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By Patricia Boccadoro

ST. MORITZ, SWITZERLAND, 5 November 2006—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.

St. Moritz
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 singing… 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 thèmes du Faust de Gounod, op. 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 popular now."

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.

Corey Cerovsek
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 world."

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 happy."

"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 Culturekiosque.com

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