Introducing Verbier’s 2019 Festival

News of Verbier’s 2019 season reminds me of an important moment in time. A sort-of rite of passage. A coming of age. The moment in time when I discovered chamber music and when the Thoroughly Good Blog was legitimised.

It feels a little odd to be writing about a festival, the memory of which in some respects still leaves a mildly sour taste in the mouth.

For those not aware, those who have forgotten, or those who hadn’t put two and two together at the time, it was Verbier which prompted quite a lot of soul-searching and industry foot-stamping on my part last July.

For the backstory read this.

Festivals, artists and other creative endeavours want coverage. They want influencers to bang the drum (pun intended), but when it comes to thorny question of costs, a lot regard only the mainstream ‘press’ as legitimate editorial platforms.

It turned out to be a difficult issue to grapple with on my part. But I’m glad I did, because it helped me legitimise in my own mind what I was doing on the Thoroughly Good Blog and with the Podcast too.

Verbier marks a transition in this way. A sort-of rite of passage. A coming of age. A really glamorous ex-partner who a year later has got back in touch (via a third-party) with a new brochure, a new-looking logo and details of its newest season.

Verbier: mountains; sky; sunshine; wine; classical music

In some respects Verbier could programme a volunteer to read entries from an archive telephone directory and it would still feel like art.

Such is the power of the environs. Distractions are stripped away, attention is focussed. New musical discoveries can be made because proximity to the artists and immediacy of the art have been prioritised.

It’s Aldeburgh in the clouds. If memory serves me correctly, one person even described Verbier as ‘Aldeburgh on steroids.’

That’s largely because of its relative seclusion. It’s also to do with the clear air and the steep hills. Most importantly its to do with the meeting of artists. We as audience are not so much concert attendees as observers of art in creation. Art in laboratory conditions.

Christian Thompson is Director of the Verbier Festival Academy – a residential training programme for exceptional young musicians. In this podcast, recorded in Verbier in August 2016, Christian explains his vision for the Academy and its participants, and how the Academy is developing the next generation of soloists. The music featured in this podcast is the opening movement from Brahms’ first piano quartet. #VF2016

Verbier is where I finally acquired an appetite for chamber music.

It’s where I discovered Brahms Piano Quartet in G minor, witnessed clarinetist Martin Frost‘s circular breathing technique, marveled at the terrifying energy of Janine Jansen, and finally understood Beethoven’s late string quartets.

Intense performances in intimate surroundings (make a beeline for Verbier L’Eglise over the hangar-like Salle des Combins) that create deeply personal and lasting memories.

Amongst the press pack highlights, a few names stand out. Notably, cellist (and former Verbier Academy student) Sheku Kanneh-Mason’s in a concert appearance with Daniel Hope, Marc Bouchkov, Lawrence Power and George Li. Also, pianist
Evgeny Kissin in a programme of Beethoven works, and violinists Joshua Bell and Alexander Sitkovetsky.

The reappearance of Daniil Trifonov is also a must-listen. I count his performance of Lizst’s Transcendental Etudes as one of a handful of personally transformative experiences. Also, the premiere of Thomas Ades Three Berceuses for Viola and Piano.

I read the press information and see more British representation in the programme as a whole which might help the Festival gain international cut-through outside of France, Germany and Switzerland – something of an aim of theirs as I recall a few years back.

Know that if you want to attend, you’ll need a train journey to the bottom of the mountain and a cable car (or taxi) to get to your destination. And be sure to book early to get the best rates. A cool beer at the cafe in the centre of town is a must. So too a glass or rose in the mountains.

The Verbier Festival runs from 18 July – 3 August 2019. Tickets from https://www.verbierfestival.com/en/

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