Menuhin festival tugs at the heartstrings
"Longings and expectations" is the theme of this year’s Menuhin Festival in Gstaad whose varied and star-studded programme promises to stir the emotions.
Among the big names from the classical world set to perform are pianist András Schiff, violinist Sarah Chang and the London Symphony Orchestra.
The festival’s artistic director, Christoph Müller, says that Schiff’s appearance will be one of the highlights of the three-month event, which started on July 16.
Hungarian-born Schiff is playing a series of three concerts in homage to the festival’s founder, the late violinist and conductor Yehudi Menuhin, who started the event in 1956 and remained its honorary president until his death in 1999.
The two men were friends and shared a mutual admiration for the great 20th-century Hungarian composer, Béla Bartók.
"Schiff tries to show the audience combinations of music which Menuhin also liked, for example [18th-century Baroque composer Johann Sebastian] Bach and Bartók," Müller told swissinfo.
"This idea of mixed programmes is a way of bringing 20th-century music to the audience, which was also an important aim of Lord Menuhin," he added.
Müller says he is also particularly proud of the event’s continuing association with the London Symphony Orchestra (LSO).
He said the orchestra would be appearing exclusively at the Menuhin festival for the next few summers and would not be playing at rival events, such as those in Lucerne and Salzburg in Austria.
The LSO will perform two concerts in August, including one featuring the great Dutch conductor, Bernard Haitink, and French pianist Hélène Grimaud.
As in the past few years, there will also be a number of events grouped round a theme, which this year is "longing and expectations".
According to Müller, the climax will be the world premiere of the jazz opera "Casanova" – based on the life of the famous seducer – by composer-in-residence Daniel Schnyder, a Swiss who lives in New York.
An evening on the theme of "expectations" will see a concert devoted to Bach’s wedding cantatas, sung by soprano Christine Schäfer.
"Longings" will be brought to life by American violinist, Sarah Chang, who is giving two concerts: "longing for the south" and "longing for Bohemia."
The 23-year-old, who is of Korean origin, was once described by Menuhin as "the most wonderful, the most perfect, the most ideal violinist I have ever heard."
Müller said that it was impossible to cover all the possibilities thrown up by this year’s theme. But the universal topics of longing and expectations in love, longing for a homeland or longing for warmer climes are all featured.
He told swissinfo that these emotions were, as a whole, very important sources of inspiration for composers.
"It’s important that we remind the audience about this – that the composer only writes music if he wants to express something," he said.
"Also the audience needs to be inspired by the music and it’s the job of the composer to write music which inspires".
The 35-year-old Müller has been artistic director at the festival for three years and has been shaping the festival to give it a wider appeal, but with a modern edge.
Among his innovations are dividing the festival into three parts: symphony, chamber and modern music, and the addition of more young musicians to the line-up.
This seems to have gone down well with visitors, with more than 17,000 people enjoying the festival’s unique blend of alpine scenery and top-flight music last year.
The festival has come a long way since Menuhin founded the event almost 50 years ago, with two concerts given by musical friends in the nearby village of Saanan.
This year sees 40 concerts, spread among the festival’s famous tented concert hall in Gstaad and churches in nearby villages – making it the largest festival ever.
swissinfo, Isobel Leybold-Johnson
The Menuhin Festival 2005 runs from July 16 to September 3.
Pianist András Schiff, violinist Sarah Chang and the London Symphony Orchestra will all be appearing. This year’s theme is "longings and expectations".
The festival comes in three parts: festive (chamber music), classic (orchestra and opera concerts) and Today’s Music (experimental music).
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