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In a Little Swiss Village called Verbier… : A Guest Post by Tyler Barton

Today, I have a guest post for your from my friend, Tyler Barton. Tyler is a student and fervent opera and classical music fan living in Oklahoma. He can be found on Twitter at @TylerBarton27 and at his own blog (Which resides in my sidebar), New Everything Opera. Like many opera fans, he is looking forward to the Verbier Festival, which you will soon hear about! Enjoy the post below, and please leave your thoughts and comments in the comments section!

The outdoor festival venue has ever held a certain allure to me as a concert audience member, and when one adds to the equation an idyllic location with a terrace of grass overlooking a full stage, a soft, cool evening under the stars, a bottle of wine, and all in a European locale, you describe very nearly perfectly what the Verbier Festival in Switzerland has arguably made into the standard by which all outdoor music festivals devoted to classical music ought to be measured.

As some of you shall be aware, the Verbier Festival began on July 19th with Charles Dutoit conducting Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony. A festival could hardly hope to begin its celebration of anything with a better work by any other composer, and it is suitable that Verbier has elected to do so. The orchestra is the festival’s own, and the soloists were Lisa Milne, Lilli Paasikivi, Pavel Cernoch, and Matthew Rose. These forces were joined by The Collegiate Chorale. Other than being another performance of a work by Beethoven, an occasion worthy of much reverence in any case, it further marks the twentieth anniversary of the Verbier Festival.

The Verbier Festival was first envisaged by Martin Engstroem, a former artists’ representative. His ideal was to create a summer festival devoted to classical music in a quaint place in which musical excellence could thrive. The Verbier Festival as it appears even to this day owes almost its entire presence to Engstroem’s dream, for it was he who imagined that the festival might have its own resident orchestra and the academy for which it has become famous, as well. The first season opened in 1994, and it saw such an auspicious debut as Evgeny Kissin‘s first piano recital. The Verbier Festival Academy was also born, and it featured Isaac Stern as one of its instructors.

The festival’s orchestra was created in the year 2000 by none other than the Met’s Music Director, James Levine. He assembled a force of 110 musicians from ages 16 to 29. Coached by section leaders of the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, they played seven concerts at the festival that year, and then toured that autumn. The orchestra has been a staple of the festival ever since then.

This twentieth season of the Verbier Festival holds many delights for us, as well, and it has established itself in the world of classical music as almost an exception to the seeming rule that such high quality musicianship and the attraction of stars in the industry must come from large cities. Verbier, a small village in the Swiss Alps, defies such logic and has brought us the best in classical music festivals for almost two decades. This season shall expand upon those memories for all of us.

As I look through the Verbier Festival’s offerings this year, several concerts captivate my attention. The ones for which I am most excited in thorough anticipation of the musical bliss they shall provide are soprano Barbara Hendricks singing sacred music by Monteverdi, which takes place on July 21, 2013, and Verdi’s Mesa da Requiem on August 1, 2013, the soloists of which are soprano Maria Agresta, mezzo-soprano Daniela Barcellona, tenor Piotr Beczala, and bass Ildar Abdrazakov under the baton of Gianadrea Noseda. Of interest to many due to this artist’s scheduled sabbatical from the world of opera shall be a recital featuring soprano Natalie Dessay that is scheduled as the last event of the twentieth anniversary season on August 4, 2013. The program is shared by mezzo-soprano Stella Grigorian, and it is unlisted though it is vaguely outlined as songs of famous Russian Romantic composers and French songs and opera arias. One is inclined to think that Dessay is charged with performing the latter selections, but she may surprise us as she prepares to exit the world of opera that she claims has grown boring for her.

Another concert in which I am greatly interested is one which features Thomas Quasthoff, who went into retirement a couple of years ago, partnered with pianist Khatia Buniatishvili in a recital featuring Schumann, Strauss, Schubert, and Lizst. Having yet to hear this collaboration, there could not be another recital this year that could be more important for German song than this one in terms of the potential quality of artistry that is almost certain to be present with Quasthoff’s inclusion. While my predilection for German music is limited, I shall readily listen to this.

Anna Netrebko

My preceding statement should bring an interesting question to mind to a great many of you. How shall I hear this gem of musical excellence? Have I planned a sojourn in Verbier for the duration of the festival? Unfortunately, I have not, but the next best thing to so doing is to view a great many of the concerts online, for they are streamed by medici.tv for free for the public. Through a partnership with Rolex, the world famous watch makers, they are provided without cost to the viewer, and there is no limitation insofar as geography is concerned. If you miss a concert, fear not, for it is usually available on the website for on demand viewing at your leisure for at least a full thirty days after its initial live showing. Furthermore, if you become a member of medici.tv, you can view every concert in their dedicated on demand archive whenever you like, and this comes at the small price of $12.90 per month without any membership contract. Another benefit of medici.tv is their mobile application for smartphones and tablets that is available on both iOS and Android platforms that allows you to watch all of the free, “live” on demand concerts you wish. Having used both applications, I very much prefer the iOS variant, and I highly recommend simply watching the concerts in Android’s browser application since Flash is enabled on those devices, and Android’s dedicated application was considerably lacking in functionality when I last tried it.

Other artists that are appearing at the festival this year include tenor Aleksandrs Antonenko, pianist Emanuel Ax, violinist Lisa Batiashvili, tenor Pavol Breslik, conductor Valery Gergiev, pianist Helene Grimaud, guitarist Milos Karadaglic, baritone Simon Keenlyside, soprano Anna Netrebko, bass-baritone Bryn Terfel, soprano Irene Theorin, and pianist Yuja Wang. That is such a glittering roster of artists that we cannot help but to think that the next twenty years shall be nothing less than exquisite in comparison.

Images courtesy of neweverythingopera.wordpress.com, Verbier’s facebook page, verbiernet.com, and a fan blog for Anna Netrebko.

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