Wolfgang Mende

Eliane Rodrigues

Semper furore
Comments on the first concert week of "Música Romântica" 2010

Saas-Fee is once again holding its "Música Romântica" festival. The years of struggle for its continuation are over for the initiator and organiser Ernest Smeets, and one wonders, after this exciting new beginning, how such "irritations" could arise in a mountain community with a European reputation.

After all, the artistic director has been visiting for decades. It is thanks to him and his energy and tenacity, his talents and his wife and muse that the tourist office is able to make the "Pearl of the Alps" even more appealing.

The Brazilian Eliane Rodrigues is again in 2010 the focus of the musical happening with her spontaneity and exuberant vitality. A virtuoso with an exuberant temperament and an extensive repertoire, impulsive, fiery and sometimes ecstatic, the professor from Antwerp is all of these, and also a prominent composer. Music is her passion, like football is to the men of her native country. As a conductor she wrestles the piano to be faithful to the score. Technical issues are alien to her.

The programme for the two weeks is a wide range of orchestra, concert and chamber music tailored around her enormous talent at the piano. She is the main attraction of the festival, surrounded by outstanding soloists. Colourful rehearsals and elegant evening gowns underline her inspirational and dominant character, which surrounds both the greatest harmony and cordiality.

The long-standing, venerable head of the Academic Orchestra of the St. Petersburg Philharmonic, Prof. Alexander Dmitriev, and the first concert master and first violin of the Stravinsky Quartet (who had his first performance this weekend) are willing lead by her. They know each other from concerts shared together and recording CDs in the former capital of the tsars.

The extraordinary and commendable about the Saas-Fee classical festival is for me the opening of the church doors for all the rehearsals of the orchestras, ensembles and soloists. Tourists, "fans" from Belgium, the Netherlands and Germany as well as locals, are increasingly taking advantage of this. Whilst on the first day there were on average only 30 listeners on and off, there were 80-100 interested listeners all the time on the fifth day. Atheist parents can now teach their boys that you may not sit in a church with a baseball cap on. But what is important is that children and teenagers who are mainly exposed to rhythm, dynamics and show, sat between their parents. This is music propaganda in action!

The prices for the late night concerts enabled not only the rich and beautiful to attend. Maybe access to the classical and romantic by the young in particular has had dynamic positive effects.

The way Eliane Rodrigues plays with the utmost of ease, effortless in its flow, indicative of trill or figures, was in a unbilled rehearsal a joy to experience, and was loudly appreciated. In the years bringing up her children she has clearly worked on the beauty of sound. How much one would have liked to hear in honour of Chopin, who was born in 1810, a solo evening with etudes and polonaises, which would have done justice to the tender melodies and harmony found by the "little master". Chopin's piano concerts, six relatively similar movements - including the "Krakowiak" - Rondo - suffered too much under Beethoven's demeanour, whereby the instrumentation of the orchestra could hardly shine. And sometimes it seemed: a Blüthner, Bechstein or Bösendorfer would have been better for Chopin's sickly nature than the over-dimensioned Fazioli grand piano.
For all the patriotism of the great Pole: sometimes what reached the ears of the Dresdner listeners in totality was simply too fortissimo!

The indisputable highlights of the concerts (the chamber music was greatly appreciated) were Tchaikovsky's piano concerto in B minor (Bravo Choirs!) and Beethoven's triple concerto, in which the fantastic first concert master and the sweet toned first solo cellist of the Concert Hall orchestra played music with the pianist and the orchestra. These were events that remain in the memory as special holiday experiences, recalling times spent in grandiose buildings.

The parish church in Saas-Fee is an ideal location to play music, considering the tents, halls and sheds of other locations. However, the acoustics of the irregular, unusually wide room is not without its pitfalls. Diverse modifications have been mulled over with the friendly church leaders, who have done so much to promote a worldly festival. Music, which the church has done a lot to develop, is now regarded as an international means of understanding.

Presentations and programmes contribute to the listeners' better understanding. Repeatedly changing the language of texts makes it harder to learn more about the music, or to compose and interpret it. In Upper Valais, audiences should preferably get the programme notes in German and perhaps in a second part a translation should be on offer in English or French, as has been successful with CDs. The introductions to the concert evening could be issued with a copied sheet and the festival programme could be summarised and distributed in larger numbers.

Consolidating the new start means, in particular, sending special invitations to the town president, promotions for the "Música Romântica" (including tourist board advertising in the high street), and large billboards in the towns of Stalden, Zermatt, Visp and Brig. In order to attract all the population, there should be more hotel advertising in the programme instead of pictures. In Ernen or Gstaad, where the Genius loci no longer lingers, the population seems to stand fully behind the organisation's top management.

In the second week concerts are waiting for young and old who have claims to special interests, for example Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue and An American in Paris, Bizet's Carmen and an evening dedicated to film melodies. If that's not an attraction, then what is?

Finally, some suggestions for the classical music festival and its laudable idea of promoting friendship under the peoples: the Liszt year is approaching. In 2013 Wagner and Verdi could perhaps be honoured in cooperation with the Mariinsky Theatre (Opera) St. Petersburg, and when the major Russian orchestra continues with its exemplary presence to give an exceptional framework to Valais, one should plan to honour 1941 and 1812 with a year of Glinka via Tchaikovsky to Prokofiev: to show what a purely cultural people the Russians are. Glière's Hymn to St. Petersburg, the Venice of the North, could be the title.

Keep playing!
Wolfgang Mende