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Jours des Arts IV,  Impressionism and Beyond:  Artists associated with the Swiss Global Artistic Foundation, Hôtel Victoria, Glion-sur-Montreux, Switzerland, 27-30. 9. 2007 (BJ)

Young musicians engaged in the perilous enterprise of building a career need all the help they can get. Thanks to its support for the Seattle premiere of Messiaen’s Turangalîla Symphony, which I reviewed in these columns, I recently became acquainted with one of the most impressive organizations dedicated to providing that help, the Swiss Global Artistic Foundation. My enthusiasm for the Foundation’s work has led its founder and president, the flutist Heather de Haes, to suggest my joining its advisory board, which I hope to do in due course. Meanwhile, not yet having had anything to do with the Foundation’s activities to date, I think I may claim sufficient independence to report on them here.

Set up in London in 1999, originally as the Anglo-Suisse Artistic Foundation, Swiss Global now has its central office in Montreux and other offices in London and New York. With Sir James and Lady Galway, Sir Jack and Lady Lyons, Anton Mosimann, and Don Pedro A. Serra as patrons, its stated aims are to “identify emerging professional musicians and visual artists of exceptional talent”; to assist them with international exposure, professional guidance, and funding for educational opportunities; and to work with any and all organizations that can help these aims to fruition.

Decision-making seems to be blessedly free of that dead hand, dreaded committee rule, being shared essentially between Ms de Haes and the conductor Geoffrey Simon, who serves as artistic director. It is no doubt on account of his background and connections that there is a strong Australian contingent among members of the advisory board, including the well-known composer Barry Conyngham. The other membership of the advisory board, which at present numbers 19, comprises a mix of musicians, scholars, and foundation, financial, diplomatic, and business luminaries based in Switzerland, Britain, and the United States.

The Foundation uses a variety of methods to select the artists it supports–currently, a list of 61 individual musicians and ensembles from all around the world. Among its most important links is an active association with the long-established Young Concert Artists organization in New York, set up by Susan Wadsworth, who still heads it, in 1961. Swiss Global’s leadership attends the regular YCA auditions in New York, and some of its artists were found through that means.

The fourth presentation of the Foundation’s Jours des Arts took place at the end of September at the Hôtel Victoria, beautifully situated in Glion above
Lake Geneva, boasting a fine small concert room, and blessed by a managing director, Toni Mittermair, who collaborated enthusiastically in making this mini-festival a success. Under the title “Impressionism and Beyond,” the event offered both exposure to a number of the Foundation’s musicians and thanks and recognition to some of its most important supporters, including Don Pedro A. Serra, director of the highly regarded art museum in Palma de Mallorca, who was on hand to make a generous gift on paintings for the benefit of Swiss Global’s work. For me, these four days offered an opportunity to listen to some of the supported musicians and to form a very positive estimate of their quality. Of six formal concerts or recitals, I missed the last one owing to the exigencies of air travel, and there were also charmingly informal contributions by some of the performers at the various dinners.

The very first performance at the opening recital was an account of the Debussy String Quartet that threw dazzling new light on this too easily underrated work. The performers were the Modigliani Quartet, four young Frenchmen who clearly constitute one of the Foundation’s most impressive artistic assets. They have been winning prizes all over the place, and I hope to have the chance of hearing them again soon, for they will be playing in Vancouver, British Columbia, and also in Olympia, in Washington State, this coming February. What was so remarkable about their performance was the linear independence they brought to music that is too often allowed to sound ploddingly simplistic in texture. It was a revelation, and its quality was matched later in the week when the group played Ravel’s Quartet to equally fine effect.

Several of the week’s performances brought the young American tenor Matthew Garrett together with the Australian pianist Stephen Delaney (not actually a Foundation artist, but a welcome guest) together for songs by Fauré, Duparc, Ravel, Debussy, Poulenc, and Ives. Garrett demonstrated a wide stylistic range and a good sense of words, and struck me as quite definitely a singer to look out for. Delaney also accompanied the young Russian-born but Swiss-based Elizaveta Shnayder in performances of Ravel and Debussy that showed a keen musical sensibility–she gave every sign of sufficient talent to overcome before long a certain unreliability of intonation–and made his solo mark in Barry Conyngham’s substantial piano piece, Veils 2. Conyngham is a self-proclaimed disciple of Toru Takemitsu, and his vividly atmospheric music possesses something of that late master’s mysterious gentleness, balanced with a steely strength that is all his own. I shall await with high interest the appearance of the string quartet he has recently been writing for the Modigliani Quartet–I was, quite properly, not allowed to attend a run-through of the piece since it is still “work in progress.”

One of Swiss Global’s own supported pianists, Antoine Rebstein, gave powerfully focused performances of left-hand pieces by Saint-Saëns, Reger, and Blumenfeld, and joined three members of the Modigliani in the first movement of Korngold’s Suite for two violins, cello, and piano left hand. The American pianist Jay Gottlieb, a member of the Foundation’s advisory board who now lives in Paris and who was the piano soloist in that recent Seattle Turangalîla, gave a staggeringly virtuoso account of a recital program ranging all the way from Satie, Debussy, and Ravel to Messiaen (Gottlieb’s teacher), Berio, Dutilleux, and Ligeti. And Isabelle Perrin (a fine musician not on the Foundation’s roster, for which she is much too well established, but loosely associated with its activities) offered performances of harp works by Alvars, Andres, Fauré, and Tournier that utterly transcended, in their crystalline clarity, warmth, and perfectly judged rhythm what I have previously thought to be limitations of the harp as a solo instrument.

All these musical treats were interspersed with a series of lectures dedicated to examining the question whether Impressionism in painting has any true counterpart in music. They were given by the Australian musicologist Peter Tregear, by the London-based art dealer Richard Philp, and by Conyngham. I remain still to be convinced of the painting/music nexus, but these three highly cultivated speakers provided much food for thought–and it was good to be reminded, in Philp’s talk, of the essential role Turner played in prefiguring the Impressionist movement; indeed, it’s hard to imagine how Impressionism could have happened, at least in the form we are acquainted with, if he had never lived and painted.

In sum  then, these were four days full of stimulation, and also encouraging in their demonstration of the work Heather de Haes, Geoffrey Simon, and their Swiss Global Artistic Foundation are doing. With the support of a broad assemblage of corporate and individual sponsors and individual friends–and free from the constraints that might well come with direct government funding–its activities seem set to grow ever more artistically fertile.


Bernard Jacobson


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