There are some things in life that are wonderful on their own, but simply magical when put together: cheese and pickles, oysters and champagne, coffee and the newspaper… This is never truer than when classical music and the mountains are combined and here in Verbier we have the abundant fortune of experiencing this sensational coupling each summer as the Verbier Festival comes to town.
For two weeks at the end of July, the village becomes the buzzing centre of musical proliferation as soloists, singers, and chamber musicians of all ages and nationalities converge to exchange with and learn from one another, and to delight audiences against a backdrop of alpine beauty that perfectly complements their sublime talents.
This year the festival ran from July 21st to August 6th. It was the 23rd instalment and drew a reliably long list of prestigious and diverse musicians from the sheer brilliance of the consummate Russian pianist Grigory Sokolov to the sultry Afro-Cuban sounds of Chucho Valdés. The 12-member American band Pink Martini enthralled audiences with their eclectic, multilingual blend and the unique and fresh style of French string quartet Quatuor Ebène significantly expanded their fan base. The festival’s resident orchestra, the Verbier Festival Chamber Orchestra (VFCO), performed six concerts throughout the two weeks.
The various churches of Verbier provide intimate settings for concerts as does the Verbier cinema. The Salle des Combins is a non-permanent venue which seats up to 1,700 and is the main concert hall. Throughout the days of the festival, music drifts onto the streets from various rehearsal and concert venues and musicians, carrying all manner of instruments, make their way around the village making the festival so much more than about the concerts.
As with any decent festival, the fringe element, Fest’Off, provides an equally popular menu, this year offering over 100 free events ranging from film to photography, storytelling to art workshops. One of the highlights of the Discovery program this year was the second edition of Chess, during which Grand Master and the world’s number two player Vladimir Kramnik oversaw both children and adults’ learning of the basics, culminating in a tournament.
Visitors to Verbier were also treated to an unforgettable afternoon in the high mountains when the VFCO assembled at La Chaux for a mesmerising concert under sunny skies. Arriving by gondola, foot, or bike, the pure delight of spectators witnessing the magical combination of jaw-dropping scenery and soul-stirring music could not be masked.
While entertaining, one of the festival’s key aims is to educate. The Verbier Festival Academy is a dynamic institution aimed at identifying and motivating future soloists, chamber musicians, and singers through creative exchange with esteemed seniors in their profession. This interchange takes place in daily master classes which are generally open to the public, providing rare fly-on-the-wall opportunities to experience the more informal side of this art. One of the venues for these classes happened to be Chalet Orny, situated directly above the Bramble Ski headquarters. The twice-daily infusion of classical music into our office has been a real pleasure and a wonderful offshoot of a festival that celebrates some of the finer things in life. Already, we’re looking forward to the next one.
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