Emerging talents and a who's who of the world's greatest musicians meet at the Verbier Festival. The young Chinese pianist Yuja Wang opened the 17th edition. The 23-year-old star is an exceptional talent, yet she remains very down to earth. "We are crazy musicians and we are all here in this little town, and we get to know each other and all these big names and they all show up as a real person to talk to you," she said. "All are nice and crazy. So it's very fun, definitely. It's the funniest place to be around in the summer."
For 17 days it's all about music in this little town in the Swiss Alps. What's exceptional about the event is the festival orchestra? Young musicians aged 17 to 29 earn a place through audition. The prize is getting to work under the baton of famous conductors such as maestro Charles Dutoit, Musical Director this year. "It's always very exciting, especially with an international orchestra such as we have here at Verbier," says Dutoit. "It's exciting bringing together young people who hardly know each other, and after a few days of individual training, putting them together for rehearsals and seeing how they work together." Rehearsals take place for most of the day. When they're free in the evenings, some musicians give chamber music concerts. 24-year-old horn player Joe Assi from the United States is on his third visit to Verbier. "This orchestra has a lot of energy," he says. "Despite sometimes things being a little shaky, it always comes together and the young ones come up to meet the older ones. It really works very well because we have the experience and the energy and they come together and the orchestra is fantastic."
And there's also the backdrop of the Alps to provide inspiration. More than a thousand candidates from around the world applied for the coveted places in the orchestra. One who succeeded is Swiss violinist Aurélie Matthey. The 21-year old dreams of becoming a soloist in a big orchestra – until then she's getting as much experience as she can. "There a hundred of us musicians is working together for a month," she said. "We eat together, we rehearse together, we go out together. That creates exceptional ties that I will never forget, that's certain."
For Yuja Wang too, Verbier has a special place in her life. After playing here for the first time three years ago, she signed an exclusive record contract and took the classical world by storm. "I love playing with the festival orchestras," she says. "Because, they are young people like us, have lots of energy and we pick up things very fast. "The other good thing about Verbier is playing with all these extraordinary musicians. That makes me feel like I could play better and converse with them through music."
The extracts heard in this programme are: Sergei Prokofiev's Piano Concerto No. 2 in G Minor, Op. 16 and Gustav Mahler's Symphony No. 1 in D Major