Verbier Festival draws the elites - and music lovers too

Thu Jul 31, 2014 11:04am EDT
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By Michael Roddy

VERBIER Switzerland (Reuters) - There are thousands of music festivals around Europe every summer, but only one lays claim to being held at the highest altitude and that's the one in the Swiss ski resort of Verbier, sometimes called the Davos of the music world.

It gets that nickname in part from the quality of the musicianship. Argentine-born piano star Martha Argerich is a regular, and this year the big names have included Russian pianist Evgeny Kissin, British cellist Steven Isserlis and American violinist Joshua Bell.

But the comparison has a deeper root. The three-week-long Verbier Festival, which runs from July until August 3, draws the moneyed elites and big corporate sponsors.

George Clooney's smiling face is a fixture around the town as the brand ambassador for food giant Nestle's Nespresso coffee line, while Swiss private banker Julius Baer is another sponsor.

Martin Engstroem - the Swedish artists' agent who founded the festival in 1994 and lost 1.2 million Swiss francs ($1.3 million) of his own money in the first two years before the banks and the municipality agreed to help out - won't be drawn to repeat that Davos comparison.

But he is more than happy to concur that Verbier, with its breathtaking mountain scenery, posh hotels and restaurants ready to serve everything from local dried meats to imported giant prawns, has become a go-to place for summer music lovers.

"Almost all the music festivals are in cities - all the bigger festivals," Engstroem said while seated in the portico of one of the marquees set up by the sponsors outside the main "Salle des Combins" hall, with a view of the Alps.

"We are selling 44,000 tickets a year so we are one of the bigger ones and we are the only one really out in nature.   Continued...

Festivalgoers look at a noticeboard listing details of the day's events at the Verbier Festival, July 27, 2014. Picture taken July 27, 2014.   REUTERS/Michael Roddy