Every summer since the year 2000, I have travelled to Switzerland to visit my younger daughter Ada, who lives in Zürich, where she is the senior concertmaster of the Philharmonia Zürich.
During the summer, when the Opera House is closed, Ada and I go to Ernen, a town of 530 inhabitants in the Canton Valais, in the Rhone valley in southern Switzerland. For the past several years, my wife Donna has not accompanied me, as she finds long-distance travel increasingly unenjoyable. While accepting my absences, Donna was somewhat lonely while I was gone. Worse, there have been maintenance crises during my absence. One year, tree roots blocked the sewer drain of our home, resulting in a flood of black water in the crawl space. Another year, a raccoon gave birth to several kits in the chimney. Yet another year, a woodchuck took up residence in the crawl space. Needless to say, Donna became apprehensive about my annual trips to Switzerland.
Yet another benefit of our move to Judson Manor this past June is that both the loneliness and the maintenance issues are now things of the past. While I was away in July, Donna kept active with her volunteer work in the Manor Mart and the library. She was able to continue with the exercise classes, attend a concert in the Ballroom, and enjoy meals in the Lincoln Room, sharing a table with our new friends. Best of all, she was no longer responsible for dealing with home maintenance emergencies, which eased both of our minds.
Ada first went to Ernen in 1983, when she was a student at Indiana University School of Music in Bloomington, to attend master classes given by György Sebők, who was a faculty member at Indiana University until his death in 1999. From 1987 until 2004, she played in the Festival der Zukunft (Festival of the Future) in Ernen. Founded and directed by Sebők, the festival continues to this day under a new name. In 2004, Ada started her own Baroque Festival, which offers five concerts in Ernen during two weeks in July.
In Ernen, we stay in the Chalet Fridolin.
This year, the baroque ensemble included 15 musicians, from 11 different countries. All are free-lancers, selected by Ada and Deirdre Dowling, an Australian violist based in Paris. The music is suggested by members of the ensemble, and selected by Ada and Deirdre to ensure there is a mix of familiar composers (Bach, Handel, Telemann, Vivaldi, etc.) and lesser-known ones, and opportunities for solos. Because none of the pieces have been played together by the ensemble before, there is much rehearsing. There is no conductor—Ada leads the ensemble from her chair. The rehearsals are totally democratic: each musician is free to make suggestions about dynamics, tempi, phrasing, etc.
The performances are fresh and spontaneous, and the musicians enjoy performing together; this spirit is captured by the audience. Rehearsals, which are open to the public, and the concerts, take place in Ernen’s Parish church of St. Georg.
The church seats nearly 400, and the concerts are usually sold out; the audience consists of baroque music enthusiasts from Switzerland, Germany and the Netherlands.
My next journey will be even more pleasant, knowing that Donna will not be lonely, nor have to cope with maintenance crises or chimney-birthed raccoons!