It’s ironic that the most “Swiss” piece of classical music is by an Italian composer. Rossini’s stirring final opera, William Tell celebrates the great 14th-century bowman and freedom-fighter who is considered the father of the Swiss Confederacy. Its famous overture, with its galop finale depicting a cavalry charge of Swiss soldiers, was therefore the perfect curtain-raiser for Pablo Heras-Casado and the Munich Chamber Orchestra to launch Klosters Music which this year marks the 800th anniversary of the founding of Klosters. 

Pablo Heras-Casado and the Munich Chamber Orchestra
© Marcel Giger

In Act 2 of the opera, men from the cantons Unterwalden, Schwyz and Uri resolve to unite and fight for independence by overthrowing Austrian rule. In the easterly canton of Graubünden, Klosters nestles in the shadow of Piz Buin, which forms the border between Switzerland and Austria. The village is best known to the British as a ski resort – Prince Charles a frequent visitor among a string of celebrities, earning it the nickname “Hollywood on the Rocks” – but David Whelton, artistic director of the festival, is updating that perception. Now in its fourth edition, it has established a faithful following and in 2022 takes its audience on a musical journey through the last 800 years. 

Guests arrive at the Klosters Arena
© Marcel Giger

Rossini’s overture was given a vibrant performance. From Bridget MacRae’s opening cello solo, it was obvious that the Arena Klosters is a warm, resonant acoustic. It was just about able to contain the MCO, although a thunderous storm pushed it to the very limit, along with a rip-snorting galop, slightly off-kilter to start with, that had Heras-Casado bouncing on his heels. In between, the Ranz des Vaches episode was all pastoral landscape, throaty cor anglais cowherd and airy flute calling to each other across the mountain. 

Swiss pianist Francesco Piemontesi then gave a leisurely account of Robert Schumann’s Piano Concerto in A minor. Leaning towards the keys or swaying side to side, he maintained excellent eye contact with the woodwinds, very much engaging in chamber music rather than undertaking concertante battle. The long Allegro affetuoso first movement often found Piemontesi in a reverie, unhurried with a lovely light touch. The Intermezzo was genteel to the point of becoming mannered but this had the effect of making the finale more energetic. His Schubert encore (the G flat major Impromptu) shimmered and rippled. 

Francesco Piemontesi, Pablo Heras-Casado and the Munich Chamber Orchestra
© Marcel Giger

The highlight of the evening saw us heading south across the Alps for Mendelssohn’s Italian Symphony. Heras-Casado has recorded it with the Freiburg Baroque Orchestra (tomorrow’s Klosters guests) and it was remarkable here how he treated the MCO as another period instrument band… and it is, to an extent. Period trumpets and natural horns meant the brass never overwhelmed the compact string section, but hard timpani sticks, aggressive attacks and slick speeds really gave this rendition a “period” feel. This was a bracing journey, often abrasive, with the conductor gesturing excitedly. The pilgrims in the Andante con moto were definitely in a hurry – on their way to get pizza? – and the third movement Minuet flowed. The Saltarello was fast and frenetic, Heras-Casado a boisterous Tigger on the podium, underlining the brass and timpani punctuation. Mendelssohn with bounce.

Mark’s accommodation was funded by Klosters Music; his travel was funded by Switzerland Tourism