The motto of the 2018 Musikdorf Ernen’s festival, «On the move», is one that refers both to the individual concert program offer, and to the profile of the festival itself. Artistic Director Francesco Walter has said that the organizers strive to steadily «keep moving» so that guests will be able to enjoy something novel in the festival every year. That said, the music village will—for the first time this coming fall—welcome the winners of the Orpheus Swiss Chamber Music Competition in concerts with varied repertoires. The prestigious «Orpheus» was founded in 1974 to support young, talented chamber music ensembles at the beginning of their professional careers. To date, close to 300 prize-winners have benefited from its support, and many have gone on to international acclaim.
One day last week, the Head of the Ernen Tourist Office, Irene Clausen, kindly took me on a special tour of the handsome Jost-Sigristen House Museum, a house that proudly stands smack in the middle of Ernen.
What better way to see and connect with the work of one fine photographer than to visit it with another? Here in Ernen, select images by the Mongolian photographer Tamir Bayarsaikhan (born 1985) are being shown through September in his first solo exhibition, «Shadow on Us.» I shared a viewing of it with Bernard Brand, the affable South African who is this year’s official photographer for Musikdorf Ernen.
Contemporary as well as classical compositions belong to the repertoire of the fine SOLAND choir. Its members confidently venture into the modern genre as readily as they tackle the classical vocal repertoire. And inasmuch as the choir is interested in the art of developing sound, it engages professionals and newcomers alike in joint performances.
Lucky for us, it’s all in the family. Back in 1944, Oskar Chanton launched a wine enterprise in the community of nearby Visp that would specialize in wines indigenous to that hardy mountain region. When the elder Chanton retired, his son Josef-Marie—known as «Chosy»— took over the helm. And in 2008, he, too, passed over responsibilities for the enterprise to his son, Mario. Now in the third generation, Mario continues the Chanton tradition of growing rare grapes with pioneer drive and commitment.
The Zendenrathaus in Ernen is an imposing, solitary three-story building on the east side of the so called “Hengert,” which roughly translates to “village square.” There’s an uncanny resemblance between the Swiss-German word—for a place to catch up on the news out of doors—to the English “hang out”, meaning to meet up and speak with friends in a casual way. Miracles in language never cease!
One has to marvel at the lush garden plots that seem to dot much of the landscape between here in Ernen and the neighboring village of Mühlebach. In them, the visitor will see vegetables and grains, fruits and salad greens, but also a remarkable proliferation of flowers: cornflower blue next to the yellowy chamomile, parsley and hyssop next to lavender and sage. These are the plots of the Bergland production, whose produce is grown according to the stringent criteria of biodynamic cultivation.
«Pray to St. Anthony!» Not being Catholic myself, it was thanks to dear Mrs. Simonato, the Italian woman who helped us with the children when I went back to work, that I knew the appeal. If a homework assignment was missing, if a book had been misplaced, she called on St. Anthony’s graces to find it. And imagine; here, in nearby Niederernen, was a little pilgrimage chapel that carried his name and made a wholly inviting impression. I just had to visit it.
Anyone who returns to Ernen year after year invariably notices that in the town’s infrastructure is forever being improved, that the area’s cultural and historical highlights are increasingly being given their due. Efforts to enrich the visitor’s experience are many, in no small part because of the support of the Landschaftspark Binntal, the umbrella organization whose commitment to sustainable tourism has been cited as exemplary by visitors and experts alike.
As much a joint venture as it was pioneer project, a dance film and jazz concert recently celebrated its world première for the large audience in the Ernen town hall. It tapped the creative energies of two artists who shared neither age group nor genre, nationality nor history, but whose talents merged to make a memorable performance.
Aujourd’hui, la programmation musicale des orchestres et des festivals est surtout dictée par les conventions et par les impératifs financiers. À l’affiche, on trouve, à côté du nom des sponsors, les noms d’une vingtaine de compositeurs, nés grosso modo entre 1770 et 1870. Le résultat ? Une vision extrêmement étriquée de la musique, un appauvrissement de la vie culturelle, une démotivation croissante des interprètes.
One of Musikdorf Ernen’s artists this season is the highly sought-after and equally personable British composer and violist, Sally Beamish.
The Sepp Blatter Foundation recently awarded a sum of CHF 25,000 to the Musikfdorf Ernen in acknowledgement of its efforts, achievements, and the enormously positive resonance of its annual festival has spurred. “As if pennies from Heaven!” confessed Francesco Walter, Artistic Director of the Musikdorf Ernen Festival, describing his initial reaction to news of the generous prize.
Er kommt aus Schottland, meinem Lieblingsland. Sein leicht gekräuseltes hellbraunes Haar ist ganz leicht nach vorne ins Gesicht gekämmt – so schien es mir – wie bei Komponisten oder feinen Herren aus dem 19. Jahrhundert, die sich oft auf Stichen festhalten liessen – mit steifen Stehkrägen, die ein Nicken verunmöglicht hatten. Von Ohr zu Ohr ein halbkurzer Bart gleicher Farbe wie das Haar, auf dem Hinterkopf der Ansatz einer Glatze, wie bei Mönchen aus dem Mittelalter. Seine schwarze Jacke und die Hose umhüllen leger seinen Körper, die Füsse stecken in dezent blauen Socken, die in dunklen Schuhen – eine Mischung aus Turn- und Strassenschuhen – halb verborgen bleiben.
Klaus Leuenberger, formerly chef at the Restaurant St Georg on the Dorfplatz, has taken over the helm at the ErnerGarten in the village’s all-new Generationshaus. I asked him to share his story.
Wood, if you stop to think of it, has been man’s best friend in the world. It held him in his cradle, went to war as the gunstock in his hand, was the frame of the bed he came to rejoicing, the log upon his hearth when he was cold, and will make him his last long home. It was the murmuring bough above his childhood play, and the roof over the first house he called his own, … the forest where he seeks sanctuary from a stony world.”â Donald Culross Peattie Along with its stellar reputation as Musikdorf − world-class musical events staged in the summer season, − the village of Ernen is best known for its unusually rich legacy of 15th to 18th century wooden houses. As one of the few Walliser towns that was spared widespread destruction by war or fire, and because the houses’ facades are typically marked with their dates of construction, Ernen’s is an insightful story about the growth and development of a cohesive alpine community.
Wrapped in white tarps and heavily scaffolded, Ernen’s lovely parish church St. Georg might easily be mistaken today for a Christo intervention, and entitled something like “Wrapped Church.” But no, not quite. For while the 16th century sanctuary was reconfigured into a neo-Gothic style church in 1860, and underwent total renovation in the mid-1960s, that “face-lift” has been its only major intervention since. Now, its roof and façade are being repaired and re-plastered, thus: the wrapped “Christo look.”
It wasn’t easy to find the doorbell. Fact is, there wasn’t a doorbell. I had called to ask if a visit was in order at all: I’d been encouraged to go, but I knew Jules and his wife Yolanda were elderly, that a call might be an intrusion. On the contrary, the couple were glad, I found, to share a little of their story.
Lars Dederscheck, chef at the Gommerstuba in Niederernen, took time off to talk about the fine establishment where his classic French cooking is king.
Yesterday, my daughter Hallie and I took the local bus up the valley to start a short hike from Binn out to Heiligkreuz, the site of a popular pilgrimage chapel, and home to a cozy Gasthaus I’d long wanted to visit. Starting out, our path out from the Binn bridge rose slowly upwards from the river, passing to the left of the elevated village church and two humble grey donkeys that were grazing beneath it.
With the forest floor covered in a thick carpet of evergreen needles, “the patter of little feet” may have been harder to hear in the Zauberwald (Magic Forest) on 16 July, but that didn’t mean that any had stayed away. On the contrary: the village of Ernen chose that day to celebrate the tenth birthday of its marvelous children’s outdoor adventure playground with a festive jubilee, and a handsome number of children and their parents came.
A year ago, Peter Clausen kindly spoke with me about his Gemeinschaftsgarten project, the Ernen village community garden that I covered in this blog (click here to read the blog of last year). This July, he invited me to see the first stages of the bee-yard (apiary) that he, members of the community, and recruits from the Swiss Army had erected some 10 minutes up into the Binntal. This was to be my first face-to-face encounter with bees and their hives, so I had to dress accordingly: long trousers and good socks at the very least. Peter also had a second hooded beekeeper’s jacket for me to wear once we started checking the hives.
Don’t you meet people under the strangest of circumstances? Last Saturday, I took part in a moonlit-walk between Ernen and Mühlebach that ended at “Amy’s Schafstube,” a delightful restaurant and terrace just this side of Mühlebach’s hanging bridge. Even late as it was, Amy herself was there to greet our group with homemade savories and sweets, and we all settled in to enjoy them over drinks at wooden picnic tables. My table neighbors included the gifted Andreas Weissen, the specialist in local legends who’d led the hike; a sociable and good-humored couple from nearby Naters; and a rather quiet woman, Paula, who was sitting alone at the far end my bench. She and I only struck up a conversation around midnight, when a fat old full moon first showed its silvery light over the opposite hill, then slowly rose in all its glory − a spectacle of the first order.
This week in mid-July marks a red-letter event in Ernen’s literary summer: the annual one-week “Biography” seminar conducted by the renowned German psychologist and author, Dr. Brigitte Boothe. This is the 6th time the seminar has been held in the village’s historic Tellenhaus, the week’s goal again being for participants to explore ways writers define personal experiences and/or crafting a narrative around their own. As in former years, the course targets both young and old, both experienced or still inexperienced attendees who want to address either their own writing or the craft of writing itself, but from a new angle: How and why can I tell the story? Where to begin, and at what point to stop? Are my recollections accurate and true-to-life? How can I find my own literary expression? These were just some among the thought-provoking questions that spurred the direction of this year’s course.
The Gorsatt family enjoys a long history in the Binn Valley (“Binntal”), and Ewald Gorsatt kindly spoke to me this week about the passionate hobby he turned into his profession. His own father, he explained, was an avid mineral spotter (“Strahler”), a hobbyist who “brought home a rucksack full of 50 kg of stones every day.” As a boy, Ewald often joined him to look for crystals, taking a liking to it from the start. Once a teenager, he also assisted the “pros” in other mineral-hunting expeditions. Fast forwarding: After a number of years in his trained profession − mechanical engineering − he turned back full time to his passion for spotting crystals. And today, his enterprise offers a host of mineral-related activities that appeal to people of all ages and with various levels of skill and alpine experience.
July 9 marked the launch of this summer’s first “Piano” festival week at the Musikdorf Ernen, and the superb French pianist Cédric Tiberghien was the evening’s featured soloist. Born in 1975, Tiberghien was once a student of the legendary music pedagogue and pianist György SebÅk (1922-1999) − the Ernen Musik Festival’s founder − so his appearance here in Ernen was a particularly meaningful one. As is usual, the concert venue was the Baroque parish church St. Georg, whose acoustics are often cited as excellent.