Sunday, August 11, 2019

Verbier Festival - Verbier Festival Chamber Orchestra - 08/02/19

Conductor: Leonidas Kavakos 
Mozart: Sinfonia Concertante for Violin, Viola and Orchestra in E-flat Major, K.364/320d 
Leonidas Kavakos: Violin 
Antoine Tamestit: Viola 
Mozart: Symphony No. 31 in D major, K. 297/300a (Paris) 
Beethoven: Symphony No. 7 in A Major, Op. 92 

Partly by chance and partly by design, my last day in Verbier was going to be very busy in the best possible way. The Swiss National Day festivities were now a thing of the past – In typical Swiss fashion, even early morning the village was as sparkling clean as if nothing had happened the night before – but there was still plenty to look forward to on my schedule. And even the two hikes to the highly perched Salle des Combins with still recovering joints and a short but spectacular rain shower to start the day did not manage to put a damper on any of it.
It all began with the free open rehearsal of the evening’s concert featuring the Verbier Festival Chamber Orchestra, Verbier regular Leonidas Kavakos fulfilling double duty as conductor and violinist, and the ubiquitous French violist Antoine Tamestit for a program that included compositions by Mozart and Beethoven. Not exactly unfamiliar fare, but hey, there’s a reason why those works have become classics after all, and a little reminder once in a while never hurts.
Starting with the symphonic works, including a particularly inspired allegretto from Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7, Kavakos and the precociously talented musicians of the chamber orchestra worked long and hard while giving the audience much to be enjoyed already. After the well-deserved intermission, watching Kavakos and Tamestit brilliantly play off each other was another fun time that would definitely bear repeating a few hours later.
And that’s just what I did, after a seasonal lunch of rösti with chanterelles and apricot tart eaten al fresco on the balcony with a view of the Relais des Neiges restaurant, followed by a pre-concert talk by Verbier Festival Foundation and Academy musicologist Michèle Larivière, who provided valuable context and insights regarding the program. But then again, indulging in the culinary and musical arts is what vacation, and life, should be all about, n'est-ce-pas?

Having Leonidas Kavakos “just” conduct always feels like such a damn waste when you know what he can do with a violin. On the other hand, on Friday night, we got to hear him not only play his inseparable Stradivarius, but also engage in a perfectly balanced and high-spirited conversation with Antoine Tamestit, the other Stradivarius-wielding duettist, during Mozart’s delightful Sinfonia Concertante. The dazzling cross-over piece was written when the fast-evolving artist was 22 years old, and the fact that it would suit those two certified virtuosos so well more than two centuries later incidentally also speaks volumes about the composer's visionary nature and timeless appeal.
After this uplifting performance, Kavakos was back sans violin, baton or score to conduct Mozart’s lively Paris symphony. Composed shortly after his Sinfonia Concertante for what was at the time an unusually large orchestra, his Symphony No. 31 is a rather short but irresistibly engaging and impressively confident work, to which conductor and orchestra did full justice on Friday night. From the bluntly assertive opening all the way to the positively sweeping finale, countless gorgeous melodies happily filled up the space and spontaneously brought a smile to everybody’s face, confirming the steady power of this concert favorite all over again.
After Mozart’s youthful efforts and an intermission, we were greeted by Beethoven and his symphony No. 7. Released a couple of decades after the Mozart pieces we had just heard, the Seventh took us on brand new, much wilder territory with an ambitious first movement, an ever-popular and achingly beautiful allegretto, a breathless scherzo, and a take-no-prisoners finale, which the fired-up orchestra readily turned into a thrilling roller-coaster that we were all only too eager to ride. Even the young boy behind me who had at times been fidgety during the first half of the program became completely mesmerized by the sheer intensity of the whole experience. Not a bad way to conclude this first, but hopefully not last, Verbier Festival.