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Sarah Lyons shares her experience of a Martin Randall Travel music festival

posted on 22/12/16

The Danube Festival of Song in July 2016 was the 23rd incarnation of the musical journey down Europe’s mightiest river, and my first experience of a Martin Randall Travel music festival. A stalwart of the MRT programme, the journey combines some of central Europe’s finest cities, relaxed river cruising and intimate private performances to make it a perennial favourite.  

Our first day comprised a lunch for all festival participants and a recital in the Liszt Academy from Hungarian mezzo-soprano Dorottya Láng, before boarding our ship for a dinner with spectacular views of the city on both riverbanks.  

From here, our tour of the grand cities adorning the river continued. The pedestrian-only Old Town in Bratislava was charming; Vienna was, of course, stately, gleaming and packed with museums, galleries and monuments around every corner. Travelling by boat allowed us to enjoy the rural surroundings scattered with villages, including the vast Melk Abbey sitting high in the hills and the  baroque Dürnstein Abbey, with riotous shades of blue and yellow rising up from the riverbanks, offering an alternative perspective from which to view the river and beyond.  

Dürnstein Abbey makes for only one of the excellent venues made available for our concerts. We secured palaces, galleries and private homes to host our world-class performers. The special association between location and the music performed made for a deeper understanding of the works and composers, assisted by Professor Richard Stokes’ illuminating pre-concert talks.  

Being a programme of Lieder, this intimacy was enhanced by the simple pairing of a singer and a pianist. One of the most striking concerts was of French song performed by Véronique Gens (soprano) and Susan Manoff (piano), between whom a profound sororal relationship and a shared love for art song became clear.  

The sense of congeniality among festival participants, each with a different interest and knowledge of Lieder, extended to the time spent on the ship and especially made for interesting dinner conversation. The meals were plentiful and tasty, there was a comfortable lounge and bar and the sunny top deck made for a pleasant way to spend free time watching the river flow by.  Having no prior experience of a river cruiser, I was surprised with its spaciousness, comfort and smoothness while travelling.   

The 24th Danube Festival in August 2017 celebrates music from the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The music includes Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Brahms and Dvořák. Vienna, Bratislava and Dürnstein remain essential to any Danube river cruse, but there will also be performances at the Stadttheater in Grein, Schloss Kittsee and Göttweig Abbey. While many elements of each Martin Randall Travel river festival remain constant year on year (the comfortable river cruiser, elegant venues and top-class performers), our careful pairing of music and place means that each year the Danube festival can bring new experiences to familiar ground


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