English orchestra goes into travel business with clipper concerts

The English Chamber Orchestra has entered the travel business. For years the orchestra appeared on "music cruises" run by a French cruise line, but they were discontinued after the death of the line's artistic director early this year. Now, strapped for public funding, the ECO has joined forces with a US tour operator to revive the up-market trips.

The English Chamber Orchestra has entered the travel business. For years the orchestra appeared on "music cruises" run by a French cruise line, but they were discontinued after the death of the line's artistic director early this year. Now, strapped for public funding, the ECO has joined forces with a US tour operator to revive the up-market trips.

"We gave up applying for Arts Council grants because the amount allocated to chamber orchestras based in London [£100,000 distributed between at least a dozen groups] is so small, it's hardly worth it," said Pauline Gilbertson, one of the orchestra's directors. "With the record companies in the doldrums, we've had to diversify."

The new music tours will be run jointly, with the ECO providing the music and a St Louis travel company handling the arrangements. A cruise from Athens to Istanbul is already sold out, but places are still available on a Caribbean voyage on the SS Wind Spirit from 28 January to 4 February. It departs from St Thomas in the US Virgin Islands and calls at Tortola, Antigua and Martinique.

The tours are not cheap: the best seats for all 11 of the ECO's London performances this year would cost only £234, compared with $7,420 (£5,300) double occupancy on the Wind Spirit, or $11,130 (£7,950) for single passengers. For that, however, music lovers get the chance to live cheek by jowl with the artists. Apart from two concerts a day, they have access to rehearsals and lectures by a musicologist, as well as meals, shore excursions and an open bar.

Passengers enjoy the close contact with the orchestra, according to Ms Gilbertson, who says the Americans "love talking to English musicians". The orchestra performs at every port of call, in sites ranging from ancient amphitheatres in the Aegean to a disused sugar refinery in the Caribbean.

Contact the Leonard Haertter Travel Company (tel: 001 314 721 6200, www.haerttertravel.com).

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