Western Europe is the birthplace of classical music and is unsurprisingly home to some of the world’s greatest orchestras. Classical music enthusiasts are simply spoilt for choice when it comes to both cityscapes and the dulcet tones that emanate from them. Here are just a few of the best cities for symphonies.
1. Dresden, Germany
SEE: Arguably one of the prettiest German cities, Dresden is an eclectic mix of history and culture. Just 30 miles from the Czech border, its centre, mostly dating back to the 18th century, is divided into two by the River Elbe. The grand churches and museums of the Altstadt nestle on the south bank, while the elegant streets and shops sit on the north side.
STAY: The five-star Hotel Suitess is directly located at the Dresden Frauenkirche in the heart of the old city. It’s only a few steps away from the Semper Opera House, the Dresden Zwinger and the residential palace. The larger Bülow Palais has two spacious and elegantly decorated suites as well as a spa and fitness area.
HEAR: One of the few world orchestras with its own distinct sound, Dresden Staatskapelle is also one of the oldest. Their sound is one that has almost ceased to exist elsewhere today. Musicians who perform within the orchestra ensure they pass on their knowledge of how to produce their sound to their pupils – many of whom succeed them in the orchestra. “I can’t imagine any list of the world’s great orchestras without the Dresden Staatskapelle at or near the top,” says violinist Nikolaj Znaider.
2. Amsterdam, The Netherlands
SEE: You could describe Amsterdam as a charming yet offbeat metropolis, but in terms of culture it is perhaps a megalopolis. There are countless concerts on every day; numerous museums – from Van Gogh to the Sex Museum; scores of festivals and of course a legendary nightlife scene.
STAY: Originally built in 1896, Hotel de l’Europe is located in the heart of Amsterdam opposite Munt Tower, overlooking the Amstel River. The Dylan Amsterdam is located in a charming 17th century building on the Keizersgracht, one of Amsterdam’s most famous canals. Tucked behind a historical façade, each suite has its own style and colour palette.
HEAR: Royal Concertgebouw has on multiple occasions been voted the greatest symphony orchestra in the world. Since its establishment in 1888 it has only had six chief conductors, which has distinctly shaped the orchestra’s sound. “Arguably the world’s greatest orchestra… the depth and eloquence of the strings, the quick-witted brilliance of the woodwind and the rounded security of the brass are unfailing,” wrote The Guardian.
3. Vienna, Austria
SEE: Lively Vienna is often hailed as one of the most musical cities in the world. Best explored on foot, few cities can boast the imperial grandeur of the Austrian Capital. Outrageously opulent palaces such as Schloss Belvedere and Schloss Schönbrunn tower above cobbled streets, while its eclectic mix of postmodern and historical architecture means it is visually one of the most breathtaking European cities around.
STAY: Guests experience a truly royal service during their stay at the former palace The Imperial Vienna, with concierges and butlers on hand at all times to cater to your every whim. The Palais Coburg Hotel Residenz is another regal residence known for its cuisine and winelist.
HEAR: Regularly considered one of the finest in the world, it’s hardly surprising that ticket waiting lists for Vienna Philharmonic go into the years. Its Musikverein Concert Hall is as visually breathtaking as the sound it creates. “The orchestra is able to form the smoothest transitions, the finest modulations of sound. That makes it incomparable, at least from time to time – whenever it exercises its option to be so,” says music critic Wihelm Sinkovicz.
4. Geneva, Switzerland
SEE: Geneva is the epitome of cosmopolitan. Surprising to some, it is neither Switzerland’s capital nor its largest city. Superbly strung around the shores of Europe’s largest Alpine lake, everything from the inhabitants to its cuisine is international, though it offers everything one requires for a truly Swiss experience too. Stroll along stylish lake-side promenades, gaze upon its iconic fountain or just gorge yourself on the best chocolate in the world.
STAY: The newly renovated Hotel de la Paix is embarking on its third century as Geneva’s premier boutique hotel, combining its preserved, rich heritage with all the modern commodities a distinguished businessman or traveller requires. The Grand Hotel Kempinski is located on the shore of Lake Geneva, facing the water fountain and the Alps with stunning views of Mont Blanc.
HEAR: Under its founder Ernest Ansermet, the Orchestra de la Suisse Romande (literally the Orchestra of French-speaking Switzerland) achieved special prominence for almost 50 years. Marek Janowksi was signed to conduct the orchestra from 2005 to 2015, though he chose to depart at the end of the 2011-2012 season. In 2010, Neeme Järvi was announced as artistic and musical director, with Kazuki Yamada named as principal guest conductor.
5. Prague, Czech Republic
SEE: One of Europe’s best preserved cities, the city is on par with Rome and Paris when it comes to aesthetics. River views, bridges, cathedrals, gold-topped towers and church domes – Prague has it all, and it is equally as beautiful in every season. Explore its vast array of medieval buildings and historic Old Town, meander down cobbled streets gazing up at its imposing castle or sit at a river café and enjoy some of the world’s best beer.
STAY: The Alchymist Prague Castle suites are particularly charming in the winter. In it, The Salons is a private mansion that has been opened for rent and comes with private butler service and health club access. The Four Seasons is in the heart of the Old Town, just steps from the Charles Bridge.
HEAR: Founded in 1896, Gustav Mahler conducted the premier of his seventh symphony with the Czech Philharmonic in 1908. Since its creation, the orchestra has won a variety of awards and nominations including a Grammy in 2005. Czech native Jiří Bělohlávek took over as chief conductor in 2012.