Verbier 2016: Climbing high for a different kind of listening

I’m on a train from Geneva to Martigny. On my arrival I’m being met by a driver who will take me up a long winding road to the town of Verbier. Once there, I’m heading into an afternoon concert, the first of many I’m attending during my three days high up in the Alps.

This is a pilgrimage to a special music festival. This is only my second visit, but it is one which is accompanied by an overwhelming sense of anticipation.

The route to Martigny clings to the edge of a huge expanse of water in the middle of Switzerland. It’s vaguely familiar but I stare at it with the same sense of disbelief I did when I made this journey last year.

The lush green pastures surrounding by towering mountain ranges are a world away from London. Western Europe appears to have the luxury of so much space. And it’s well-kept too. It is a feast for tired cynical eyes.

My faculties feel sharper on journeys like these. There’s an opportunity to tighten previously broad journalistic angles. Questions have been drafted and re-drafted. Everything feels a lot more alive than it does back home. There is space to think. Focus isn’t just easy, its second nature.

Verbier is the perfect place for much-needed contemplation, interspersed with intense periods of music-making. It is less a collection of concert venues, more a community where audience and performers mingle.

I see a growing appetite, need and value for contextualising classical music with a sense of realism, explaining it to those who are bemused by it, celebrating the immense impact it can have.

Verbier is ideal setting for putting that into practice. I think in a more focussed way when I travel; I think my writing improves too.

The pilgrimage to music festivals of this kind has the potential of having a dramatic impact on the quality of the performance – I saw that in practise during my time working at Snape Maltings Concert Hall back in the 90s. But what impact might that pilgrimage have on our listening as members of the audience?

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