By Inge Kjemtrup
That mountain road, again.
Like all music festivals based in hard-to-reach locations, Switzerland’s Verbier Festival can make everyone who manages to overcome multiple travel challenges feel that they deserve a huge round of applause for simply arriving in one piece.
Is the destination worth the strenuous journey? I find it difficult to explain to those who’ve never been to Verbier why this mix of music and mountains can be so compelling to me.
I tell people that coming up the mountain road to the village and watching the Alpine range come into increasingly closer view always makes me catch my breath. They ask why I don’t take a hiking trip in the Swiss mountains if it’s scenery I’m after. Plus, they point out, Verbier, a ski resort for much of the year and a playground for the wealthy, too, is hardly a rustic mountain retreat.
I describe the excitement of hearing someone of the caliber of Kyung Wha Chung play the Brahms Violin Concerto in the less-than-perfect acoustics of the main festival tent—this can make my skeptical London friends ask why I just don’t wait several months for the exact same musicians to appear at Wigmore Hall or the Royal Festival Hall?
Maybe it’s just something that’s part of me, after eight years of having come here, for the (alas, now ended) Verbier Amateur Week. To me, Verbier is perfectly imperfect.
It’s where I can hear seasoned pros such as Kyung Wha Chung and conductor Charles Dutoit make music with a youthful Verbier Festival Orchestra (the players are aged 18-30). It’s where I can drink a caffe crème on the terrace of a hotel, admire the mountains around me and play a musical celebrity-spotting game. It’s where I can watch as a veteran teacher finds the secret that finally unlocks a piece of music for a young player.
Or maybe I’m just here for the cheese. Switzerland is the only place I’ve ever seen a coin-operated cheese machine—put in your francs and out comes Gruyere—the answer to all your late-night cheese needs. As a T-shirt I saw today put it, “Keep calm and eat fondue.”