By Patricia Boccadoro
GSTAAD, SWITZERLAND, 27 OCTOBER 2016 For over half a century,
the Gstaad Menuhin Festival was one of Switzerlands best kept secrets,
with annual concerts more or less reserved for the local population, but
since Christoph Muller took over as the artistic director in 2002 with the
mission of opening up the Festival to a more cosmopolitan clientele,
things are on the move. Top international musicians such as Jonas Kaufmann
last year, Evgeny Kissin next year, whilst this year, on what would have
been Yehudi Menuhins 100th birthday, Lang Lang, Fazil Say, Philippe
Jaroussky, and Bryn Terfel and Angela Georgiu with the London Symphony
Orchestra, are attracting new audiences including people who have never
been to concerts before.
"Yehudi brought us here on holiday in 1955, "Jeremy Menuhin, a gentle,
unassuming man with the features, voice and manner of his father who, in
the wake of his world-famous parent, has carved out for himself a career
as a pianist, told me. "Hed play for us with his musician friends, and
then in 1957 he was asked by the local tourist office if he would consider
creating a festival here".
I was chatting to Jeremy Menuhin after an enjoyable chamber music
concert with works by Brahms, Schubert, Lutoslawski, and the Norwegian
violinist and composer, Henninh Kraggerud, in the enchanting small church
of Saanen. He had been accompanied not only by Kraggerud, but also by his
wife, Mookie, also a pianist, and the cellist Johannes Moser.
2016 Gstaad Menuhin Festival
Photo: Yves Boccadoro
He continued by saying how much his father had loved the
green valleys and mountains around Gstaad and how his dream had been to
bring music and musicians here. "I remember that only one program was
given that first year; Yehudi played with Peter Pears and Benjamin
Britten, giving concerts of the same music on two evenings. His sister,
Hephzibah who was a pianist, also gave a concert there in the early days,
and so did I, when I was 13", he smiled.
Menuhin delighted in surrounding himself with his musical family of
musicians and friends, and hence, for the 6Oth version of the festival,
approximately 70 concerts over a period of 2 months, the theme was aptly
"Music and the Family".
"Yehudi Menuhin was actually looking for a summer school for his
children when he fell in love with Gstaad", Christoph Muller, the young ,
dynamic artistic director, told me in a brief interview at his hotel, the
Grand Hotel Park, one of Gstaads famed palaces.
"The first thing he did was to check the acoustics and infrastructure
in the churches of Saanen and Lauenen, and when he realized their
potential, gave his first concert that very year."
Muller told me that he tried to understand Menuhins spirit in making
music, wishing to continue as far as possible with the Menuhin tradition
and to that effect, he kept a close collaboration with the institutions
the world-famous violinist had founded. Young musicians from the Menuhin
School and the International Menuhin Foundation as well as from the
Menuhin Violin Competition are regularly invited to take part in the
"I try to understand what fascinated him in Gstaad, and realizing how
much he enjoyed playing with friends in a relaxed atmosphere, give the
same conditions to musicians who come here. They are free to choose their
own program, and for the chamber music in the churches, they also choose
the musicians with whom they play."
Christoph Mullers passion is music. A cellist, he has also run an
orchestra in Basel, his home town, for almost 20 years, during which he
came into close contact with many musicians. Music, he told me, was his
world, and he had seized the opportunity to come to Gstaad when he learned
that the Administrative Board were looking for someone new, someone young
with fresh ideas to revitalize the festival.
"I arrived here in 2002 and was given free rein. I was able to develop
my ideas and now we have amateur and childrens programs involving local
schools. Five years ago we started to have a series of Academies,
The Gstaad Conducting Academy, which has just ended after three weeks, a
vocal Academy, which was taught by Silvana Bazzoni Bartoli* this
year, a Baroque Academy with workshops given by specialists in Baroque
music, and a Piano Academy with Lang Lang, who is here for the first
Indeed, it was not only fascinating, but extremely moving to attend one
of Lang Langs workshops. Known for his work with young people, the
celebrated Chinese pianist, scarcely older than some of his students,
coached four pianists. Recently returned from the favelas of Rio di
Janeiro, where he had been working with the underprivileged children,
bringing light and passion into their lives with music, he gave invaluable
help and advice to the young musicians in Gstaad, first listening intently
to them playing their pieces, and subsequently praising what was good,
before suggesting ways in which they could advance in their chosen
Lang Lang and pupil at the 2016 Gstaad Menuhin
Photo: Yves Boccadoro
Particularly interesting was to watch him working with
12-year-old Nicolas Salloum, a Swiss resident, pupil of the Geneva
Conservatoire. The boy, an outstanding student, had chosen to play
Chopins Scherzos, part of the very program Lang Lang presented the
following evening, and the ensuing complicity between them was
"Ive come here out of admiration for Yehudi Menuhin", Lang Lang told
me later, this time at the luxurious Gstaad Palace, the magnificent 5 star
hotel inaugurated in 1913, where he was staying. "A far cry from the slums
of Rio", he commented looking round at the luxuriant gardens, "but I did
sleep well. Its also wonderful to be back in Switzerland in the midst of
so much natural beauty. I love these fabulous mountains".
His concert in the big tent the following evening, of Chopin, Bach
and Tchaikovsky, alone on stage in front of a crowd of 2,000 people,
all seated on one level, was an enormous success despite the immensity of
the setting. For those seated to the back, two giant-sized television
screens had been erected on either side of the stage, and despite the cost
of the seats, 240 Swiss francs a head, people were there who had only
previously seen Lang Lang on the television.
However, the acoustics were phenomenal and I was told that the sides of
the tent, a permanent fixture resembling a huge, modern auditorium, had
been constructed with two layers of some specific material which blocked
out all outside noises, not merely of traffic or storms, but also
counteracted the sound of the river rushing by.
2016 Gstaad Menuhin Festival
Not only was the auditorium spectacular, but the glamorous main foyer
or entrance hall was lined with large, emerald green artificial trees
leading up to a series of select cocktail bars serving champagne and
caviar to invited guests. For the less fortunate, a paying coffee
machine was available.
There was quite a different atmosphere for the concert of countertenor
Philippe Jaroussky accompanied by the Ensemble Artaserse, a group of
musicians that he himself created in 2002. Jaroussky, who possesses one of
the most beautiful voices in France, gave a sublime concert, a gala of
Italian Baroque opera, in the medieval church of Saanen. The very
construction of the church, with its exquisite late 15th century wall
paintings, ensures that sound carries extremely well, as was also the case
in the tiny Chapel in the centre of Gstaad where the brilliant young
cellist, Stéphane Tetreault gave a stupendous morning concert, playing
each note as if his life depended on it.
Born in Montreal, and pupil of the late Yuli Turovsky since the age of
9, the 23- year-old musician has had attention drawn to his immense talent
since he was loaned a 1707 Stradivarius which formerly belonged to Bernard
Greenhouse. He interpreted works by Schubert and Shostakovitch, giving
meaning to each phrase of the music and justly received a standing ovation
from the excited audience, many of whom were backpackers who had happened
to be passing by.
For the area surrounding Gstaad, over and beyond the steep manicured
hillsides, offers over 300 kilometers of majestic hiking trails. With the
mountain railways and cable cars, and with glaciers, lakes and waterfalls
to visit, Saanenland offers an unparalleled range of activities. Gstaad
itself, despite its elegant boutiques, class and discreet charm has
managed to conserve a certain authenticity, possibly more than any other
Alpine resort, but potential motorists should be aware that the only two
garages are Bugatti and Bentley.
Based in Paris, Patricia Boccadoro is a culture critic and
senior editor at Culturekiosque. She last wrote on
Paris Biennale des Antiquaires.
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