Classicals on Cruises

Travelling and acclimatising before performing and delivering goes hand in hand with life as a musician, but we usually associate that with road, train or air travel and checking into hotels.  However, a very popular activity for chamber musicians, in particular, is performing afternoon concerts as part of a cruise ship entertainment programme.

The ideal scenario is performing an ‘easy listening’ concert of Mozart, Beethoven and light classics on a calm crossing of the Atlantic followed by early evening cocktails, a 3-course dinner and postprandials as the sun sets.  Of course, King Neptune occasionally has a different plan and you can sometimes find yourself trying to stay upright on your chair and keeping the music stand from careering down the stage whilst bobbing around the Bay of Biscay in a force 8 gale.  Whatever the weather conditions, a contract at sea is becoming a popular feature in the schedule of
a busy musician.  Adrian Shave went to talk to Barbara Guthrie, classical entertainment booker for Fred Olsen Cruise Lines, to find out more.


Barbara, you’ve been the classical entertainment booker for over a decade.  Why is this ‘slot’ in the entertainment programme so important to the cruise line and to the audience?

Sea days are the busiest days for the entertainment department.  There are obviously no shore excursions taking place (!) and all the guests are wanting to have some kind of diversion. Many like to relax in the library or in one of the many lounges on board, but others like creative activities like arts and crafts / bridge / dancing classes.  At Fred Olsen classical music has played an important part in our programme for the afternoon slot, when guests often like to relax with a cup of tea and a beautiful piece of chamber music.  This is a lovely way to be inspired by the great composers, before guests head back to their cabins to get spruced up for cocktails and dinner!

What kind of ensembles do you like to book?

At Fred Olsen we pride ourselves on variety so we book classical guitarists, concert pianists, violinists, sopranos, flautists, cellists, duos and, on occasion, string trios and quartets, giving our guests variation as we have a high percentage of returning guests.

How many ‘appearances’ do they typically have
to make?

This will entirely depend on the itinerary.  For example on a 7-day cruise we ask the artist to perform two different 45-minute concerts which are performed mainly on sea days, and for a 14-day cruise they perform as many as four different concerts.
If, due to adverse weather conditions, the itinerary
has to be changed, then the artists will be asked to perform at short notice and at the Cruise Director’s discretion.  The motto for any cruise ship entertainer
is ‘Be Prepared’!

What kind of repertoire are they asked to play?

Not every cruise ship guest is necessarily a classical aficionado, so we ask the artists to do as popular and varied a programme as possible.  For example, a string quartet may like to include classics such as ‘Eine Kleine Nachtmusik’ or when in Norway a pianist might like to do play the best of Grieg to add to the local colour and culture, but once the act has the audience on their
side, then they can introduce all types of styles and
repertoire and the guests will feel comfortable in the artists’ company.

What do you look for when booking a classical act on board a ship?

Obviously at Fred Olsen we have the highest calibre of artists, but they are expected to also have excellent communication skills so that they can introduce the pieces with personality, wit and aplomb!
Added to the concert appearances, it is also important to remember that all guest entertainers and classical musicians are ambassadors for the cruise line, so we expect them to interact and engage with the audience in and around the ship to give our guests the best experience possible.  A smart appearance is expected
at all times!

How does a potential classical cruise ship act
get in touch and what promotional material do they need?

A vast majority of our referrals are from other classical acts.  We also get referrals from Agents and a lot of enquiries from emails.  Guests also write to us, asking to book people they’ve seen and feel are good enough to perform on board.

We ask all our potentials to send us their show reels – this could be on YouTube etc. We listen to their work and if we feel they are the right for our demographics we book them on a short 7-night cruise to begin with.  The rest is history!