the Andalusian-Magreb tradition are used to revive these ancient texts.

Eduardo Paniagua is a pioneer in the performance of mediaeval music in Spain, dedicating himself to projects related to its three cultural heritages: Christian, Muslim and Jewish. He is joined by three singers and two instrumentalists (laud, salterio (zither), flutes and percussion).

There were once ten synagogues in Toledo – testament to the city’s religious tolerance before the Inquisition. El Tránsito is one of two that remain. It was built 1360–66 by Samuel Ha-Levi Abulafia, treasurer to King Pedro the Cruel, and is a simple galleried hall, made magical by its decoration. The raised stucco frieze bears comparison with the decoration in the Alhambra in Granada, and survived the building’s 400-year stint as a church as well as some rough treatment by Napoleon’s army.

Sinagoga de Santa María la Blanca

Memories of Spain
Clara Mouriz mezzo-soprano | Craig Odgen classical guitar

This concert features Spanish song from the late-19th and early-20th centuries, accompanied by guitar.

Spanish born Clara Mouriz is rapidly establishing herself as one of the most exciting mezzo-sopranos of her generation, performing both opera and song. She made her debut at Wigmore Hall in 2007 and has returned regularly. Her first solo recital CD of Spanish song was released in 2010 and a second is due in 2016.

Mezzo-soprano Clara Mouriz will be accompanied by Australian-born guitarist Craig Ogden, one of the UK’s most recorded guitarists. Five of his albums have reached number 1 in the UK classical charts and he regularly performs concertos with prestigious orchestras both at home and abroad. He is Head of Guitar at the Royal Northern College of Music and a visiting lecturer at the London’s Royal College of Music. Their programme will include songs that reflect the Hebraic inheritance of Toledo, including works by Falla, Granados, Rodrigo and Ravel.

Santa María la Blanca was Toledo’s main synagogue at the end of the 12th century, later converted into a church in the 15th. Although much restored, it remains a fine example of Mudéjar and Almohad architecture; its five naves separated by pillars supporting horseshoe arches with ornate capitals, fine stucco work and a coffered wooden ceiling.

Toledo Cathedral

Morales & Victoria
The Tallis Scholars | Peter Phillips director

Morales, Victoria and Lobo were all associated with the musical life of Toledo in different ways and at different times. This concert features some of their grandest compositions. The chanson Mille regretz, probably by Josquin des Prez, was one of the most copied secular compositions of the period and the substantial six-voice setting by Morales is perhaps the best known of all of them. The Tallis also perform Lobo’s rarely heard Lamentations, alongside Victoria’s double-choir Magnificat, surely the greatest setting of this popular text in the Spanish repertoire.

With more than four decades of performance and a catalogue of award-winning recordings, Peter Phillips and The Tallis Scholars have done more than any other group to establish sacred vocal music of the Renaissance as one of the great repertoires of Western music. They remain world leaders in the field of polyphony, and are steadfast in their devotion to mastering the complexity and maximising the beauty of this extraordinary episode in the history of civilization.

The concert takes place in front of the main altar in Toledo’s magnificent cathedral. Built between 1227 and 1493, it is one of the greatest examples of gothic architecture in Spain and is overflowing with extraordinary works of art (El Greco, Velázquez, Titian), though none is more striking than the ceiling-high retablo mayor. Festooned with painted sculpture, it constitutes a vast and defiant expression of late-gothic sensibility in the face of Renaissance, making for a thrilling backdrop to our evening.

Teatro de Rojas

Concierto de Aranjuez
Carlos Bonell guitar
Orchestra to be confirmed

The Concierto de Aranjuez was the first work that Joaquín Rodrigo wrote for guitar and orchestra. It is also his most famous composition, and one of the most beautiful. Inspired by the extensive gardens of the Royal Palace at Aranjuez, a summer residence inhabited and embellished by both Habsburgs and Bourbon kings, Rodrigo successfully evokes (in his own words) ‘the fragrance of magnolias, the singing of birds, and the gushing of fountains’.

The celebrated guitarist Carlos Bonell was born in London of Spanish parents and studied at the Royal College of Music, where he was later the youngest person ever to be made professor, in 1972. His career includes TV, film and CD recordings (he has made more than twenty albums), tours to over forty countries around the world, concertos with major orchestras and the creation of his own ensemble.

The Teatro de Rojas is situated on the Plaza Major, a few steps from the Cathedral and the Alcázar. Opened in 1879 on the site of the old theatre, it is a clever design which turns through almost 90 degrees as it squeezes between the surrounding houses and shops. Inside, the auditorium is rather magnificent. Ornate, horseshoe-shaped and renovated in both 1989 and 2001, it’s had a chequered history, especially in the early 20th century when ventriloquists and magicians were more likely to appear on its stage than actors.

Hospital de Tavera

Music from Spain and Italy, 1500–1700
Orphénica Lyra | José Miguel Moreno director
Soledad Cardoso soprano

The Habsburg dynasty was at its most powerful in Spain in the 16th and 17th centuries which led to a period of great cultural expansion. Spanish musicians were able to spend time in Italy and this programme celebrates that particular musical interchange. Included are works for voice and instrumental ensemble with emphasis on the baroque guitar and vihuela (its courtly predecessor), by composers such as Alonso Mudarra, Diego Ortiz, Juan Hidalgo, Andrea Falconiero and Claudio Monteverdi.

Vihuelist José Miguel Moreno is widely recognised as one of the leading specialists in the world of period plucked instruments. He founded Orphénica Lyra in 1999, an ensemble comprising the leading names in Spanish early music.

Since leaving her native Argentina, Soledad Cardoso has enjoyed a rich operatic career in Europe, performing at the Teatro Real in Madrid, the Théâtre des Champs Elysées in Paris and the Barbican Centre in London, among many other prestigious venues and festivals. She has also toured with William Christie and Les Arts Florissants as well as the guitarist Kaori Muraji in Japan.

Our venue for the concert is the Hospital de Tavera, just outside the city walls – a remarkable project, begun in 1541, which embraced many new ideas from Renaissance Italy. This was Spain’s first purely classical building, commissioned by one of its most powerful men – Cardinal Tavera and it was a tourist attraction even in the 17th century. Most remarkable are its elegant and airy courtyards, but the complex is also home to an exquisite 16th-century pharmacy, and an altarpiece by El Greco.

More about the concerts

Exclusive access. The concerts are private, being planned, promoted and administered by Martin Randall Travel exclusively for an audience consisting of those who have taken the full festival package. 

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

Comfort. Seats in some venues are church pews; consider bringing a cushion. Heating in churches is sometimes inadequate; expect to wear a coat or jacket during those concerts.

Concert times. Three of the seven venues are too small to accommodate all participants and so these concerts are repeated.

Changes. Musicians fall ill, venues close for repair, airlines alter schedules: there are many possible unpredictable 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.

Hotel accommodation

Accommodation for five or six nights is included in the price of the festival and there are five hotels to choose from. We believe we have selected the best available, but one point to observe is the tendency for simplicity over luxury. The hotel is the sole determinant of the different prices for the festival package.

Location. Four of the hotels are in the historic core of Toledo and within walking distance of all the concert venues. The fifth, the Parador, overlooks the city from across the Tagus. Participants staying here have use of a shuttle to move back and forth.

Quiet? There are traffic restrictions within the city walls but busy street life and the occasional permitted vehicle can mean that few hotels can be guaranteed to be absolutely quiet.

Luggage. Traffic restrictions also apply to coaches so there is a possibility that you will have to carry your own luggage from a nearby set-down point to the hotel. Suitcases with wheels are advised.

Rooms vary. As is inevitable in historic buildings, rooms vary in size and outlook.

Suites and rooms with views. Some hotels have suites. Prices are either given below or are available on request. All prices given are per person.

There is a reduction of £130 per person if you choose not to take one of the festival flights.

Hotel Carlos V

This is a 3-star hotel in the heart of the historic centre, a short walk from both the Cathedral and the Alcázar, venue of the morning lectures. Bedrooms (67 in total) are simply furnished but have been recently renovated. There is a large roof terrace with good restaurant, bar and wonderful views. Free wifi.

Arriving 19th May
Premium double (two sharing): £2,420 per person
Premium double for single use: £2,620

Arriving 20th May
Premium double (two sharing): £2,370 per person
Premium double for single use: £2,530

Sercotel San Juan de los Reyes

A small 4-star hotel (35 rooms) very well located for the Monasterio de San Juan de los Reyes and the synagogues of the Jewish Quarter. The building is a former flour mill dating from
the early 1900s and retains the handsome façade. The mainly twin-bedded rooms edge towards the modern while public areas are more traditional. There is a bar, restaurant and small terrace. Free wifi.

Arriving 19th May
Double (two sharing): £2,620 per person
Double for single use: £2,840

Arriving 20th May
Double (two sharing): £2,560 per person
Double for single use £2,740

Sercotel Pintor El Greco

An appealing 4-star hotel (59 rooms) in the Jewish Quarter, and very close to El Greco’s house and museum. Bedrooms follow either a traditional, Castillian style or have more contemporary décor – both feature exposed brickwork and tiled floors. Superior rooms are more spacious. There is a bar but no restaurant although there are plenty of good dining opportunities nearby. Free wifi.

Arriving 19th May
Superior double (two sharing): £2,740 per person
Standard double for single use: £2,880
Superior double for single use: £3,050

Arriving 20th May
Superior double (two sharing): £2,660 per person
Standard double for single use: £2,770
Superior double for single use: £2,920

Parador de Toledo

The modern, 4-star Parador is dramatically sited on a hill overlooking the old town from across the Tagus. Bedrooms (78 in total) are spacious and elegant, and superior rooms and the junior suite have panoramic views. Public areas include a bar, restaurant and terrace, all with superb views. Participants staying here have the use of a shuttle bus to move to and from the centre. They can also choose to have lunch or dinner here (set menu) as part of their room reservation when it does not clash with a festival event (we will provide more details in due course).

Arriving 19th May
Standard double (two sharing): £3,060 per person
Superior double (two sharing): £3,290 per person
Junior Suite (two sharing): £3,580 per person
Standard double for single use: £3,370
Superior double for single use: £3,760

Arriving 20th May
Standard double (two sharing): £2,940 per person
Superior double (two sharing): £3,150 per person
Junior Suite (two sharing): £3,410 per person
Standard double for single use: £3,200
Superior double for single use: £3,540

Hotel Fontecruz

An attractive and comfortable hotel installed in a Renaissance palace just 200m from the Cathedral. It has a 5-star rating but is much more comparable to a boutique 4-star. The 40 bedrooms are elegantly decorated and furnished in neutral colour schemes. Most overlook an internal atrium rather than the street. The junior suites are more spacious and are better appointed. The stylish public areas include a restaurant run by highly regarded Toledo chef Adolfo Muñoz, a lounge, bar service, fitness club and spa. Free wifi. 

Arriving 19th May
Standard double (two sharing): £3,070 per person
Superior double (two sharing): £3,280 per person
Junior Suite (two sharing): £3,570 per person
Standard double for single use: £3,410

Arriving 20th May
Standard double (two sharing): £2,980 per person
Superior double (two sharing): £3,180 per person
Junior Suite (two sharing): £3,440 per person
Standard double for single use: £3,260

Travelling to Toledo

Flights from London to Madrid with British Airways or Iberia Airlines are included in the prices on pages 10–11. Toledo is located c. 85 km from the airport; we expect the coach journey to take c. 1 hour 30 minutes.

Festival flights

Option 1: arrive 19th May.
19th May: depart London Heathrow 14.10, arrive Madrid Barajas 17.35 (British Airways BA 460). 25th May: depart Madrid 13.35, arrive Heathrow 15.10 (Iberia IB 3176).

Option 2: arrive 20th May.
20th May: depart London Gatwick 10.50, arrive Madrid Barajas 14.15 (Iberia Express IB 3175). 25th May: depart Madrid Barajas 18.50, arrive London Gatwick 20.10 (Iberia Express IB 3178).

The no-flights option

There is a reduction of £130 per person for the package without flights. If you plan to make your own way to Toledo please tick Option 3: no flights on the booking form.

Should you decide to join or leave the festival at Madrid airport to coincide with one of our flight arrivals or departures, you are welcome to join a coach transfer. Otherwise you would have to make your own way.

Regional airports

We are happy to quote for connecting flights from regional airports in the UK. Please request this on the booking form.

Optional visits

Optional visits ‘El Greco in Toledo’. Price: £80. Available to those arriving a day early (19th May). On 20th May, visit sites related to El Greco including his house and museum, and a private view of El Entierro del Conde de Orgaz in the church of Santo Tomé. Lunch is included. Led by Dr Xavier Bray or Gijs van Hensbergen; numbers are limited to 22 participants. To request a place, please tick the relevant box on the booking form.

Participants will be able to select from a further selection of walks and visits, led by Dr Xavier Bray or Gijs van Hensbergen. Full information about these and prices will be sent to all those booked at a later stage. There will also be lectures on the art and history of Toledo, which do not need to be booked in advance.

Independent or group travel?

For the independent traveller or a group tour? The answer is both. It’s up to you to choose the degree of independence you want.

If you are uneasy about travelling as part of a group, you can avoid the optional extras and participate in the festival merely by turning up to the concerts (we tell you where and when, and how to get there). The rest of the time is your own. But if you prefer to have some guidance and assistance and opportunity for social interaction you can have group dinners every evening, sign up for some art-historical walks and visits and take advantage of any assistance offered for getting to the venues.

Though there will be up to 170 participants, you will frequently find yourself in much smaller units. Participants are spread through five hotels, and numbers at each restaurant and on the optional walks and visits are limited. Special attention will be paid by festival staff to participants travelling on their own.

Fitness for the festival

We must stress that it is essential to cope with the walking and stair-climbing required to get to the concerts and other events. You should be able to walk unaided for at least thirty minutes. Toledo’s streets are roughly paved and sometimes narrow and steep. Festival staff will not have the resources to assist individuals with walking difficulties.

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 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.

Comments from previous participants on MRT festivals:

‘It was a privilege to experience such music performed by musicians of the highest calibre in such marvellous surroundings.’

‘I know no other company which sets such an impeccable standard at every level.’