By Patricia Boccadoro
SWITZERLAND, 5 November 2006â€”The Alpine ski resort of St. Moritz is chic. In summer it is very
chic, with its elegant boutiques, fancy restaurants and luxury hotels and
spas with their sophisticated, well-heeled clientele. The service has two
speeds, slow and stop, but no one here seems to mind. And while it boasts no festival there
as such, some of the world's finest artists are frequently
invited to give exclusive concerts in some of the dozen or so
churches nestling in the foothills of the surrounding snow-capped mountains.
Photo: Lucy Boccadoro
While guesting at Verbier, a break in schedule permitted the Canadian violinist, Corey Cerovsek
(b. Vancouver, 1972), to make a whirlwind hop to the tiny Offene
church in Sils where he gave a phenomenal recital.
"St. Moritz, which had seemed so close on the map", he told me
the following day, "was in fact a long but breathtaking drive through high
mountain scenery, accompanied now and again by the sound of cow-bells
clinking on the lower slopes. The church itself, tiny and absolutely
adorable, has seating for barely 50 people and on arrival we thought it a
miracle they managed to get the piano inside".
"We had to hunt for a music stand which had to be propped up on a chair
because it was too short, but the big surprise for my pianist, Julien
Quentin, was the fact that two minutes before the concert began, no
page-turner had arrived. My girl-friend stepped in and, never having done
that before, got into a pickle halfway through when some pages were glued
together. But Julien just nodded each time he needed the sheets of music
turned and we got along fine."
The concert began with the Mozart E minor sonata, a simple but touching
piece which was peaceful yet plaintiff, which his teacher, Josef Gingold,
a big fan of the score, had shown it to him years ago.
"It's a good piece to start a recital", Cerovsek said, before going on
to explain that he always took his inspiration from the score,
believing that what music expresses need not always be literal. "I never
take a piece of music and translate it verbally because I feel it takes
something away. Music is texture, structure and shapes, as well as
emotion. It's something much purer than telling your audience that, well,
as I was walking to the market, I heard a bird singingâ€¦ I enjoy playing
programmes without any theme; taking people on a musical journey".
Cerovsek's exceptional stylistic flexibility
enabled him to thus pass from the Mozart to a thoughtful rendering of
FaurĂ©'s sonata, followed in turn by Karol Szymanowski's "Mythes,
Three Poems for Violin and Piano op. 30, completing his set
programme with Henryk Wieniawski's Fantaisie Brillante sur les
thĂ¨mes du Faust de Gounod,
20. The thunderous applause led to four encores.
Wieniawski, Cerovsek told me, was one of the most famous 19th century
violin virtuosi/composers who wrote brilliantly orchestrated works, albeit
a little showy. However, the violinist decided to make a recording of the
piece because he was playing at the time on the Guarneri del Gesu, the
violin which had allegedly belonged to the Polish composer himself.
"And because it's such fun to play, it's practically become one of my
signature pieces. It has some lovely atmospheric sections and
contributes to the old-fashioned kind of recitals that Gingolds brought me
up to give. Musicians in the past would mix and match far more than is
done today which I find much more exciting than the three sonata series so
The Guarneri del Gesu has since been replaced by the "Milanollo"
Stradivarius of 1728, an instrument played by Nicolo Paganini, by Teresa
Milanollo, hence its name, before being acquired by the French violinist,
Christian Ferras, in 1967.
The violin, created by Stradivarius when he was 84, was lent to
Cerovsek two years ago after a series of concerts he gave at the Festival
of Verbier, by Mr. Pascal Nicod, head of the University Hospital of
Lausanne. Mr. Nicod had been at a festival near Geneva where the Canadian
violinist had given recitals and whilst in Verbier, invited the musician
to his chalet to play some of his instruments.
Photo: Mark Shapiro
"He simply asked me whether I'd enjoyed playing the "Milanollo", the
jewel of his collection," Cerovsek told me, "and when he suggested I take
it with me, I thought it was just for the evening. But then he insisted
that he wanted me to play it because he felt I was the right person for
it. It was difficult to believe that he was ready to part with
something he loved so much, but his overriding concern seemed to be for
the papers I'd need crossing borders. We ended up swapping violins
and I left the festival with one of the most beautiful instruments in the
When I spoke to Pascal Nicod at his Lausanne home recently, he was a
little more explicit". I gave him the "Milanollo" because he is the best
violinist I've heard in the last 47 years. And I've heard all of them!
Corey is incomparable."
"I grew to love music when I was a child, listening to Christian
Ferras", Nicod explained, "and I fell in love with the sound of his
violin. When I finally acquired it, I would never have believed I would
give it to someone, but when I heard Corey play, I didn't hesitate a
second. It's his as long as he wants it. He has that rare quality of being
able to control his fantastic emotion with intelligence and humility and
moreover, he brings the sound out, giving it a whole palette of different
colours. He is a musician who has everything. And although I only hear him
play in concert a few times each year, I like to think he's playing that
violin around the world and that other people are sharing that unique
sound. He is continuing a dream I had since I was small and it makes me
"Playing the "Milanollo" was like going from black and white into
colour", Cerovsek told me. "A whole new universe opened up. This
Stradivarius is so noble, with a sound that's almost smoky. It doesn't
come out and hit you in the face, but curls around and comes at you from
behind giving a wide range of possibilities. It has a wonderfully rich G
string, an enveloping sound which Mr. Nicod pointed out to me at the
beginning and which sounds good even at the back of a concert hall."
The violinist then told me about the difficulties of the first few
months owing to the fact it had not been played much in recent years and
had to be correctly strung, but above all, he spoke of the time and work
necessary to get to know it.
"Instruments can have very strong personalities and it's very much like
a partnership. The instrument feels you in some odd way and it takes time
to discover all the colour and characteristics you can put into the music.
The interplay between what the violin is saying, what the music has to
say, together with what you want to say is quite dizzying. There are three
of you there as the violin is your partner as much as the composer.
It's a fascinating collaboration".
Finally, the violinist spoke of his concern when international concert
schedules were synonymous with drastic changes in the weather. "These old
instruments are quite temperamental", he explained, "and can choke up in a
humid place or sound raspy in a hot, dry climate. It's more endearing than
frustrating but it often makes me feel so guilty!"
What perhaps had been so special about this particular recital was that
the audience seemed to appear as if out of nowhere. During the course of
the concert, the skies darkened and rain began falling and there was this
gathering of people in the heart of the dark, towering mountains enjoying
a musical experience together, after which they all parted ways
again. Just four days later, Corey Cerovsek gave a second concert in
the packed church of Verbier in the presence of Pascal Nicod. Together
with Evgeny Kissin''s rendering of Shostakovitch, it was one of the truly
great moments of the festival.
Patricia Boccadoro is a senior editor at