Wednesday, July 21, 2004

Paradise found, in Switzerland

Just back from short, crazy trip to the Verbier Festival, a.k.a. HEAVEN.

I tried to get cynical about Verbier last year. Circus tricks: spot the megastars wandering about ski resort off-season, listen to concerts in a tent where you can't hear anything when it rains - and don't you DARE go through the doorway designated to the sponsors. True. Very true. The megastars do wander about. You can't help but spot them from your cafe or hotel breakfast room or when you're sauntering up and down the main hill. You stumble upon Mischa Maisky reading the daily schedule on the Place Centrale noticeboard, or Pieter Wispelwey in dark glasses heading down to a rehearsal; this morning I ended up having breakfast with the marvellous young pianist Jonathan Biss, a recent interviewee of mine who happened to be staying in the same hotel. It's also true that you can't hear the concerts terribly well when it rains - last night it poured most of the way through the Schumann Piano Quintet played by Andsnes, Znajder, Cerovcek, Imai & Wispelwey. But heck, it was wonderful anyway!!!

So it all feels too good to be true and there must be a catch somewhere. Trouble is, it IS all too good to be true, but so far I haven't quite found the catch. A few possibles regarding aspects of the youth orchestra and of course that tent, but these don't amount to much in the grand scheme of things from the audience's point of view. If your two prime requirements for heaven are the most beautiful mountains and the greatest music, Verbier is for you.

Most stunning of all: Vadim Repin, soloist for Shostakovich Violin Concerto No.1 on Monday night. That concerto isn't my favourite piece on earth, but I was completely mesmerised by him. I vowed on the spot not to miss any more of his London concerts, because hearing playing of such combined intelligence, power, finesse, magnetism and vitality is rare indeed. He doesn't do the Vengerov showmanship thing, he doesn't do the Josh Bell Learns To Ski knee bends, he doesn't force the tone like some others I could mention; instead he puts everything straight where it ought to be: the music, the instrument, the intensity, the spirit.

I followed this, the next morning, with a trip up the mountain by cable car and a lovely walk at the top, gazing at snowy peaks, listening to silvery cowbells on the local herd and the soft rustle of waterfalls, spotting tiny pink orchids and brilliant blue gentians among the meadows of wild flowers. Mountain walks are shiatsu massage for the soul; over the last few years they have somehow become essential to me. This was my one and only this year, and I appreciated every second of it.

It was tempting simply to miss the plane home and vanish into the mountainside. I failed to work out how to do so in time, however, so here I am at my desk, blogging once again.