PATRON’S AWARD WINNER 2018 – LEE YAN XING
DAY 0 (20th July)
After a 6hrs train journey from Paris, we finally arrived at our destination, Bourg St Maurice. We were immediately greeted by the scorching summer sun, as well as the majestic mountains of the Alps, that runs extensively across 8 countries such as Austria, France, Germany, Italy, Liechtenstein, Monaco, Slovenia, and Switzerland. It is especially unbelievable that Italy lies just on the other side of the mountains.
Following the long trail of participants of the festival who were carrying instruments, we then took the funicular (a mode of transportation which uses cable traction for movement on steeply inclined slopes), which then brought us to approximately 1600m above ground, the 1600 Arc; in just 7 minutes. The walls and ceilings of the vehicle were made of glass, enabling its passengers to enjoy the picturesque view as it propels upwards.
It took us some time to look for the hotel, La Cachette, where most of the participants would be staying at. Finally, we arrived, registered, and collected a big envelope with information such as the name of our tutor, festival timetable, concert brochures, as well as meal vouchers, mini merchandise (pins, stickers), and a breakfast bracelet to be worn throughout the festival. (You will see it in most of my pictures!)
I spent the rest of the evening in nature, had a mini hiking journey up the hill and came back in just time for dinner. The especially late sunset at 10pm is difficult to get used to, however, the huge curtain in the room or a DIY blindfold comes in handy.
DAY 1 (21st July)
And the journey (festival) begins! We had a quick breakfast at 7:30 am, then took the free shuttle from Arc 1600 to Arc 1800, where individual masterclasses took place. With the help of the maps printed on the back of brochures, we went looking for our respective “studios” and tutor to schedule our lessons.
I immediately had a lesson with my tutor, Prof. Klaidi Sahatci. It was a rather exotic room for a lesson – with ski equipments: helmets, boots, iridescent sunglasses, you name it. We then went back to Arcs 1600, back to the hotel and I had a short practice session before lunch. A simple, huge, chicken sandwich was more than enough for lunch, which was at the price of only £5!
There was a chamber music meeting in the afternoon at the lobby, where everyone gathered as the lists of chamber groups were announced. Eventually, I met a horn player and a pianist who I will be playing Brahm’s Horn Trio with.
DAY 2 (22nd July)
After a good night’s rest, I woke up early, had breakfast, and joined Tai Chi lessons on the balcony. We learned some of the basics – which was all in French and I didn’t understand a thing and just followed what everyone was doing. The saying goes: fake it till you make it!
I then had a chamber lesson in the afternoon, with Eckhart Rudolf as our tutor. Most of the session was, you guessed it, in French. We mainly focused on the complicated and slightly confusing rhythm, as well as articulation and timbre, as it was challenging to match the tone of a violin and that of a horn.
Two days of French (and some Google searches) later, I picked up a few very basic words: one to ten from the Tai Chi lesson, pull and push from signs on doors, and of course the most used good morning and good evening.
DAY 3 (23rd July)
Today was an eventful day – which began with me almost missing the morning shuttle to lesson! After a quick practice in the hotel room post-lesson, I headed down for chamber rehearsal, this time without a tutor.
We did more work based on the feedback from our tutor yesterday and finally made through the entire 1st movement of the piece. Everyone was really friendly; the horn player and I simply sat on both ends of the couch, used a horn case as a music stand, and when one of us played a random tune, the rest will sing along!
DAY 4 (24th July)
Perhaps 3 days were not enough for me to completely adapt to the altitude, I was feeling a tad under the weather, and had thus stayed in the hotel for most of the day.
When practice sessions commenced at 9am sharp, instrument players and singers in the hotel began warming up. I, too, practiced; taking breaks in between and listened to the chamber group next door rehearse.
Taking advantage of the late 9pm sunset, we went out for a walk after dinner and found a perfect spot to watch the sunset. However, we ended up getting chased by bees before the sun even managed to edge towards the uneven outlines of the mountains.
I then planned out the rest of the week, jot down when my next lessons are, and picked concerts to go to. Let’s hope I don’t miss another shuttle to lesson!
DAY 5 (25th July)
Morning practice was rather relaxing today, I watched countless clouds drift by the window, as it was slightly windier today. Instead of having the usual salmon quiche, I had a pizza bread for lunch and needless to say, it was scrumptious.
I had another chamber lesson with the same tutor, with dynamics being the emphasis this time around. It was pretty exciting to building more on top of what we already had and rehearsed the day prior. Initially, I’ve planned to watch a concert today but alas, it was full. It ran on a first come first serve basis, and we were simply not there early enough.
As if the view outside my window this morning weren’t scenic enough, it rained after dinner and mist conjured out of nowhere, which steadily shifts in the same direction. The opaque mist took over the mountains, completely blinded them from the view; then partially thins bit by bit, revealing the previously obscured mountains.
DAY 6 (26th July)
Nothing much had changed, as things are falling into a routine. Food was definitely a highlight today. I had a huge tuna sandwich for lunch and a croissant (as it has been missing from breakfast for 2 days), and also had some delicious blueberry and raspberry ice cream on the way back from lesson, despite the rainy weather.
Out of curiosity, I did some research on the designer behind these interestingly simple but functional buildings here on the resort. The infamous designer, Charlotte Perriant combined the idea of mountain architecture, sustainability, prefabrication and more; and designed buildings and hotels with minimal rooms, since guests will be spending most of their time outdoors. However, it is also designed to be spacious and open to the elements of nature, so it really isn’t that bad an idea to stay in on a rainy day.
DAY 7 (27th July)
We had another chamber lesson today, this time with another tutor, Ruth Rosique. we focused on matching timbre and making long phrases amidst the complex rhythm between instruments. It is especially satisfying to witness our progress thus far, from being confused with the rhythm to experimenting phrasing with it.
Having heard that chamber concert will be held very soon, across 3 days at different venues. Thus, we rehearsed again on our own, just for the extra preparation for the upcoming performance. There’s no time limit for the performance, but we’ve decided to just perform the 1st movement of the piece which is approximately 10 minutes long.
DAY 8 (28th July)
As for my second last masterclass of the festival, I finally began working on another piece after three consecutive lessons with the last. Something very special about this festival is that we get the opportunity to have five masterclasses with the same professor, which is unusual for masterclasses. It is eye-opening to have feedback and criticism from the same professor over the course of the festival, as well as building on top of what has already been worked on during the previous session.
Today’s masterclass focus was the exploration of the different characters and changes in the mood and tonality of the music, with experiments in phrasing, bow and vibrato speed.
I also had my second last chamber rehearsal today, as we will be performing tomorrow at the small hall at Arc 1600!
DAY 9 (29th July)
The day started with a ringing fire alarm. Musicians stopped practicing and hurried down to the lobby with perplexed looks on their faces. Thank goodness, that it was just a drill and was nothing to worry about.
Orchestra rehearsal began today, however, I’d have to skip the second half of it to catch the latest shuttle back to Arc 1600 to get ready for the chamber concert. The weather has suddenly turned cold today, and musicians performing for the concert were seen huddled indoors, backstage.
There was an Italian day celebration back at the hotel, and the dinner buffet was Italian themed, which, needless to say, was exceptionally delicious. There was a free-flow of gelato too – what a nice surprise!
DAY 10 (30th July)
I had my last masterclass today, with piano accompaniment; as it is always essential for both instruments to work together, especially for a sonata work. Orchestra rehearsal resumed in the afternoon, and we ran through the repertoire in concert order; which was Romanian Dances by Bartok, Piano Concerto No.23 in A major by Mozart (with soloist and conductor Michel Dalberto), and last but not least, Symphony No.50 in C major by Haydn.
I then went to dinner early, finished it quickly and made my way to the small hall for tonight’s concert which my professor would be performing for. Despite the cold wind and low temperature as the evening approaches, there was already a line, and enthusiastic chatters in foreign languages could be heard.
Although I performed in that same hall just 2 days ago, it is definitely fascinating to experience it from the audience’s perspective. It is a circular, almost dome-shaped hall, just enough for approximately 200 people – oddly enough, music sounded more personal and intimate in such a small space.
My studio mates and I then went backstage after the concert to meet our professor, and went out to the cafe nearby and had a good conversation before parting ways.
DAY 11 (31st July)
In the evening we performed at the big hall at Arc 1800, where the mayor gave a speech for the closing ceremony. The performance went smoothly, and we all took pictures and said goodbye right after. There was a huge bus just to transport performers back to Arc 1600, as it was almost 11pm and the free shuttle was no longer available.
These 2 weeks in France have gone by in a blink of an eye – I simply could not bring myself to believe that in half a day I would be taking the funicular to the foot of the mountain, followed by long train rides and flights; then I will finally be home. Over the course of 11 days at the festival, I have made many friends from across the world, despite the language barrier; I have also learned so, so much about music and culture, and had the pleasure to be in such close proximity with nature…
I guess all good things come to an end.