By Patricia Boccadoro
VERBIER, SWITZERLAND, 17
August 2006—With an ambitious programme of 46 concerts over a 17-day
period, there were moments of magic and surprises at this year's Verbier
Festival and Academy, but these did not always come where expected.
Programmes put together at the last minute were the ones that caused the
most excitement, and whereas discoveries have been part of Martin
Engstroem's policy for several years now, not even he could have foreseen
the complicity that sprung up between the British trumpeter, Cameron Todd, super-star pianist Evgeny Kissin,
and the charismatic Italian conductor, Gianandrea Noseda, who arrived, "en
catastrophe" as the French say, to replace Yuri Temirkanov, and who had
to be driven straight back to Italy after the concert.
The overture, Guiseppe Verdi's La Forza del Destino,
magnificently interpreted by the UBS Verbier Festival Orchestra, followed
by Evgeny Kissin's sumptuous rendering of Schumann's Concerto for Piano
and Orchestra in A Minor op. 54, both conducted by Noseda, set the tone
for the evening.
Noseda, conductor of the B.B.C. Philharmonic, was the first non-Russian
to have been appointed chief guest conductor of the Mariinsky of
Saint-Petersburg, and the fact he has made Russian music his speciality
was immediately apparent in the two Shostakovitch pieces which formed the
second part of the concert The Russian composer's Concerto for
Piano, Trumpet and String Orchestra was stupendous, with an
appreciative audience dancing up and down on its feet, stamping and
roaring its approval. Noseda's work, over just two to three days with
the talented UBS Verbier Orchestra, was astounding. This was a hard
act to follow.
A theatrical Misha Maisky, complete with flashing diamond
pendant, was last on the programme. His mane of shoulder-length flamboyant
white curls, which he shook all which ways through his piece, and his
little white, grey and black beard, combed in vertical stripes to match
his silken top-coat, distracted from his music. Shostakovitch's
Concerto for Cello and Orchestra No 1 in E Flat Major op. 107, a difficult
piece at the best of times, was a bit of a let-down.
a tribute to the centenary of Shostakovitch's birth, September 1906, was
given the following day with an afternoon of reminiscences by Rodion
Shchedrin, Russia's most important living composer. Accompanied by his
wife, the ballerina Maya
Plisetskaya, he spoke of the man he had known since the age of 9; his
father had been the composer's secretary.
"Shostakovitch became a world-renowned figure after writing his first
symphony at 19, and was both privileged and successful until 1936",
Shchedrin said. "Then, although many of his family members were imprisoned
or shot, plus anyone who knew them, he was left alone in his flat, but
from 1942, he again enjoyed tremendous popularity, dividing his life
between composing and playing the piano. He was never sent to the goulag
as rumour has it."
"One day we were driving along together in the car when he turned to me
and said, 'I've just written a new opera'. He'd composed it in his head.
But he'd been thinking about it for a very long time. He would write
incredibly quickly, never in pencil, always in ink. He was my God. I think
it's true to say, too, that the restrictions imposed on us stimulated our
creativity; it's harder when you have complete freedom."
"Composing", Shchedrin continued, "is 10% talent and 90% work. It's
putting thoughts down in a disciplined way, but composers in Russia have a
far more difficult life now. Before, musicians were state-sponsored;
Shostakovitch's gifts were recognised and all his works were performed in
his lifetime. Now, there are many interesting composers in Saint
Petersburg where I teach, but there is no money to perform new works.
Nobody can pay the orchestra or the conductor or hire a place to play
Unfortunately, Schedrin's Carmen Suite after Bizet, his
re-arrangement of airs from Carmen, and programmed at Verbier had
to be cancelled. It was a work that he had begun for his wife in a
rehearsal room on the fifth floor of the Bolshoi theatre while she was
working out the steps of the ballet with Cuban choreographer, Alberto
Alonso and completed in his own kitchen the following day while she
demonstrated the steps to him, a piece of chicken in her mouth. It seemed
particularly sad that it should have been through lack of a conductor that
we were prevented from hearing it.
Disappointing as it was, it left several possibilities open, including
a hop across the mountains to St. Moritz where the Canadian violinist,
Corey Cerovsek was giving a recital, going to the church where the German
pianist, Martin Stadtfeld, was playing Mozart and Schubert, or, for those
who already had tickets, attend Vadim Repin's concert of Edouard Lalo
followed by the alternative programme of the UBS Verbier Orchestra playing
Schubert conducted by Paavo Jarvi. Which brings us then to the major
"downfall" of this extraordinary festival... the difficulty of choosing
when there are two or three wonderful concerts programmed
Already, many people were worrying about whether they could listen to
José Van Dam and Barbara Hendricks on the following night and then abandon
pianist Emanuel Ax to run down to the church to catch up with Fazil Say!
Many opted to see Stadtfeld, who had already appeared the previous
evening with Thomas
Quasthoff in his Carte Blanche evening. If Quasthoff's jazz
programme entertained the crowds, with showy demonstrations of the range
of his voice and jockey impressions of Louis Armstrong and Bob Dylan, then
it was the beauty and pureness of the Mahler lieders written after his
unhappy love-affair with Johanna Richter, which the audience carried away
with them, due in great part to the quality of the accompaniment. It was
no mean feat to gather together such prestigious musicians as Corey
Cerovsek, Blythe Teh and Dmitry Sitkovetsky, Frans Helmerson, Leigh Mesh,
Sharon Bezaly, Aleksander Tasic and Gabriel Kahane, as well as Stadtfeld.
Quasthoff sang of Mahler's feelings of alienation, despair, pain and
resignation and of the comfort that comes at the end. It was very
Dmitry Sitkovetsky, Corey Cerovsek and Blythe
Photo: Marc Shapiro
Stadtfeld, now 25, has rapidly become a favourite of the Festival since
he replaced Martha Argerich at a week's notice two years ago. He told me
about the telephone call he had received a week before the concert asking
him to play a Bach keyboard concerto.
"I went out to buy the music and learnt the piece in 3 or 4 days", the
tall, shy, slender pianist told me. "It was quite a success", he added,
"and since then I've come back each year to give recitals and play chamber
Martin Stadtfeld, who was born in Coblence and started playing the
piano when he was six, studied in Frankfurt with the Russian-born teacher,
Lev Natochenny with whom he has worked for the past eleven years.
"My parents went out and bought me a piano", he said. "My father
is a vet and neither of my parents played an instrument so there was never
any plan for me to make music my career. I grew up stress-free".
"Bach is my great love", he continued. "My first recording in 2003 was
of the Goldberg Variations, and was followed by a recording
entitled Bach Pur. But now I do play other composers!"
Which he did in Verbier, giving a recital of two Mozart sonatas, which
flowed from him naturally with an incredible lightness of touch, followed
by Schubert's Piano Sonata in B Flat Major D 960. His expressive
playing was full of delicacy, finesse and elegance. When the music
stopped, the magic was broken; the room seemed suddenly empty and many of
those present, even in rehearsals, had tears in their eyes as they
"I really enjoy being here", he told me. "It's so small that you bump
into everyone all the time, and I enjoy working with other musicians too.
It was quite an experience working with Quasthoff," he added
enigmatically, an experience that less mature musicians were to find quite
Photo above: Rodion
Photo: Patricia Boccadoro