After a wonderful evening hosting the Silver Travel Awards in July 2018, John told Jennie Carr about his travel plans in 2019.
We were delighted to have you hosting the Awards earlier this year, what better way could there be of celebrating that undeniable link between music and travel, with Classic FM and Silver Travel Advisor. What are your favourite memories of that evening?
Surviving the moonwalk across the stage, which Robin, the Michael Jackson impersonator, taught me in a brief moment backstage! I was really worried I’d fall over. And also the boundless energy exuded by Wendy Wu – she is amazing!
You’re off on a Uniworld river cruise next year, where will you be going? And what music will this journey evoke for you?
I’m off on an Enchanting Danube cruise, which is at the western end of the river, which flows through Vienna. And there you have an outstanding musical tradition with three Strausses and Schubert being totally Viennese as well as Beethoven, Brahms and Mozart all working and living in the city. It positively oozes music. Despite the fact that the Viennese Waltz is so closely linked with Johann Strauss, he famously couldn’t dance, and what’s more, neither can I!
The cruise will certainly also bring to mind the superb Blue Danube Waltz composed by Johan Strauss II. Originally it was written for the Vienna Male Voice Choir. One of their members was a poet, he wrote the words and Strauss set them to music. In 1867, Strauss and his orchestra performed it in Paris, without the choir, as an additional piece to the concert, and it became an enormous success. So much so, that within a week of its performance, printing presses became worn out producing the music.
What particularly appeals to you about river cruising? Is it the ability to link places you visit to former times, and thus understand more about history? There’s also a realisation, once you’re on a European river, that these were and are the arteries of the continent, linking many countries in way we don’t experience in Britain.
I like the idea that there’s always something new to see and you cruise through historical cities and towns. It’s something I have wanted to do for ages. Many of these places have musical connections, and the musicians of the day would have travelled along these very waterways to reach the various princely courts. Indeed, as a nineteen year old, Beethoven sailed on a yacht with the Bonn Orchestra on the Rhine and Main to a prince’s country residence, and on the journey he had to work his passage as a menial kitchen hand.
It’s well known that river cruising is rather a lovely way to travel, great comfort, small ships and plenty of being looked after!
The Uniworld ships look really luxurious, with beautiful staterooms. I know we are promised superb dining, with wonderful wines. All this whilst travelling through Europe for eight days, from Budapest to Passau, with Linz and Salzburg thrown in for good measure too – a musical feast. It’ll be like being in a fabulous floating hotel! I can’t wait, especially as we’re visiting Vienna, which is undoubtedly, my favourite city.
Interestingly, Vienna is the first place I travelled abroad to, without my parents. It was on a school trip, organised by the Anglo-Austrian Friendship Society and cost £20! I was about 16 or 17, and having learnt German at school, I was asked to make a speech when we had an audience with the Major of Vienna. One of the teachers wrote it for me, and I can still remember it to this day!
I’ll have the opportunity to give a couple of talks on the ship too, something I always enjoy. I promise they’ll be in English, not German!
You’ve written books on European composers, Mozart, Beethoven, Verdi, Tchaikovsky and Strauss – do you have plans to write about any more?
The intention was to write one book on Beethoven and now I’ve written about five composers, the last being Tchaikovsky. I wrote it in a couple of months, having visited Russia in October 2017, and the book was completed at the end of November! So for I’m taking a rest from writing and looking forward to treats such as the Uniworld Enchanting Danube cruise. You can join me if you like – we’re sailing on 20 October 2019.