Symphonic Voyages will sail Mercury from Baltimore with full orchestra and special guests in a full immersion classical music theme cruise.
On January 3, 2011, Celebrity Mercury will make one of her last journeys from Baltimore to the eastern Caribbean. During that voyage the curtain will rise on a new player in the theme cruise market - Symphonic Voyages - for fans of classical music. Passengers on this cruise will take part in a full-fledged onboard classical music festival, featuring a roster of internationally renowned guest artists and performances by a full professional symphony orchestra.
Having observed the surging popularity of theme cruises in other musical genres, Symphonic Voyages founder and president Eric Stassen hopes to create a similar opportunity for the community of classical musicians and music-lovers. The key word here is community - as Mr. Stassen puts it, "It has become all too easy for classical music performers and their audience to feel like anonymous participants in an elaborate formal ceremony. Our goal is to bridge the gap between the audience and our musicians, so they can come to know each another as individuals. The cruise ship environment will definitely enhance this experience."
One way Symphonic Voyages will facilitate performer-listener interaction is by placing a handful of orchestra musicians at each table in the Manhattan Restaurant, the Mercury's formal dining room. A series of participatory lecture/discussions also aims to break down traditional barriers.
"But lecture is a terrible word," Stassen groans. "A lecture is strictly one-way communication, like your parents gave you as a child or a professor droning on in front of a chalkboard. We want to create dialogues where our performers describe how they relate to music on a personal level and listeners respond with their own ideas and opinions. This is where Alex will be terrific for us."
"Alex" is Symphonic Voyages composer-in-residence Alex Shapiro, who established a successful career writing commercial music for television and film before switching to composing contemporary chamber music. She has never looked back.
Why feature a modern composer? "It's true that a lot of user-unfriendly and intellectually pretentious classical music was created in the previous century," Stassen says. "But composers have moved on. Alex's music is beautiful and accessible without sounding derivative, and she is committed to reaching audiences on an emotional, human level."
Of her upcoming participation in Symphonic Voyages, Shapiro says, "I love sharing my enthusiasm for the beauty we find all around us - in music and in nature. This cruise is the perfect setting for connecting the two, and having a great time together in the process!"
Symphonic Voyages will also feature an impressive lineup of guest performers. First and foremost is Grammy-nominated recording artist Cho-Liang Lin, one of the premier violin virtuosos of his generation. Stassen lights up when discussing the star of the show: "When I contacted Mr. Lin's management agency, Opus 3, about possible featured artists, I was thrilled when his name came up. His concerto recordings on Sony Classical, Decca, and Naxos are benchmarks. And he's one of the friendliest musicians you could hope to meet."
Lin will be joined by his friend and colleague Larry Rachleff, music director of the Rhode Island Philharmonic and former music director of the San Antonio Symphony, and by soprano Susan Lorette Dunn, whose international career includes opera, musical theater and art song from her native Australia to the UK and North America.
And let's not forget the 50-piece professional symphony orchestra. "We get email from musicians across the country every day hoping to join our cruise," Stassen notes, "but we're sticking to first-rate players from the Baltimore/Washington DC area, including members of the National Symphony Orchestra, Washington National Opera and the late lamented Baltimore Opera. The talent in our orchestra is going to be outstanding."
But the professionals on board won't be the only ones playing music. Passengers who play an instrument are encouraged to bring it along. Symphonic Voyages will reserve time in Mercury's public rooms for casual reading sessions. "We already have a number of passengers who are also performers," Stassen points out, "and we're happy to coordinate these impromptu sessions."
The repertoire for the series of four orchestra concerts tends toward the familiar, beginning with an all-Mozart concert and ending with Beethoven's 7th Symphony. Along the way we'll have works by Mendelssohn, Tchaikovsky and Stravinsky.
Mr. Lin will appear twice, performing concertos by Mozart and Barber, and Ms. Dunn will sing selections from Canteloube's "Songs of the Auvergne."
The chamber music series (six programs) ranges more widely; two ocean-themed works by Alex Shapiro, "Current Events" and "Archipelago," will be performed, and several composers omitted from the orchestra programming (Schubert, Brahms, Shostakovich) will be included here.
All this activity will be in addition to the Mercury's regularly scheduled events. The Symphonic Voyages group will number about 950 people (musicians plus paying passengers), approximately half of the ship's passenger capacity.
"It would be unfair to the other passengers - and our own - if we took away from what Celebrity normally provides," Stassen observes. "The number of sea days on this particular sailing (three in each direction between Baltimore and the Caribbean) gives us plenty of time for all of the events."
Prices begin at $1,800 per person (double occupancy) for an inside stateroom to $5,500 for Royal Suite accommodations. In addition, Symphonic Voyages offers two compelling incentives for potential customers. First, passengers who refer their friends receive a $100 fare reduction for each referral. Second, Symphonic Voyages will donate $100 per passenger to the U.S. performing arts organization of the passenger's choice. "This is our way of saying thank you' to the orchestras our passengers support throughout the year," Stassen says, "and we hope it will encourage such organizations to recommend Symphonic Voyages to their patrons."
For more information and reservations, visit www.symphonicvoyages.com or call Symphonic Voyages at (800) 970-SAIL.