Verbier riches

Oliver Condy reports from the opening night of the Verbier Festival, featuring Nelson Freire's performance of Brahms's Piano Concerto No. 2

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And so to Verbier. That makes it my second visit to Switzerland in as many weeks. I keep forgetting to buy that Patek Philippe, too. Ah well - next time. The Verbier Festival, way up in the alps, is an extraordinary beast. You only have to look at the programme to realise that no other festival comes close in terms of stars-per-square-inch. There I was, chatting away before the opening concert, and who should pass by to say hello, but violinist Ray Chen. I even had my dinner this evening perched next to pianist Stephen Kovacevich. The great artists have learned, over the years, that Verbier is somewhere where they can feel 'normal', rather than unnecessarily exalted. No one bats an eyelid at the sight of Evgeny Kissin strolling to get a paper, or Nelson Freire munching a croissant. It's rather refreshing, to be honest.

It was Freire who performed the opening work of this year's Festival: Brahms's massive Second Piano Concerto, accompanied by the talented youngsters of the Verbier Festival Orchestra under Charles Dutoit. (Incidentally, I've never seen an orchestra look so excited at the prospect of playing alongside such a piano legend. The smiles swept through the music.) Freire's performance was one to cherish - technically sound, musically transporting and the right side of wild. As Kovacevich said at dinner, everyone has to leave out some notes. But I'm not sure Freire did... Come the final chord, the audience weren't going to let him get away without an encore. His choice - an arrangement of Gluck's Dance of the Blessed Spirits - was beautifully judged and rather touching.

I was supposed to be interviewing Freire tomorrow over breakfast, but ended up chatting to him in his room the moment he came off stage (I missed the orchestra's performance of Stravinsky's Petrushka, alas). He'd leapt straight back on to a digital piano, provided for him by the festival, trying to cram some Mozart before his performance of the D minor Concerto at Aix tomorrow night with the LSO. For 20 minutes, we talked about his performance (yes, he was very nervous; always is) and discussed his early days studying in Vienna. He'd learned Brahms 2 at the age of 14, he admitted. Unbelievable. He loves watching B movies, apparently, in his spare time, and doesn't enjoy promoting himself all that much. Oh, and for someone who gave such a fine rendition of that Brahms, he has very small hands. I'll write up the interview when I get back next week. You'll be able to read it online.

So, tomorrow? Lars Vogt playing Beethoven Op. 111, Rene Pape singing Dichterliebe and Cuban virtuoso pianist Jorge Luis Prats wowing (hopefully) with Granados's Goyescas. I get to chat to him too, afterwards. I can't wait.

PS Exciting news: we've teamed up with medici.TV to bring you, absolutely free, Khatia Buniatishvili's piano recital live from the Verbier Festival on 26 July. It'll be broadcast at 1.30pm BST on our website. 

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