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Classical Music Vacation Packages: You Can't Get There From Here

Why travel agencies and online vacation planners don't offer classical music packages

by Drew McManus
November 21, 2005

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Classical Music Vacation Packages: You Can't Get There From Here
Classical Music Vacation Packages: You Can't There From Here_Drew McManus-Why travel agencies and online vacation planners don't offer classical music packages
I love to hear orchestras in their home venues. Seeing them on tour is wonderful but you know they’ll have their “A” game ready for those performances, as such, traveling to their home town for a concert provides a better representative example of what their average performance quality is like. You also have the opportunity to experience the acoustics for their respective concert halls, a variable capable of preventing a good orchestra from being great and vice versa. Given the wide variety of good orchestras and the even wider range of concert hall acoustics, traveling around the country or even a given region should provide for a memorable set of concert going experiences.
Unfortunately, you’re on your own if you want to plan such a trip. Finding a travel agent who offers prearranged travel packages focused on symphony orchestra concerts appears to be impossible. I spent close to an hour at Google and online vacation planners such as Orbitz and Travelocity looking for vacation packages which arranged travel, lodging, and tickets for symphonic orchestra concerts. I came away from the experience having discovered that nothing of the kind exists.
Nevertheless, I did find a number of vacation packages designed around European and Russian orchestra concerts. I even ran across some classical music oriented cruises, although, once again, nearly all of them were European based. The only thing I could find which came close to what I was looking for were some opera based vacation tour packages designed and sponsored by classical music radio stations. Regrettably, most of them only had plans to travel to Europe.
It just goes to show how inconsequential classical music is to the American cultural consciousness right now. But it doesn’t need to be this way, given the close proximity of some of the country’s best orchestras; putting together an orchestra vacation package should be quite simple. You could easily travel from Philadelphia, New York, and Boston via Amtrak and never have to worry about renting a car (or messing with the hassle of airports).
In each of those towns, the primary venue for their large orchestras is within a few miles of the train stations so transportation is a snap. Throw in a nice hotel and you’re all done. You could design a trip like over as little as three days.
How about other regional vacations? You could link up Cleveland, Pittsburgh, and Detroit easily enough. Then there’s the west coast wine and orchestra trip which could take you from San Francisco, to Portland, and end up in Seattle.
If you’re lazy or really hate to travel, look into a double-for-nothing option where great orchestras are within 90 minutes of each other such as Washington D.C./Baltimore, Chicago/Milwaukee, Dallas/Fort Worth, and Minnesota/St. Paul. 
If planning trips to visit orchestras in their natural habitat is so easy, why aren’t travel agencies and online vacation planning services putting packages together? And why are so many of the packages which do exist through places like classical music radio stations going overseas to Europe? I think it simply comes down to perceived demand. I use the term perceived because in order to get this ball rolling, it’s going to take a concerted effort. Either a group of orchestras will need to cooperate on an ongoing basis and offer a regularly occurring package for interested parties or a coalition of organizations will need to approach the larger travel agencies and online vacation planners to design something for them.
In the end, the idea is to get those not directly connected to classical music interested in seeing orchestras as an attractive entertainment commodity. If the business can reach that collective goal, then that’s a good sign.
Postscript: I did find a bountiful number of Broadway oriented vacation packages, but nothing even related to orchestra concerts. It just goes to show you how the outside looks in at classical music.

Comments (4)

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Lisa Hirsch from Oakland, CA writes:
November 22, 2005
There are lots of opera vacation packages available, for the US and Europe. Best place to look for them: why, Opera News, of course!

One problem is that they are very expensive. Yeah, you get good seats and theoretically first-class hotels. I'd just as soon make my own travel arrangements and decisions about what to see and where to sit.

Lisa Hirsch from Oakland, CA writes:
November 23, 2005
I went through the print edition of Opera News and found the following possibilities:

Great Performance Tours (www.greatperformancetours.com), on p. 35

Morgan Tours (www.morgantours.com), p. 56

Metropolitan Opera Guild (www.metoperafamily.org/guild/travel/), p. 65, p. 76

Operatic Tours (www.OperaticTours.com), p. 72

Dailey-Thorp Opera and Music Tours (www.daileythorp.com), p. 73

andrea b. from Baltimore, MD writes:
November 25, 2005
Our local classical radio station WBJC-FM, which admittedly gets rave reviews from listeners far and wide, puts on (I think they still do) classical/opera travel tours once a year, led by host Jonathan Palevsky.

They go to Italian and Eastern European houses, if I'm not mistaken and get to hear some fantastic performances of some fine artists on their home turf. Jonathan is extremely knowledgeable, capable and friendly both as the tour guide and music guru on the scene.

I inevitably wish I had the money for some of those trips! Just hearing the promos leading up to those trips just makes my mouth water...

Frank Manheim from Fairfax VA writes:
November 27, 2005
We recently came back from a trip to the Baltic Sea area, visiting Finland, St. Petersburg Russia, and Estonia - and of course going to concerts in each country. It was fascinating to see the different approaches and musical resources in those three countries. Russia is an economic and administrative mess - but what a cultural heritage! Incidentally, I noted that the Concertmaster in the Washington Opera's orchestra for the marvelous Porgy and Bess production was a Russian. He must be good to be able to outcompete all those virtuosic Koreans, Japanese, and Chinese, as well as U.S. and other European violinists. The biggest thrill in St. Petersburg for us, however, was a rousing folk music and dance concert touring from the mouth of the Volga to Moscow and Lenin-- oops, St. Petersburg. No refined conservatory group, this ensemble had the taste of authenticity with earthy humorous touches, along with its rousing dance and choral numbers.

Estonia was completing a major summer classical music festival in Tallinn, the capital city, when we visited this most ancient of European cities. Estonia has a long musical tradition and many fine musicians - despite its suffering more than the other Baltic nations, Latvia and Lithuania, as a Soviet Republic after World War II.

1980's iron curtain joke: What's the biggest Soviet Republic? Estonia - Because its capital is on the Baltic Sea, it's leaders reside in Moscow, while most of the population lives in Siberia

However from the reformist point of view Independent Estonia's music leaders seem more enamored of participation in internationalist musical correctness [e.g. composers like Erkki Sven Tüür and the recently deceased electronic composer, Lepo Sumera], than in building public and young peoples' interest in music - as the Finns have done.

Finland's burgeoning crop of conductors is grabbing top positions all over the U.S. and Europe. Its national conservatory, at 1700 students, is one of the world's largest and most active.

Everything is more expensive in Helsinki except low-cost Finnish CDs (especially rarely heard works by Finnish composers like Jan Sibelius, Selim Palmgren, and the rediscovered Bernhard Henrik Crusell, a gifted 18th Century composer whose clarinet concerti fool many to thinking they are hearing Mozart). A highlight for us was hearing the brilliant Julliard Conservatory Orchestra augmented with Finnish players, in the Helsinki Temple Church. this unique church gains special resonance because it is a circular cave, carved into the bare granite of an elevated area in Helsinki. Only in Finland.

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