Gstaad festival plays on harmony between rivals

Some of the world’s greatest composers have locked horns once again at one of Switzerland’s oldest classical music festivals.

This content was published on July 18, 2003 - 17:17

Under the theme “Friends and Rivals in Music”, this year’s Menuhin Festival Gstaad features symphonies composed by musicians of the past 200 years who were rivals in their day.

For example, one concert is entitled, “Beethoven and his rival Anton Eberl”.

“This is a particular favourite of mine,” the festival’s artistic director Christoph Müller told swissinfo. “It’s based on an evening in 1805 when Beethoven’s Eroica symphony was played in public for the first time. The concert also featured the première of a symphony by Eberl.

“Unfortunately for Beethoven, Eroica went down very badly with the audience. It was a catastrophe, and to make matters worse for him the piece by Eberl was a huge success.”

Two years later Eberl died at the age of 42, and although his name is not widely known today, he has a strong following. His Symphony (op. 33) and the Eroica will be played by the Cologne Concerto Orchestra.

Another evening will pit the music of Richard Strauss against that of Stravinsky.

Stunning setting

The Menuhin Festival Gstaad has taken place every summer in and around the Swiss alpine resort since 1956.

It’s a beautiful setting for beautiful music and a powerful draw for major orchestras.

Before it ends at the end of August, chamber music, symphonies and operatic concert performances – and even jazz – will be heard in churches around the region known as Saanenland, as well as in a giant marquee.

The festival also has a youthful vigour worthy of its founder Yehudi Menuhin, who lived in Gstaad for many years.

For the second year running, its programme includes a concert by the European Union Youth Orchestra, whose motto is “Fifteen nations – one language”.

Founded in 1976, the orchestra is 20 years younger than the Menuhin Festival Gstaad and will again be conducted by the pianist Vladimir Ashkenazy.

Receptive young musicians

“These young musicians are very receptive,” Ashkenazy told swissinfo. “Although not yet professionals, they behave as though they are. Whatever I ask them to do they remember it and try to do their best.

“It’s fascinating to stand in front of a good symphony orchestra and this is a wonderful one.

“When a youth orchestra is so good the specificity is that its members are motivated and want to give everything they have. The enthusiasm and attentiveness is absolutely fantastic.”

Among the artists taking part in the festival is Mstislav Rostropovitch, who will conduct the Russian National Orchestra in a performance of Rachmaninov’s third piano concerto.

Müller - who already at the age of 33 has considerable experience as a cellist, conductor and administrator of cultural events – is in his second year as artistic director.

“One thing I learned in 2002,” he said, “is that only quality counts in this festival and that tradition will continue.”

swissinfo, Richard Dawson in Gstaad

Key facts

The Menuhin Festival Gstaad was founded in 1956 by the late Yehudi Menuhin.
This year’s theme is “Friends and Rivals in Music”.
The festival, which attracts many of the world’s leading performers, takes place every summer in and around the alpine resort of Gstaad.
Before it ends at the beginning of September, chamber music, symphonies and operatic concert performances – and even jazz – will be heard in churches around the region known as Saanenland, as well as in a giant marquee.

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