Music and Reviews from Clare, Limerick, Waterford and sometimes further afield

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Voices from WW1 to be set by Waterford Composer

I had a telephone chat with  composer Ben Hanlon about his new composition projects this evening. The award winning choral director whose opera, Bust featured `on these pages has a couple of interesting choral  pots on the boil both of a retrospective nature. 1916 is on his agenda and expect to see fragments of the proclamation turning up in his choral settings. Listening to the reading of  letters on a radio documentary on  WW1 gave him the idea of trying to capture some of those voices  and  moods in a choral context.

Hanlon's plan is to gather sixteen letters from WW1 sources. Kildare county archive has yielded some fodder. He would love some Waterford voices to add to the mix.. His own uncle perished at the front. Hanlon is of a generation that remembers the pleasure of sending and receiving a letter . He says  'Reading a letter would immediately conjure up the voice of the sender on the inner ear. The challenge is to capture the mood and the sound of those voices from the front'.

The work is the contemporarry composer's personal reflection on the historical  events  but with commissions from the leading choral groups Voci Nuovi and New Dublin Voices, he should have no trouble finding a choir eager to take on the performance  element. .

If you have a letter from a relative in your family archive, Ben Hanlon would love to have a copy.

Beethoven Irish Songbook Revisited in Kilkenny

Back in 2012, I heard some of Beethoven's Irish songs at a Music for Galway recital.  My report is here. I was intrigued to think of Beethoven wrestling with Irish airs in the midst of a  Europe at the height of the Napoleonic wars.  Another opportunity to hear the songs presented itself at the Kilkenny Arts Festival and I reported on the event for the Irish Examiner. The article  appeared  on 16th August. As it did not appear in the online  edition,  I present it here.

Beethoven’s Irish Songbook Revisited  *****    published in The Irish Examiner 16th August 
The confluence of elegance of 19th century  art, music and architecture made a performance titled The Irish Songbook  in the Long Gallery, Kilkenny Castle a feast for both the eye and the ear. Presented as part of the Beethoven Quest strand of Kilkenny Arts Festival, the performers featured four contrasting voices with the Fidelio Trio.
Although Thomas Moore is generally accepted to have been the major player in bringing Irish songs to a worldwide audience, Beethoven also had a part in improving our cultural image in Napoleonic Europe when he accepted a commission to arrange a collection of airs from Scottish publisher, George Thomson. Reports state it was the poet Robbie Burns, who pointed out that many of the melodies were in fact Irish and persuaded Thomson they would be more 'saleable' marketed as such and  duly, a selection of airs with accompaniments for piano trio  was published.  Although Beethoven requested the words so he could 'effect the correct expression'  he didn’t have them and this may have contributed to the songs’ dubious reputation. The late Tomás O Súilleabháin embarked on substituting the original texts with more suitable alternatives. It was these texts we heard in Kilkenny in a selection of  17 of a total of  72 revised settings.
Mezzo soprano, Alison Browner opened proceedings on a savvy humorous note, When I was a Maid, before adapting her rich creamy tones to draw out the melancholy in Moore’s, How Dear to Me the Hour. She was followed by Eamonn Mulhall whose light and airy tenor was just right for the sentimental lines of Burns, O Stay Sweet Warbling Woodlark. Soprano Aoife O Sullivan’s rendition of Burns, The Catrine Wood was all winsome  charm. There was a quiet murmur of approval for baritone David Howes’ first solo contribution, a setting of Byron’s love poem, The Kiss, Dear Maid . There were duos, trios and to finish, all four took to the platform for a jaunty, Quick We Have But a Second. The Fidelio Trio put a degree of light and shade into Beethoven’s  Ghost Trio. The performance was marred only in that they were out of sight to most in the long space and would have benefitted from a platform.
In the words of Thomson, these songs were rather like the paintings and tapestries lining the Long Gallery, ‘exquisitely coloured and highly finished pictures’.   Superb!

 Eugene Downes was eloquent and clear in his opening introduction. Margaret O Sullivan and Mary Scarlett were present to hear the results of  their fathers lifetime project of presenting the songs with  alternative texts.   A major DIT project  resulted in the release of a 4 CD set of the 72 songs and a special performers edition will be  published shortly. The songs were the subject of radio documentary with broadcaster Liz Nolan and you can listen back here .

While I enjoyed the songs on both occasions, I can't say I was that struck by the superior quality of the revised settings. I was amused at Moore's lines of 'When through the piazzetta' which rhymed with Ninetta. but to be fair that was not representative. I must also admit to a twinge of misgiving.  If Moore with held the lyrics in his lifetime  much to the chagrin of Thomson  to preserve them for his own project, is it  quite fair to appropriate them after his death?  What is really terrific,  both in this volume from DIT and in Una Hunt's 6CD  collection of Moore's Melodies, are sound recordings  of many of the young emerging  Irish voices.  Most of them would not be recorded at this point in their careers were in not for these two substantial endeavours. 

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Kilkenny Arts Festival

Members of the Heath Quartet under the umbrella  photo C Desmond 

Kilkenny Arts Festival is done and dusted  for this year. I made three daytrips from my base in Waterford   I enjoyed the Early Opera Company's concert performance of Handel's pastoral mini opera, Acis and Galatea  at St Canice's Cathedral. My review for The   Irish Examiner .is here .

My review of stargaze gala is in today's Irish Examiner.  review here. Omitted from the review was mention that the running time was about three and half hours which for most of us was a tad excessive.
Director, Eugene Downes did an rather good  job of  introducing the events setting the context in measured clearly enunciated tones.

 I enjoyed visiting the charming garden spaces both at the Bishop's Palace and Butler House where members of the Heath Quartet and Martin Hayes played  brief alfresco sets. The wind rustling in the trees made a charming counterpoint to the murmuring strings

Review for the Beethoven Irish Songbook published in print edition on Sat 16th August  see next post,

Do go on to the KAF website  and look at the wonderful images  captured by photographer Ross Costigan .

Other events we enjoyed were the Ulysses Street Orchestra and the Paris Swing Band at the Left Bank. These groups were not part of the official programme but added to the general gaiety.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Record Review: Greenshine

All the world is shadow and sun 

Greenshine are a family group in a mellow folk meets popular vein. Shadow and Sun, the title of one of the tracks sets the mood for the album mixing sunny cheer  with the odd dark cloud . There are 14 songs- some covers and some from the collaborative efforts  of Noel Shine and Mary Greene , They are joined by daughter Ellie in  smooth blended  vocal harmonies and understated finger picking on guitar, mandolin and ukulele  with the  dab of a whistle or harmonica here and there.  Martin Leahy adds a light touch on percussion.Meet me in the Garden as the sun is going down, I'll follow the sun, Samhradh Linn, the sunshine soaked lyrics abound. Daughter Sadie Shine does a turn on a Beatles number, Ruby Tuesday.
I was reminded of Loudain Wainwright 111   in the pictures drawn from the ordinary everyday domestic  and John Denver in the cheerful  unruffled style. The voices in the solo numbers sound real,  unchanged by the recording process as if you were listening to them playing in their kitchen as indeed they maybe as they produce their own records in their home studio.  The album is dedicated to absent friends including Thady who graces the cover.  Nice and easy on the ear. A sunny delight!

I was sittting on this review hoping to release it near a gig.  Greenshine however I learned were in Jordans Bar during Sproai Festival. They will be the guests of Frank Hayes of the Island Music Club at the Highway Bar Crusheen Co Clare   on September 13th.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Interview with Sean Boylan Baritone

I caught up with Sean Boylan, the young Meath baritone at a recent recital in Ennis . Review here . He is singing in Sandford Church, Ranelagh  Friday  August 22nd My piece on the engaging singer is in a recent edition of the  Irish Examiner. Inevitably there wasn't  room for everything, Sean had to say  so I present the complete interview here

 Interview with Sean Boylan Baritone

Sean Tell us something about your journey through the music world . We know you started as a pianist. Coming relatively late to formal study. Did you have a piano at home Were you self taught up to that point. When did you start playing the organ

Music was always a part of family life at home. There was an upright grand piano in the hall, and at any family occasion singing, dancing and story-telling could be found around the piano. The piano was never locked, it was always left open to be played. At any available opportunity really I would sit at the piano and make music. When I was in secondary school a teacher heard me playing the piano and was amazed that I had not had formal piano lessons (I was fourteen years old at this stage), and so I auditioned for John O’Conor. However, all the places for piano at the RIAM that year had been filled. John knew that I played the organ and suggested I take organ lessons with their new organ teacher (David Adams) until a place for piano became available. So, I began organ lessons in October 2006 and piano lessons in November 2006. And by spring of 2007 I won the Junior Organ Cup in the Feis Ceoil and won the Espostio Cup for Piano.

How then did you begin to sing?

I always sang. I sang my local church children’s choir, I sang in the choir in my secondary school. But I was very shy about singing for other people, always terrified that people would laugh at me (as a professional singer now that feeling sometimes creeps back!). When I went to secondary school I got the lead in the musical in first year. That was great. However, by second year, it was noticed that I could play the piano and in particular, that I could sight-read well. So, I was much more valuable as a pianist who could sight-read than another ankward, spotty teenager with an ever-breaking voice!

Was there a moment a role that made you say this is for me . Did you perform in school shows?
As I was advancing through my piano studies, playing the piano was becoming difficult in a very different way. I still loved it but the repertoire requirements just got bigger and bigger. I always found memorising large-scale piano works extremely difficult. It was a very stressful barrier for me, and my teachers. As I was progressing as a pianist (and organist on the side), I began taking singing lessons with Virginia Kerr. And in a way, singing just naturally took over. I was spending so much time every day trying to sing on another instrument and suddenly I thought, well why can’t use the instrument I already have. My own voice. I began to win competitions as a singer and I became more attracted to the voice. I always loved theatre, and the stage, and I became more interested in opera… not really knowing anything about it. One Christmas Eve, I played at mass in my alma mater, and as a thank you, Gerry Haugh (a Belevedere institution) gave me a CD of Mozart’s Le Nozze di Figaro. From the moment I heard that overture and the opening scene, I was hooked.

But the real moment that did it for me was when I was in Aspen, Colorado, at the renowned Aspen Music Festival & School. I piano there but I befriended many singers. The singers had very famous coaches from the Metropolitan Opera and other famous houses working with them. So in their practise rooms, they had Steinway pianos. But in the Piano Practise rooms, we had Boston and Essex pianos. So, I used to go to the Middle School and hang around with the singers, and jump onto a Steinway whenever one was free. I stayed all hours, and I was away from all the other pianists, so I could be less embarrassed in case anyone would hear me practising my Czerny and Chopin studies at a painfully slow tempo for hours (this practise gave me the technique I have today, and I had to do this as I was so late to formal training). One day I was practising and a friend of mine came into the room, a baritone with a gorgeous voice and he asked me to play through some of his music with him. And I was simply blown away by the power, colour and excitement of the sung voice up-close. That year they also presented the Marriage of Figaro... and then I thought, yes, I HAVE to know more about this. I began to take my singing a lot more seriously.

What has been the highlights of your singing experience to date

Singing in St. Giles’ Cathedral, Edinburgh as a soloist on Hogmanay.. there’s no where better to be to ring in the New Year, and to be there because my voice brought me there was a great pleasure. I never expected or assumed that would ever happen.

Singing in masterclasses for Sir Thomas Allen & Ann Murray DBE, I never ever thought there would come a time where I would get to sing some of my musical heroes.

You have just finished your degree . What is on your agenda for next year .

Next year will be a very busy year for me. I won’t be on a full-time course in an institution but I have designed a course of my own with the guidance of my teacher and some wonderful coaches. I will travel to investigate Masters courses abroad, work on my languages, as well as singing many recitals, and upcoming roles (Amida in L’Ormindo by Cavalli for the RIAM in January 2015). I have been asked to enter some international competitions in 2015 also, so there is much to prepare for.

Who inspires you ? Particular performers that you aspire to emulate
Virginia Kerr. She has taught me to treasure and respect my voice, and has always guided me with honesty and my best interests at heart.
Ann Murray. For being the master of whatever it is she sings.
Simon Keenlyside. For being a storyteller. For me, the aim is to communicate, not just make nice sounds. Keenlyside can do both!

What has been your experience of opera to date . Is there a role (s ) in the repertoire that you would love to play.
I have been very lucky to have attended many opera productions. I have family in London and they are endlessly generous in allowing me to stay with them while I dash from the opera house to concert halls and theatres for various productions. I don’t really drink and I don’t smoke, so I tend not to spend all my nights in clubs or bars… I go to see and hear as much as I can.

I have my eyes on the well-know roles such as Figaro in both the Marriage of Figaro and the Barber of Seville, Papageno (The Magic Flute), and the lesser known Pelléas (Pelleas & Melisande).

What is on your ipod

My iPod is a very bizarre place! Right now I’m going through a big Beethoven and Brahms phase. So I’ve got all of their symphonies, concertos and sonatas on there. Oh, and Mahler. (Brahms’ 4 and Mahler 9 are two masterful symphonies and two of my dessert island discs!!!) There’s some Monteverdi and Prokofiev… and other music which ranges from Jamie Cullum and Frank Sinatra to Lauryn Hill, Sia, and some of my favourite trap DJs.

I love music. I can’t live without it. There are days where I will purposely walk the longest possible route home just so I can finish a piece of music!

What do you do you do to unwind Do/ did you play football

I live in the heart of Dublin so I can escape to almost anywhere in the city. I love to go out for food or coffee with friends. After a long day, I’ll often go by myself and bring a book, just to wind down. Otherwise I don’t sleep. I swim and go to the gym five days a week, and I find this really helps my energy levels and my sleeping pattern. Often I’ll watch a movie or a box set on my laptop, I haven’t watched TV since maybe November 2013?!!

You are from a line of herbalists Do you recommend any particular remedy to keep the voice in order

Yes, there is one tonic that my Dad prescribes for the voice. It is wonderful. The late, great Margaret Burke-Sheridan was a great fan of this (she got it from my Grandfather!) and she brought this bottle all around the world with her.

How did you go about choosing today’s repertoire.  (Ennis Recital)
I have a particular attraction to each of the composers that featured today. I wanted to include German Lieder, French Melodies and English Song. I also included some Irish Songs because I feel that we too have a great stories to tell, and a rich culture to celebrate. And these songs remind me of this.
Each of the songs are masterpieces in themselves, they are like mini-operas.

Any other forthcoming recitals performances you’d like to flag
I am singing a lunchtime recital in Sandford Parish Church, Ranelagh, Dublin 6, accompanied by David O’Shea, piano at 1.10pm on Friday August 22nd.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Musici Ireland Chamber Music Series at NCH

I caught the second of Musici Ireland's lunchtime chamber music series at the NCH on Thursday.  I try to reserve my use of superlatives for particularly splendid performances but this recital of piano quartets was absolutely excellent. A combination of elements made this occasion truly joyful.  There was committed and elegant playing from the trio of string players, Joanne Quigley, Beth McNinch and Grainne Hope.  There was a brilliant virtuoso element in the contribution of guest, Finghin Collins, at the piano,  particularly in the opening Mozart Quartet in Eb. Best of all, there was a sense of joy and collegiality between the performers that radiated from the platform to  the full house gathered in the John Field Room.  We heard two works . Mozart's opus 493 in Eb, delightful and effervescent  followed by a more lush and Romantic  Fauré in C minor.  It was like having a glass of the driest sparkling champagne  followed by the richest full bodied red  You can read a more in depth description in this review from the Goldenplec

The performers looked summery in floral dresses and grey suit. (RTE NSO please note)
Musici Ireland is a collective of players drawn from Irish. professional orchestras, established in 2012 by Beth McNinch, a Wexford based viola player. There are two further concerts scheduled. Next week the trio are joined by Helena Wood for a programme of Classic film music. The final concert on 28th August features another of A+  list piano virtuoso, Micahel McHale and violinist Ioana Petcu Colan, bass Sarah Halpin  for a Schubert programme.

Venue notes.
It was nice to see senior  NCH management  present among the audience.  The  lobby café coffee is dreadful.  To add insult to injury,  it is served in paper cups.  A glass of white wine will set you back  a whopping €6.95.  For that price I would expect a bottle to be plucked ceremoniously  from an ice bucket and poured   into  crystal by the starched  cuffed hand of a sommelier. 

Related Posts Summer Soups Songs: Lunchtime at NCH and St Columbas's

Saturday, August 9, 2014

War Pipes and Burgundy Blues

The Normandy Beaches: You can’t but be moved reading the testaments from surviving soldiers mounted on panels  at Omaha Beach. Of the many images, the one that lingers is of Bill Millin playing Highland Laddie and Road to the Isles on his bagpipes as his kilt floats in the water and colleagues fell around him. Bill Millin's story is told in this  TV report by Dan Rather

After Midnight 
Blues in Dijon Next stop Dijon. Capital of Burgundy. It is damp and drizzly and on Monday night with the Opera and Theatre dark, there is a sense that everyone is at home washing their hair or left town for the holidays. Images of Rameau are everywhere as the Dijonnaise celebrate a significant anniversary In the foreground of the splendid honey stones Palais de Ducs, there are signs of life at the Grand Ducs Brasserie packed with enthusiastic punters for a 4 piece Blues Band After Midnight which in one of those everyday ironies finished at ten..
listen to ‘Live music Le Grand Duc Dijon France’ on Audioboo

Summer Soup Songs: Lunchtime series at NCH & St Columba's

St Columba's Ennis
I heard two terrific young singers  in two lunchtime  recitals  a couple of weeks ago. The first was  in the grand auditorium of the prestigious National Concert Hall with the full forces of the RTE National Symphony Orchestra, the second, in the hidden gem of the  neo Gothic St Columba's Church in Ennis County Clare.

My review of baritone Sean Boylan with pianist Tham Horng Kent was published earlier this week in the Irish Examiner, link here . It is good to see this series establishing itself on the scene hosted by Helen Houlihan. What impressed her about today's singer, I asked the soprano. 'The voice of course but most of all the ability to get right into the heart of the text' she said. Virginia Kerr was among the gathering to hear her student perform. Sopranos Ruth Kelly and Edel O Brien who also perform as part of the series were in a attendance to support  their fellow artists.
Rachel Kelly

Another rising star of the opera stage drew a full house to National Concert Hall on Tuesday for the final concert in the RTE National Symphony Orchestra's lunchtime series.  In a programme titled Love Actually, mezzo soprano Rachel Kelly  demonstrated the sparkling form and graceful stage presence that has propelled her onto the prestigious Jette Parker Young Artist programme at the Royal Opera House in a programme of arias by Mozart, Rossini, Bizet and Guonod. Kelly  sported a 'grand bit of glam' in sequinned gown and sparkly jewellery . The ladies of the RTE NSO wore a casual dress down Friday look in black pants and assorted tops and cardis. Perfect for cycling home in after the concert. Come on ladies! Break out those summer frocks. The occasion demands it. 

The combined forces of the Kelly and Hunt clan gathered in the foyer to support their girl. NCH chief Simon Taylor was in the John Field Room to greet concert goers.  The combination of great value price €10 and a daylight hours performance with a tidy running time  attracted a large proportion of senior citizens and day trippers. 'I come every week' said Mary from Dundrum. 'Tuesday is always music day. I wouldn't miss it'

You can hear Rachel singing in a master class with the soprano Joyce di Donato here  

Kelly has a busy Autumn schedule ahead. as a cast member of major new productions at the ROH  in the Autumn season. She appears in the ROH collaboration with The Globe, L'Ormindo and in Verdi's early work, Il Duo Foscari. The series continues with the RTE Concert Orchestra picking up the baton.  Their guest soloist on Aug 12th  is soprano Ana Devin followed by  Eamonn  Mulhall on 26th. John Wilson, new principal conductor of the RTE CO conducts an instrumental programme on August 19th 

Bus 145 directly in front of Luas stop brings you all the way from Heuston Station to  Leeson Street , a stone's throw from the NCH

Friday, August 8, 2014

Toscanissimo: La Boheme at Gran Theatro all 'Aperto Giacomo Puccini

While Wagner fans contemplate  the holy grail of  a trip to Bayreuth, Puccini fans make a  pilgrimage to Torre del Lago, the final resting place of the Tuscan composer near the Italian seaside town of Viareggio in Tuscany. This year the Puccini Festival celebrates 60 years with four productions under the title L'Amore Trafigge, 'Love Pierces the heart' . On a balmy Saturday evening,  pilgrims converged on the Gran Theatro all' Aperto for a performance of La Boheme by all manner of transport. Buses and cars gave way to a throng of bicycles and mopeds. The audience of mixed ages seemed to represent a  cross section of Italian society and the atmosphere was not unlike that of  a build up to a big match with street vendors selling refreshments, programmes and Puccini memorabilia  lining the route.

Director, Ettore Scola a veteran of Italian Cinema played it straight,  avoiding the temptation to  modernise using the tricks of his trade and we got a sparkling traditional production. He is quoted in a local paper . I include a translation here- 'Revisions, updates, upgrades, contributions in video and in digital, strobe effects, endless possibilities to 'modernize' the opera crowd his restless mind. Then, fortunately, everything falls humility and common sense remind him that modernity is already in all those works, in music, in feelings, in the soul that made them eternal ...'

There is a murmur of approval and a round of applause when the set for Momu's Café is revealed. and there is a collective gasp at snowflakes flurry  in Act 3. Of course, one doesn't expect the acoustic of a major indoor theatre but the sound was quite good from the lower tiers and if it was less so at the top, you had  a backdrop of stunning lake views to compensate.

Conductor Valerio Galli (a local from Viareggio ) was  almost balletic in his podium presence  with his energetic and graceful conducting style compelling attention. With five performances over weekends in July and August, there is some rotating casting.  Italian songbirds, Danielle Dessi as Mimi and Alida Berti as Musetta had the audience hooping and hollering. There was a lovely moment in Mimi's aria when a lake bird could be heard in a brief duet around the vocal line. It was the bonhomie and sonority  of the gentlemen that  generated the warmth and this production  Alessandro Luongo as Marcello and Fabio Amiliato as Rudolfo made a very well matched  tenor/ baritone  blend. Marco Spotti  was a rich and sonorous Colline, Frederico Longhi as Schunard completing  the bohemian quartet Have a listen in the video of Spotti singing the same role at Orange  and see if you agree?  It was all beautifully done and the audience responded enthusiastically as they would in support of a home team on their local turf.
As  I watched an impossibly good looking, elegantly dressed Italian couple don  helmets and scoot off  on  a Vespa in the warm night air, it felt like a silver screen  moment from La Dolce Vita.
There are some festivals that one feels very fortunate to have  visited once and there are some that you  would love to return to. The Puccini Festival is definitely one of  the latter.

How to get there?
I made the trip by special bus service from Viareggio.  Torre del Lago is less than 20km from Pisa and Lucca. There are regular flights to Pisa from Shannon and Cork with Ryanair until October.

Related posts Toscanissimo A Day at Wexford Opera   Includes my interview with Pisa baritone, Alessandro Luongho

All Europe's a Stage: Six Top European opera festivals to visit this Autumn

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Nights in Italian Gardens

In  the corner of a walled  garden overlooking the vine laden plains of Piedmont on a stone patio, sat a grand piano. When I arrived at Castello Reale, a classy villa hotel in a tiny village of Verduno, residents were sitting at their al fresco dinner tables in the evening sunshine and the garden was filling up with locals coming in to hear Kozma István Levente, a young Romanian pianist for one of a dozen or so free concerts  on the programme of the Alba Music Festival .  With a babe in arms, the hostess,  welcomed the gathering and thereafter the virtuoso piano  mingled with the sounds of birds and other assorted animals floated on the evening  air.  The programme was substantial, Beethoven Chopin, Schubert and Saint Saens, the local audience a mix of young and old  .

In the dimly lit garden, more restless patrons were free to amble around the fringes without disturbing the more fervent gathered around the piano. On departure there was a glass of wine compliments of the house. Famous for it's truffles and the wines of nearby Barberesca and Barolo, Alba made for a pleasant bucolic stop. It was so  tempting to stay longer with a concerts of zarzuela and jazz  in Alba scheduled for the following evening  but onward to the coast in search of Puccini.

Have a listen to apres concert buzz at Castello Reale Verduno . Magic!

Monday, August 4, 2014

Swiss Airs. 36 hours at Verbier Festival.

WIth one tiny road in and out of it, you’d struggle to find Verbier on a map. About twenty minutes East of the Swiss town of Martigny you begin the climb and on top of a scary Porsche strewn, corkscrew drive you arrive among the timbered chalets of the swish resort, a haven for hikers and home to a prestigious Summer classical music festival . This year when I visited, 'the sun did not come out to play'. The cable cars were running but the clouds were down and it was damp and chilly on the Swiss alps.

In In the 21st year of the festival, it has continued to attract some of the biggest names of the classical music establishment.. I am just in time to hear Pinchas Zukerman play a conventional Beethoven programme with the Festival Orchestra, an international ensemble of players drawn from conservatoires. The concert is in the Salle des Combins, a huge utilitarian black box with a roof of interlocking steel, erected three years ago to cope with larger audiences. Although there isn't a scintilla of charm, the acoustic is surprisingly good and the sight lines even from the cheaper seats at the back are clear. In a bittersweet touch, the Medici TV crew are running archive footage of a 1970 concert at St John Smith Square of the soloist with Barenboim and the late Jacqueline Du Pré. An assortment of auxillary tents sort the  audience into 'amis', sponsors and common or garden punters.

Later, a Mendellsohn octet heard at the late night slot in the Eglise, the second of the official venues is charming and lovely (and gratis) . The atmosphere in the modern spartan building is relaxed and informal, the audience at about 10% of the 500 capacity. Down the hill, a lively reggae band are ensconced in the Croc Bar with a cool jungle themed terrace

No room at the chalet

With main concert tickets being pricey, (considerably more than for similar events in London) I embark on extracting maximum value from the OFF, the fringe festival incorporating masterclasses, talks and recitals. It was unfortunate that most of the events I choose misfire. Via cable car, I set off for the Sumer Camp and percussion workshop. In the spacious auditorium at the futuristic Espace St Marc, I find one young participant and interpreter being put through their paces by an African djembe master with an audience of half a dozen or so. It is not a buzzy event. At the eglise, I attempt to catch the second half of the official morning concert but straw hatted ladies staunchly guard the barriers. At the Place Blanche, the cheerful Macadam Jazz Band optimistically set up outside but are forced indoors to the uber chic wine bar by the insistent drizzle. Never mind. There is a masterclass with Zukerman to look forward to. Ah but sadly, there is no room at the Chalet Orny as the venue is packed to capacity well before start time. So on to the comfortable cinema which is full of local senior citizens for a elegant spirited playing in a programme of duos and trios by Brahms, Schumann and Beethoven from Academy members.
Macadam Jazz Band:  Verbier's soggy bottom boys 
Pinchas Zukerman
Yossou n'Dour
Yossou nDour is the poster boy for the daily newsletter under a headline 'Ceci n'est pas classique' just in case there is any misapprehension The punters I have encountered thus far don't strike me as ethnic music fans and I am curious to see whether a different audience will appear. It is a younger audience and they are on their feet and swaying. This concert sadly is disappointing due to the appalling over amplification robbing lyrics of any clarity. It is like an aural sauna that I can stand for about ten minutes, so not for the first time today , I beat an early retreat and attempt to breach the ramparts of the eglise. Eventually an official has a heart and I am admitted to the inner sanctum. to hear Joshua Bell , Stephen Isserlis and the nonagenarian Menahem Pressler play Dvorak for a fervent audience. It is terrific.

Chatting to one local resident, I had the sense that this has not been the liveliest year in the 21 year history. 'Before I could just open my window and hear music all around. This year it is more structured with more events taking place indoors. Originally, she explained, the main concerts took place in a tent in the village'.

While I enjoyed my brief sojourn in the Swiss Alps, and heard some fine playing from A list guests and impressive newcomers, I was unimpressed by the charmless venues and with steep prices, it is not just the altitude that will give you a nosebleed. One aspect mystified me. Where were the post show parties? Once the concerts were over, the audience and performers seems to dissipate into thin mountain air, perhaps back to their chalets and studios and the bars and restaurants were not the lively hubs of apres concert chatter you might expect.

Related Posts  Spirited Swiss Duo in Waterford.