I have just spent a stimulating couple of days at the new M4 culture festival in Crans-Montana (the four M’s stand for Mountain, Music, Museum and More).
Providing a wealth of entertainment ranging from photographic exhibitions to classical concerts to contemporary dance, the M4 culture festival attracted a varied crowd and proved to be a crowd pleaser. On the classical side, re:orchestra from the Netherlands showcased the Gypsy and klezmer influences on Shostakovich’s works. Two young artists, Amira Willighagen and Nicole Loretan, provided a very different take on the classics. Willighagen is a ten-year-old opera singer discovered last winter on Holland’s Got Talent. I totally underestimated her potential when she came on stage carrying her favourite doll. Once she started singing, I had to set my preconceptions aside – this young girl was really impressive. Her operatic voice is marvellous, despite her never having had a singing lesson. Her polished and powerful performance with re:orchestra was extraordinary. When I interviewed her afterwards backstage, I was stunned to learn it was the first time she had ever been accompanied by an orchestra.
Nicole Loretan was the other solo artist. At only 20, this concert pianist plays with technical mastery and her interpretations of various works by Chopin and Tchaikovsky were clear, elegant and decisive but lacked a little of the emotion that one would expect from these composers.
M4’s programme was about so much more than just music. The contemporary dance performance by CocoonDance, a dance company from Bonn, was radically different. Their dramatic use of stage setting and the inclusion of spectators in the performance added to the vibe. The audience was encouraged to move freely around the stage and was therefore continually challenged to interpret the movements of the dancers.
Literature also featured in the programme, with famous French comedian Philippe Caubère reading André Suarès’ Vues sur l’Europe, an intense text written in 1936 that predicted the horrors of the Second World War.
My favourite performance of the weekend was L’opéra dans tous ses états, a comic opera superbly sung by Leana Durney and Davide Autieri, with Lucas Buclin on the piano. Satirical and clever with wonderfully observed humour, this opera entirely rekindled my interest in the art form.
Launched by Crans-Montana residents Pierre Perrenoud, Robert Kopp and Christian Nivoix, M4 aims to promote and develop the cultural potential of the town, which is perhaps better known for its golf competitions and skiing. “Selecting the acts to develop the reputation of the festival is key,” said Robert Kopp. “There are no restrictions on the type of act, however quality is mandatory.”
The organizers also want to promote meaningful exchanges between generations and cultures. I was struck by just how interactive the festival is. Artists and their audiences were frequently encouraged to interact with one another – not only during the performances but also through a series of Master Classes held over two weeks. These allowed dancers to learn about the creative process of CocoonDance and young pianists to be tutored by the international pianist Novin Afrouz. Even the artists benefited from this dynamic – Amira Willighagen had her first singing lessons in Crans-Montana!
Building on this year’s success, the future plans for M4 are rightly ambitious. An executive committee is being formed to develop the festival and Crans-Montana’s reputation internationally.