Symphony of the Summits
Verbier has a musical ear. Every year, for a quarter of a century, this Bagnes resort has hosted a festival hailed as one of the best events in the European classical music calendar. Why Verbier? Because it’s a stunning setting. And because it whips up the poetic sound of the greatest symphonies played by the world’s best musicians and brings it to a pinnacle.
The festival’s instant success back in 1994 is already a distant memory. Its 25th anniversary celebrations in summer 2018 were majestic, with an exquisitely engineered line-up featuring 30 illustrious maestros, almost 300 young musicians and no less than 65,000 spectators. The programme included symphonic concerts, modern fugues, recitals, opera, unprecedented on-stage collaborations, a magnificent gala concert with soloists, and an after dark programme which included headline concerts embracing the pop scene and even secret performances. Among them, the flamboyant Russian pianist Evgueni Kissine, a loyal and long-standing partisan of the festival, and Micha Maisky. Not forgetting the pianist Daniil Trifonov, the violinists Renaud Capuçon, Maxime Venguerov and Vadim Repine — dubbed “the best and most perfect of violinists” by Yehudi Menuhin.
The landmark anniversary event is celebrated in a book written by festival connoisseur Julian Sykes (published by Noir sur Blanc) which encapsulates twenty-five years of emotion, sneak peeks and highlights.
Over the years, the Verbier Festival has struck up a close relationship with many big names on the international music scene. They come once then keep coming back, bowled over by the audience’s enthusiasm, the sheer beauty of the Alps and their attentive ear, the flourishing cluster of talent and the relaxed atmosphere that abounds here — a far cry from strict and sterile city venues. This bond is reflected in the unusually intimate atmosphere of the festival’s concerts, but also through the ties that grow between eminent masters and those who may one day succeed them.
The festival is reputed as an excellent training ground; every year, Verbier Festival Academy puts on around a hundred master classes for musicians aged 16 to 30, while Verbier Festival Discovery runs fringe events to initiate the public. But the festival’s founder, Martin T:son Engström, doesn’t stop there. After setting up two resident orchestras, he wants to perpetuate everything that’s been learned from it. Launched in 2000, the Verbier Festival Orchestra (VFO), which is led by the passionate star conductor Valery Gergiev as of this year, has made a name for itself as one of the best training orchestras in the world. It has trained more than 1,000 young musicians aged 18 to 28, from 61 countries, most of whom have gone on to enjoy an international career. The Verbier Festival Chamber Orchestra (VFCO) is made up of musicians trained right here; they perform all over the globe and, of course, in Verbier, where they put on eight concerts during the festival, including a free open-air concert on the slopes of La Chaux. Meanwhile, younger players aged between 15 and 18 meet up for three weeks to perform with the Verbier Festival Junior Orchestra (VFJO). A great way to scout for and nurture the budding talent of tomorrow.