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.
The seven promising young artists chosen to show work in the village-wide summer exhibition “Zur frohen Aussicht” (“To the Happy View”) came to Ernen in March earlier this year. In inclement weather, they had to be convinced that the village was more than just a sleepy alpine town. The main square was void of people, the residents hunkered down inside their wooden houses because of the rain. But each artist had come to determine what their installation would be, and where it would best be placed, so each one would look at the village with a keener eye. For together, artists Moritz Hossli, Thomas Julier, Andreas Kalbermatter, CeÌline Liebi, Celia und Nathalie Sidler and Kathrin Zurschmitten − hailing from other places in Wallis and the rest of Switzerland – had been asked to reflect Ernen’s unique pulse in new works of art.
Brilliant weather, hiking boots packed, two mountain passes ahead; the constellation bode well for my trip from the flatlands up to Ernen. Coming from the area around Baden, I travelled first in the direction of Lucerne, majestic Mount Pilatus hailing me from the distance. Farther south, my route wound up to an altitude of 1,008 meters over the Brünig Pass that connects Canton Obwalden in central Switzerland to the Bernese Oberland. The pass road seemed to give «winding» a new definition, but awarded tremendous − if fleeting − views of the surrounding verdant landscape. Among the most breathtaking at the start was that onto Lungern Lake, whose deep emerald color is so saturated that it seems to defy the rules of Nature.
The Swiss know a thing or two about moving up, down, through and around mountains, and I have to trust that their expertise includes modern bridge construction. But for 280m, a single layer of wooden planks on this painfully simple-looking, swinging, swaying contraption is all that keeps me from a 92m plunge down to the River Rhone. Every creak and groan underfoot adds weight to my regret for every solid kilogram gained from gorging on cheese fondue and fried potatoes for a week.
In Ernen, the "Bergland" is something of an institution. Most visitors to the village saunter at one time or another past the shop marked "Waren aller Art", (Wares of all Kinds) that features a host of healthy food products, cards, and beautifully crafted handmade gifts. Since it has all the charm and freshness of a pop-up store, many don’t realize that it’s at the heart of a busy farm and bio-dynamic marketing enterprise that’s almost as old as the town’s famous music festival.
The 2 August concert in the church in Ernen was a startling combination of old and new. The broad swathe of genres ranged from a shimmering Mozart to a pulsing sound landscape by contemporary Zürcher composer, Alfred Zimmerlin. The premier of his intriguing "On the Move—in a Roundabout Way" had been the talk of the town for weeks, and in his opening remarks, Festival Director Francesco Walter assured us that this would be an unforgettable evening.
While by profession, Leander Locher has been a social worker for many years; he had already begun painting − watercolor, acrylic, and mixed technique − as early as in the 1970s. Looking to achieve a more animated surface, he chose to “leave the second dimension,” and began adding more and more material to his paper and canvas surfaces: sand, chips, and small found objects. It was just that, the pursuit of the three-dimensional experience, that led him naturally to the figurative and three-dimensional expression of sculptural form. As he explains, “sculpture offers you multiple point perspective if you want more than one constant visual”. In other words, if you shift any sculpture even slightly to another angle, you can enjoy a greater number of visual experiences.
Xenia Jankovic has been what’s called a Bestandteil at the Musikdorf Ernen summer festival for many years. I hate to call her a “permanent fixture” inasmuch as her lust for life, enthusiasm, and youthful energies defy that translation of the term. But again this year as Artistic Director of the Chamber Music Plus series, July 31 − August 13, she, more than any other, determines the chamber artists’ repertoire and programming that will be performed under this year’s “Limitless” theme. She kindly consented to a short interview for this blog on the day before the chamber week’s opening concert.
Diana Pavlicek has long had a passion for historic architecture, and the stories that buildings tell of the people who once lived and worked in them. While curator of a major corporate art collection in her daily job, she has a keen eye for design, and an ability to juggle a lot of moving organizational parts. In 2013, she renovated an 18th century hay stall in a scenic Swiss canton of Graubünden, working with an architect to make a cozy holiday retreat, and learning more about the demands of historic restoration as she went. Here in Ernen, she recently began a major restoration project on a house that has been authenticated as one of the oldest dwellings in the village. Located right below the scenic parish church, “Uf dr Flüe” was built on an outcropping of granite that gives it the most solid of foundations. The house was last in the hands of Jules Carlen, an elderly “Erner” who was born and had lived in it all of his life.
The weather being as beautiful as it was, the hiking trail called again. I started out from Ernen in the early morning on the “Upper Suspension Bridge” trail, an easy eleven kilometer hike that meant I could be back in Ernen by lunchtime. Breakfast underway was at the B&B Kummer in Mühlebach, a venue with a special perk: the family’s daughter, Patrizia, was the gold medalist in snowboarding at the 2014 Sochi Olympic Games. Seeing the dozens of trophies from her wins in European and international competitions was impressive, yet made me think she might have been saddened when the Mühlebach ski lift − close behind her house − shut down its operations a few years ago; that was where she’d learned to ski. Granted, the Chäserstatt hotel that reclaimed the top of the ski lift is a great new attraction (see this blog for 28 July), but I’d guess a degree of nostalgia for the venues of one’s youth never entirely abates, especially to a champion.
Travelled even in prehistoric times, the Twingi gorge runs along the length of the Binntal and gives access to the Albrun pass, which became a key alpine transit axis for trade. In the 19th century, the arrival of the English lay ground for tourism as we know it in the valley today; it was the enthusiastic mineral seekers who discovered hidden treasures in the cliffs and came to know the thrill of ascending the Ofenhorn who brought many others to the area. But it wasn’t until the 1930s that the one-time mule path up from the Goms was tarred, and only some 30 years later that a long tunnel was built to insure accessibility to the Binn valley’s villages even in snow.
What is a group of first and second graders doing with a scarecrow at the edge of an Ernen garden? The story actually begins in the city, when Ernen’s own Peter Clausen was visiting a niece in the Zurich-Wipkingen quartier. He admired the pots and large planters she had set in a compact urban garden just off her kitchen. The fledgling plants were flourishing, and she was already enjoying their small but healthy bounty.
As luck would have it this morning, I ran into pianist Charl du Plessis on the lovely Dorfplatz, the central square in Ernen that’s more or less the aorta of the village. Last evening, du Plessis and the other members of his trio − Werner Spies, stick bass, and Hugo Radyn, drums − had knocked the socks off listeners in the jazz program they brought to this year’s Musikdorf Ernen festival. Performing in the main concert venue of the village church, the three musicians came on stage in elegant tuxedos, a modern take on the chasubles and miters clerics might have worn before their Catholic parishioners earlier. Given the repertoire they broke into, however, the three musicians shone just as brightly as the gold gilt alters that stood behind them and also flanked their stage.
Returning to the beautiful town of Ernen for a fourth time this summer, I left high temperatures behind in the lowlands, happy to be getting into cooler mountain air. But it was just as refreshing to climb the last hill to the village, and see Ernen’s hallmark parish church slowly rise up above the field to my left. The church is the major venue in the Musikdorf Ernen’s fine Baroque, piano and chamber music concerts throughout a eight-week season. As such, it is a beacon that has drawn music lovers to Ernen for the last 43 years, with good reason, I might add.
Cited for the first time in the 15th century, the Trusera brought water for centuries from the Milibach in the Rappen valley to irrigate land at lower altitudes. In recent decades, the channel had fallen into a sad state of disrepair and was no longer being used. From 2006, however, in great part because the regional Landschaftspark Binntal took it on as its first major project, the water way was revived and restored, so water now rushes through it again. The system is fascinating, and well worth walking along, especially since it runs through a scenic, almost magical area on the forested flank of the mountain above Ernen.
Ada Pesch, concertmaster for the Philharmonia Zürich, is usually at work at the conductor’s left in the opera house. But for this “Baroque” week in Ernen, the American-born violinist wears the director’s hat. Baroque music is her passion, and her strength in that genre is given deserved visibility here. She also has responsibility for drawing up the roster of artists performing the Baroque repertoire, specialist colleagues who come from all over the world.
The Ernen Tourist Office advertisement for a Wanderbus (hiking bus) caught my eye a week ago. On Thursdays and Sundays, there were pick-up points that meant leaving the driving to someone else, and being able to start the day’s hike from the high alps. I signed up enthusiastically, not really knowing what to expect.
Margrit Zimmermann and Amanda Imhof – two determined women native to the Binntal − have recently joined forces to design a new project: “From Sheep’s Wool to Finished Fabric.” Both women are keen to share their expertise to preserve a legacy that has value for this region.
The interview below first appeared (in German) in the May 2015 edition of Landschaftspark Binntal’s “Park Infos.”
When my daughter and her husband visited me in Ernen, we took time to test culinary waters in the immediate area. The two of them are savvy “foodies,” always looking to explore the culinary landscape when they travel. Heaven knows, it’s fun to go along for the ride.
No question, young Korean pianist Chi Ho Han tackled a repertoire that was highly challenging. While a skeptic might call his choice “the brash courage of youth,” Han was quick to show he was no rookie to the concert stage. Granted, nobody can “breeze through” works as difficult as the ones he chose for his program, but his performance showed him both an accomplished technician, and a virtuoso pianist who masterfully combines emotive poetry with his musical prose.
There isn’t much like the Binn valley for a full day of hiking, whether you're a seasoned mountaineer or a newcomer to the steady rhythm of the sport. Today’s breathable textiles, walking sticks, and power snacks may ease one’s way on the trail, but when it comes right down to it, anybody who undertakes a day out in the Swiss alps can expect a physical challenge. Fortunately, it’s a challenge that reaps its own − and manifold − rewards.
With the bench already occupied, two young couples simply waited for the start of the concert on the freshly-cut grass next to the church. Both men lay on their backs with a hand over their eyes, the women, alert and sitting Indian style, faced the broad, blue valley. “I might have dressed too informally,” said the one, who was in a stylish pair of trousers and a loose-fitting top. “No, no,” said her friend in Swiss-German, “dress isn’t the issue here. Don’t worry.”
The picturesque village of Ernen in the Swiss canton of Wallis is perched like a promise on the lowermost flank of the Binn Valley, some two hours from Berne. Once the main village of the district of Goms, Ernen had a proud folk of mercenary soldiers and resident farmers. Most had to eke out a living for generations despite the challenges of the elements, and from the 19th century − like many rural mountain communities − it largely lost its youth to the attraction of jobs and greater prosperity in the urban areas of the country’s lowlands. Yet over the past four decades, the town has witnessed a Renaissance, in no small part because a music master class that morphed into a lively music festival – a unique summer event that attracts artists and visitors from all over Europe.