By Ella Saputra
For three weeks in July, I had the pleasure of attending the Verbier Festival as part of the Junior Orchestra (VFJO) in Verbier, Switzerland. As the first orchestra-only camp I have ever done, this experience was truly special and has helped to shape me as a person and musician in many ways. Having the opportunity to meet and get to know other musicians from all over the world has allowed me to broaden my sense and understanding of the world and people around me.
The VFJO had the privilege of working with phenomenal conductors and coaches. During the first week, the VFJO worked on all the repertoire with conductor Simon Rivard. During the second and third week, the VFJO performed three concerts with three different programs.
For the first concert, the VFJO performed Rachmaninoff Symphony No. 2 and Liszt Piano Concerto No. 2, conducted by Roberto González-Monjas and featuring Alexandre Kantorow as the soloist. For the second concert, the VFJO performed Mendelssohn Symphony No. 5 and Beethoven Piano Concerto No. 2, conducted by Kent Nagano and featuring Mari Kodama as the soloist. During the third week, the VFJO worked with Stanislav Kochanovsky for the final concert, a performance of Hansel and Gretel by Humperdinck with the Verbier Festival Academy’s Atelier Lyrique. This was my first time playing opera, and it really challenged me to become a more attentive player and better listener in order to accompany the singers. I also had the honor of working with violin coaches David Ballesteros and Caroline Simon, both of whom taught me so many tips and tricks about orchestra-playing. I admire the infectious energy and enthusiasm of all these individuals. Their positivity and encouragement was something that was inspiring for us all.
Students of the VFJO were housed in different chalets around Verbier. I lived in my charming chalet, Tom Kitten, with thirteen other students from Portugal, Columbia, Italy, US, Spain, Switzerland, Slovenia, and Belgium, along with our chalet leader. Our chalet operated like a big family – we had breakfast and dinner family-style and we would stay up late playing cards, doing karaoke, and talking. One of my favorite memories with my chalet was when my chalet mates from Italy cooked us carbonara at 11 PM because they wanted the rest of us to try the dish the “right way.”
Each day for rehearsal, we would walk or take the public transportation bus to the cable car station. The cable cars never stopped moving, so we had to be quick with our instruments and bags when getting on. It was a beautiful ten minute cable car ride across the valley to the town of Le Châble, where the VFJO rehearsed. It was a striking and breathtaking view as we were lowered into the valley. We could see chalets and buildings nested in the mountains, and hear the clanging of cow bells and mooing of cows grazing nearby.
Our usual schedule consisted of two and a half hours of sectionals or tutti rehearsal in the morning, followed by lunch, and then three hours of tutti rehearsal in the afternoon. When we were not rehearsing or performing, we enjoyed our free time by exploring the town, hanging out at the student chalets, or watching Verbier Festival Academy concerts. On our days off after concerts, we spent our time hiking in the mountains and to scenic vantage points, including the iconic #VERBIER sign.
These three weeks were extremely physically and mentally demanding. In order to withstand the rigor of the program, it was crucial that I listened to my body in order to prevent injuries. I was able to partake in yoga sessions, which helped me to loosen my muscles and reset my mindset when I felt sore or overwhelmed. Given the limited time and energy I had each day, it quickly became clear in my preparation and during my time there that it was not possible to practice every single note in every single piece. I had to become a smarter musician in the practice room and learn to quickly pinpoint and fix problem spots in a more efficient manner.
One of the highlights of this camp was the opportunity to spend time with my extraordinary colleagues. Hailing from countries all over the world, my peers were some of the most interesting and passionate people I have ever met. I learned so much about their different cultures by talking with them and loved being able to pour our hearts into our music together. I am so thankful for these meaningful interactions.
My time at the Verbier Festival provided me with so much insight into the world of music and into the world around me. I am forever grateful for the unforgettable memories and friendships I made this summer, and cannot express how thankful I am to have been a part of this extraordinary opportunity.
Ella and friends at the Verbier Festival