Swiss hills are alive with the sound of young talent

Nigel Kennedy is among the musicians giving master classes to the Verbier orchestra Keystone

As well as established stars of the classical music world, the Verbier music festival is showcasing the talents of the future, in the shape of the much-anticipated Verbier Festival Youth Orchestra.

This content was published on July 25, 2000 minutes

Since its inception in 1994, the festival has grown into one of Europe's premier musical events - a remarkable achievement considering it is staged in a marquee halfway up a mountain.

Now the festival has its own resident orchestra, which did not exist a little over a year ago, and whose members are all in their teens and 20s. The aim is simple: to prepare them for life in a professional orchestra.

"The festival has a tradition of helping young talent," says Claudio Vandelli, the orchestra's musical director. "Many youth orchestras have been invited here in previous years."

He says the original idea for the orchestra came from the Swiss bank, UBS, which wanted to help create a top-level orchestra, rather than merely sponsoring an existing one.

The bank is covering all the orchestra's costs. These are believed to amount to an eight-figure sum, the biggest-ever investment in this field.

"We are Swiss, and we wanted to send a positive message abroad," says Martin Liechti of UBS Private Banking. "But instead of recruiting Swiss musicians, we wanted to have talents from all around the world.

"The orchestra is a link to the outside world and shows that we aren't stuck within our own territory and traditions," he says.

As well as playing six concerts at the festival, the 108-member ensemble will be setting out on a hectic 10-concert tour in October, during which it will play in some of Europe's finest and most intimidating venues.

"The orchestra has a real season here in Verbier, during which the musicians will work with six different conductors, six different programmes, in exactly the same way as a professional orchestra would do," Vandelli told swissinfo.

Only the best talent was admitted to the new orchestra. But the festival organisers, concerned that the young artists might struggle to cope with the demands of being in a full-scale symphony orchestra, have hired a psychologist to help the youngsters.

Some 900 hopefuls from 60 countries applied to join; of whom 475 were auditioned in nine cities around the world.

The final ensemble was whittled down to the 108 musicians currently performing in Verbier. They come from 29 countries, and will be performing a wide repertoire of works from composers as diverse as Dvorák, Mahler, Gerschwin and Schubert.

They will also benefit from being exposed to musicians from other parts of the world, who have been influenced by very different musical traditions.

The young ensemble is working with conductors of international stature including James Levine, Paavo Järvi, Lawrence Foster and Yuri Temirkanov. They are also attending workshops and master classes given by such artists as Nigel Kennedy, Evgeny Kissin and Martha Argerich.

"One of the main attractions of coming here is the quality of the conductors. They're among the best in the world," says trumpet player Mitch Wechsler from the United States. "I sometimes feel our line-up is better than a professional orchestra."

"It's my first time in Europe and it's wonderful to be in a place like Verbier. It's absolutely gorgeous. And it's phenomenal to be working with conductors like James Levine. It's like a dream," adds first violinist, Anna Elashvili.

It takes more than talent to forge a successful career, and the aim of the orchestra is to prepare these prodigies for everything the high-pressured world of music can throw at them.

"Verbier is a small place, and these young people will come into contact not only with famous conductors and musicians, but also managers and people from record companies," says Claudio Vandelli.

"Many of them have enormous talent and this could be a big step at the start of their careers," he adds.

by Roy Probert

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