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By Patricia Boccadoro

VERBIER, SWITZERLAND, 10 September 2006—That the Verbier Festival and Academy has transformed the hitherto quiet Swiss village in summer is an evidence, as visitors now come from all parts of the world to listen to the UBS Verbier Festival Orchestra,  the soul and raison d'être of events, as much as to all the great musicians . Repercussions are also felt elsewhere, as artists such as Repin played in Gstaad and Fazil Say will perform a new concerto in Lausanne the year after next, but apart from their music, musicians are also encouraged to express themselves in more unusual ways.

Thus it was that Russian pianist Evgeny Kissin gave an extraordinary poetry "reading" session one night in the little Protestant temple, lit by candles for the occasion. He'd been taking lessons with a teacher in Verbier, and held an audience enthralled as he recited, no text in sight, a selection of poems he loved, in Russian and in Yiddish. Whether one understood the words or not was irrelevant; you felt the meaning of what he spoke. Texts of the poems in English were available. He recited poems of Nika Turbina, one entitled, I am playing the piano, yet another, You'll get away with nothing. Works by Lera Auerbach came next, of dreams, silence, and music, with a final work dedicated to Zhenya Kissin. Poems by Marina Tsvetaeva and Anna Akhamatova, one dedicated to Shostakovitch, were among the ten poets he had chosen, all recited with feeling and with heart.

Evgeny Kissin and the UBS Verbier Festival Orchestra

Kissin attended many concerts and congratulated colleagues for performances he'd particularly enjoyed, commenting one evening on the wonderful sound of Corey Cerovsek's violin, the "Milanollo" Stradivarius of 1728, an instrument played, among others, by Christian Ferras and Nicolo Paganini.

Verbier had the opportunity to listen to Corey Cerovsek accompanied by French pianist, Julian Quentin, when they gave a wonderful concert in the church. The two musicians, who had previously worked together on several occasions, gave a varied programme of Fauré, Szymanowski and Wieniawski, after which there was a second or two of complete silence before a great roar broke out, followed by thunderous applause. Commented a little American lady, in Verbier for the first time from her native New York, "There's something about this church which brings out special qualities in the musicians. This concert was just out of this world!"

Cerovsek gave a demonstration of flawless technique allied to a beautiful sound. The violinist also possesses a particularly pure and graceful style, where man, music and instrument are as one.
Leaving Verbier on the 1st of August, I was unable to attend the Carte Blanche evening with the Norwegian pianist, Leif Ove Andsnes, but had appreciated him over the week in chamber music concerts and in the general rehearsals open to the public.

"This kind of scenery? I'm used to it because I have a house in Norway, where I grew up but I come here each year because it's a unique meeting place", Andsnes told me one lunchtime after rehearsing on the piano in his hotel. "I like very much to meet and listen to the other musicians that I don't get a chance to see in the year. Scandinavia is so isolated that all my knowledge of other pianists came from listening to recordings, particularly from pianists of the previous generation."

"With the life I lead, I never get to listen to other pianists, and also, I very much enjoy the opportunity of playing chamber music".

I had heard him play the Brahms Quintet for Piano and Strings in F Minor op. 34 the previous evening together with Steven Isserlis, Maxim Vengerov, Julian Rachlin, and Boris Kuschnir , for which, he said, they had had about five hours rehearsals spread out over three days. "I'd played with a couple of them before", he said, "but it was the first time we'd played as a group. There was just a little bit of friction at the beginning as they all have strong personalities, but that can sometimes be a good thing. It's not always people of similar temperaments who work best together, and differences are good." After a moment's hesitation he added with a laugh, "but I like it better when it works! It's difficult to predict that beforehand, but it's interesting to take chances and put people together".

Leif Ove Andsnes was born in the coastal town of Haugesund where his parents were music teachers, and began playing the piano at home before continuing and completing his studies at the Conservatoire of Bergen with Jiri Hlinka. He keeps close connections with his native land, where, in 2002 he was made Commandeur de l'Ordre Royal Norvégien de St. Olav, the highest possible distinction in Norway.

Leif Ove Andsnes
Photo: Knut Falch

However, the harsh climate and cultural isolation of Norway pushed him into buying a home in Copenhagen, where he now has an honorary professorship. "I'm also co-director of a small music festival in the little town of Risor, in the South East of Norway where I like to go in the summer," he continued. "It's very, very beautiful with white wooden houses by the ocean. I love the light there in the summer and also the special silence. It's like when I play; the silence between the notes is very important."

Andsnes has also made Grieg one of his specialities with a recording on the Norwegian composer's own piano. "It's an instrument which dates back to 1892," he told me, 'one of the early Steinways, and it's still there, in his house in Troldhaugen. Not many people outside Scandinavia realise it, but Norway is still a very young country, and its independence from Sweden only dates back to 1905. Grieg's music became a symbol of the Norwegian identity."

He pointed out the importance of working with great conductors, and of the debt he owed people like Mariss Jansens, who is Latvian, Neeme Jarvi, who comes from Estonia, and Paavo Berglund, who is Swedish. "And that's one of the beauties of Verbier", he said. "The most important thing here is the Academy and the Orchestra." 

His words were taken up by the Chinese pianist, Lang Lang, who, together with the UBS Verbier Festival Orchestra conducted by Daniele Gatti,  had given a magnificent rendering of Beethoven's fourth piano concerto the evening before.

"The Orchestra and Academy are the soul of what's going on here", he said. "It was fantastic for me to play with them last night because they are so young and energetic and there was a real dialogue going on between us. It's so wonderful for them to have the chance to work with so many outstanding conductors, not only their founder James Levine, who was in the audience last night. That is an experience which is irreplaceable. They are very fortunate."

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