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30 years of the Verbier Festival: Celebrating classical music in the Swiss Alps

30 years of the Verbier Festival: Celebrating classical music in the Swiss Alps
Copyright euronews
Copyright euronews
By Frédéric Ponsard
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Each summer for the last three decades, the Swiss ski resort of Verbier has transformed into a hub of classical music. It's also a chance for young, budding musicians to hone their skills on the big stage.

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For the last 30 years, Verbier, the famous ski resort in the Valais Alps, or 'Pennine Alps,' in Switzerland, has been transformed every summer into the ideal playground for musicians and music lovers from all over Europe and the rest of the world.

The Verbier Festival celebrates classical music in all its forms. And it can be heard wherever you look: in concert halls and churches, but also in clubs and in the streets, thanks to the UNLTD programme with buskers and members of the Verbier Academy - the breeding ground for young musical talent who make up the DNA of the festival.

Stephen McHolm is the director of both the Verbier Academy and the UNLTD programme, which he successfully launched seven years ago.

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Stephen McHolm, director of the Verbier Academy and Unlimited (UNLTD)Euronews

"With UNLTD it's really a festival within the festival, and we've said 'We want to desacralise classical music' but we want to celebrate music and the Verbier Festival isn't just classical music, most of it yes is classical music, and it's classic excellence, but we (also) have music in the streets," he explained.

10 years ago, the Verbier Festival Junior Orchestra was also launched, enabling hand-picked young talent to take part in a kind of "Summer Camp", and attend masterclasses in the company of some of the biggest names in music.

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Musicians play on the streets of Verbier, France at the Verbier FestivalEuronews

American conductor James Gaffigan is a conductor and musical director of the Verbier Festival Junior Orchestra.

"As music director, I do all of the weeks of music in preparation with them," he told Cult. 

"As you can imagine, many of these young people haven't played in an orchestra for the first time. So they're all together learning about each other's culture, about each other's instruments, each others' level of playing, and they're all combining to do the same thing, which is having the highest level performances and rehearsals."

For 30 days, the young musicians play and talk music, culminating in a concert in the Festival's Grande Salle des Combins in front of 1,500 people to close the festival on 30 July.

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Charlotte Malherbe, Manager Verbier Festival Junior FestivalEuronews

Charlotte Malherbe is the manager of the Verbier Festival Junior Festival, and she looks after the budding prodigies during their stay at the Verbier Festival.

"You could say that this is the breeding ground for festival orchestras. They arrive here, many of them (are) between 15 and 18, and then they move on to the VFO, the Festival Symphony Orchestra, and then to the Chamber (Orchestra). So it's also very nice over the 10 years of the project to see them evolve from one orchestra to another," she revealed.

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Young musicians play as part of the Verbier Festival Junior OrchestraEuronews

In the run-up to the closing ceremony at the end of July, the Verbier Festival pulled off a tour de force by bringing together more than 50 of the world's greatest soloists on the same day, 24 July, to celebrate its 30th anniversary.

Among them, 24-year-old Japanese pianist Mao Fujita and many other prodigies such as Evgeny Kissin performed Rachmaninov's Preludes from Opus 2.

The music of German composer J. S. Bach was also in the spotlight, with a string quartet featuring the two Capuçon brothers, to cap off a world-class event.

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