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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 actors Ben 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 below.
 
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 profoundness.
 
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 and 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 Schumann.
 
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.





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