Verbier Festival & Academy
Evgeny Kissin, Mischa Maisky and Zoltán Kocsis
Article added in September 2000
The Verbier Festival & Academy was created in 1994 by the Swedish impresario Martin T:son
Engstroem in cooperation with the local government and the Tourist office.
In the seclusion of the Swiss alpine resort, the managing director, Engstroem, has established an excellent festival. Among the artists who
have already performed in Verbier are Isaac Stern, Zubin Mehta, Kent Nagano, Barbara Hendricks, Bobby
McFerrin, Björk and the
Kingsley and Marthe Keller.
For its seventh edition in the year 2000, Verbier invited outstanding pianists like Jean-Yves Thibaudet,
Martha Argerich, Zoltán Kocsis and Evgeny Kissin, violinists Nigel
Kennedy and Gil Shaham, and cellist Mischa Maisky. Therefore, it comes as no surprise that
the organizers were forced to enlarge the festival's tent by 300 to 1500
seats in order to cope with the widening audience.
Unfortunately, the tent as a place for musicians to perform can only be a
temporary solution. The acoustics, especially far away from the scene and
especially when it rains is pitiful, a shame and an unbearable situation
for every art lover. There are discussions going on for the construction
of a concert hall. The cost of about CHF10 million is of course a
problem for the community of only 2000 people. But together with the help
of such potent sponsors as UBS, a solution should be possible. The concert
hall could also serve for purposes other than the summer festival, e.g.
congresses. It would be an intelligent investment for the future,
especially if one considers that the tent costs CHF500,000 every year.
In recent years, about three quarters of
the yearly one million visitors of Verbier came (and come) in winter. In
summer, there is still room for a moderate expansion. The region with its
"four valleys" is one of the world's largest skiing areas with
400 km of ski runs and 95 lifts to enjoy. Situated at an altitude of 1,500
meters or 4,920 feet, Verbier lies in the heart of the Swiss Alps, near
the Italian border and the famous Grand-St-Bernard "hospice",
well-known for its rescue dogs ("Barry").
The festival's ambiance is exceptional. On
a walk through the village, one can easily encounter the famous artists
who not only come to perform one evening, but mostly stay for a week or
even longer. This almost unique situation gives the musicians the
opportunity to perform together in different settings. This year, e.g. Evgeny Kissin
played on July 24 together with James Levine, both at the piano. Three
days later, Kissin performed together with Martha Argerich, Mischa Maisky
and others. On July 30 finally, he gave a piano recital - see the review
The main innovation of the Festival 2000 is
the foundation of a festival orchestra. The main sponsor permitted the
creation of the UBS Verbier
Festival Youth Orchestras with about 100 young musicians from around the
world. Together with conductor James Levine, the rehearsed for ten days
for the opening concerts. They performed five more times in Verbier and,
after the festival, emarked on a world tour under the direction of Paavo
Järvi. The young musicians will return to Verbier in 2001
in order to perform again under the baton of maestro James Levine.
The UBS Festival Youth Orchestra is not the
only occasion for the rising generation of musicians to train themselves.
The word "Academy" in the festival's title stands for seven
workshops in which well-known artists and teachers share their methods and
musical traditions with the young artists. In 2000, e.g. Viktor Tretyakov
lead the violin master class, Ralph Kirshbaum the one for cello and
and Dmitri Bashkirov the one for piano. By the way, the public has free
access to these teachings, a unique opportunity not to miss. For
all the above, the Swiss alpine resort has become an outstanding meeting
place for young talents and confirmed artists alike, who not only enjoy
the mountains' healthy air.
Evgeny Kissin, recital for piano, Verbier Festival
& Academy, July 30, 2000
Evgeny Kissin is one of the leading
pianists of our time. His repertoire is dominated by the classic, romantic
and late romantic periods. He still does not dare to touch contemporary
music. Before he records a new CD, he plays a piece for about two
years. Besides a sensational technique, Kissin has also an incredible will
(almost a mania) to work.
In Ludwig van Beethoven's (1770-1827; sheet
music by Beethoven) Sonata
no. 17 op. 31/2 one could feel Kissin's energy invested in the preparation
and the performance itself. Unfortunately, the interpretation seemed not
fully matured. He was still in search of a definitive expression. The
sonata is about doubt, but also explores uncompromise, tension and drama.
One could sense a lot of doubts in Kissin's play, the rest was hardly to
experience. The pianist task was difficult because the tent was not the
ideal place to perform Beethoven's composition. The acoustics destroyed Kissin's efforts - who, himself, seemed unhappy about his performance. His
breathtaking ease of play could not hide his lack of emotional
In Robert Schumann's (1819-1856; sheet
music by Robert Schumann) Carnaval
op. 9 the pianist's drama continued. He lost himself in details, which,
once more, he mostly mastered with a technical brilliance, but without
being able to build up a certain tension. Only in one of the twenty
figures was he able to open up his heart. In these rare moments, another
world, at peace with itself, opened up. The playing was perfect in itself,
and Kissin was able to detach himself from intellectual and technical
questions of the composition. Everybody in the audience could feel it at
once. Often, Kissin seemed to lack the instinct for the right tempo.
Schumann's model was Bach. The Sonata is not about virtuosity, but
as always with Schumann, its the poetic idea which should dominate. The figures Florestan
Eusebius represent different facets of Schumann's nature. Kissin rarely
had an emotional touch in the first part of the recital, although shortly
before in Paris, he had played the same pieces by Beethoven and
In the second part of the evening, another Kissin presented himself. In Johannes Brahms' (1833-1897; sheet
music by Brahms) Sonata no. 3 op.
5, he showed himself at the right level of his task. Kissin has already
performed the First Concerto for Piano by Brahms with at least five
different conductors, among them Barenboim, Levine and Ashkenazy. This
experience has had a positive effect on his interpretation of the Sonata.
On July 30, the musical universe of Brahms was no secret for Kissin. He
expressed the classical conception of the composition as well as
Brahms' proximity with Beethoven - and Schumann. The second
movement, the Andante expressivo with its polyphone, symphonic
architecture, became the highlight of the evening.
Kissin's encores, too, enchanted the public:
Schumann's Widmung in a transcription by Liszt impressed with its
perfection and elegance and was the second highlight. A waltz by Strauss
and a Hungarian dance by Brahms offered Kissin the possibility to show his
sense of drama and his technical skills. He happily united expression and
virtuosity. In the end, he played a composition by Isaac Albeniz as a
"goodnight-piece", which had a calming effect on the audience
and formed the logical conclusion of his piano recital.
Mischa Maisky and Zoltán Kocsis at the Verbier Festival
& Academy, July 31, 2000
On Sunday July 31, cellist Mischa Maisky and
pianist Zoltán Kocsis played works by Johann Sebastian Bach at the church of Verbier.
They began their concert with the Sonata no. 1 for Cello and Piano, BWV 1027.
Unfortunately, Kocsis played the piano too heavily and, therefore, almost
covered up the efforts made by poor Maisky. In 1720, Bach had composed the
Sonata for viola da gamba and cembalo. To put it bluntly, had Kocsis played on a cembalo, one probably still could have heard Maisky as
an independent voice. In Verbier, the Sonata become a solo effort
by the pianist. In the calm Andante, the cello - logically - could
be heard best. It was a pity for the subtle playing of Maisky, who, in a last
minute change of program, played the Suite No. 2 for Cello solo by
Bach, BWV 1008 (initially, he wanted to play Suite No. 1). Although
the virtuosity demanded by Bach in this piece could be better enjoyed with Maisky playing solo, his interpretations was disappointing, especially in
comparison with his excellent 3-CD-box,
containing all six cello suites by Bach. Maisky neglected the ornaments
foreseen by Bach. Counterpoint and polyphony could hardly be heard. His
sound was pale and blurred.
After the break, it was up to Kocsis to
perform solo. He played Bach's Kunst der Fuge BWV 1080, of which an
early first version of the year 1742 is known. The piece explores the
possibilities of the counterpoint. Kocsis interpreted the rhythmic-melodic
properties in a precise, clear and direct way. The Sonata no. 3 for
Cello and Pian BWV 1029 by Bach again united Maisky and Kocsis. In the
break, they probably had talked to each other about the acoustic and the
fact that the piano had almost completely overshadowed the cello. Their
interplay was somewhat improved, but still unsatisfactory. Maisky's play was warmer and could best be appreciated in the Adagio
and the Allegro. After the Sonata no. 3, Kocsis showed
himself visibly pleased with his piano play and celebrated himself -
although he had few reasons to do so. The right hand of the piano was
supposed to build, together with the cello, a counterpoint. The Sonata
should have the effect of a trio. Only very little of that could be heard.
Again, it had been more a solo by Kocsis. Remarks by Maisky and Kocsis
before they played their encore - separately - showed that both were
unsatisfied with their collaboration. Kocsis once more played his part of
the Sonata no. 3, Maisky presented the Sarabande of the Solo
Suite no. 5 by Bach. The cellist's music came now from his heart and
stomach and was profound, warm and moving. It was a demonstration of the subtility
of subdued tunes. In short and retrospect: it would have been better the
two had performed seperately - not only for reasons of the church's
acoustics. - Sheet
music by Bach.