I have waved my white flag and surrendered to the French half of Switzerland; Rachel has begun teaching me French. Between French lessons, we all grabbed breakfast and went on a walk around the beautiful lake. Cameras in hand, we photographed every inch of the sculptures and flowers around the lake. Rachel took pleasure in chasing every little dog we saw to take its picture. Afterwards, we took a family trip to the gym in the hotel. Our initial hope was to be able to climb up the flights of stairs without running out of breath; our excuse of “Oh, it’s the altitude!” is getting a little old. However, Rachel researched it, and we’re at 1,258 feet…yet everyone’s still out of breath. Hmmm…
Post-work out, we went to the public pool next to our hotel. It’s absolutely gorgeous. I wasn’t careful though, and while I spent more time reading beside the pool than swimming in it, I burned to a crisp. The 90 degree weather and outrageous sun just about did my skin in for today. Whoops.
We vowed yesterday to not get caught in the same festival hubbub we did last night. Two hours before the show was scheduled to start, we made our way to the wristband counter, and asked if we could get our bracelets. Expecting a prompt negatory, we were surprised when the man at the counter gladly exchanged our tickets for bracelets. My first response was a dumbfounded “Really?!”, half-expecting an angry mob to surround us. It only felt natural that my toes be trampled on in order to gain access to the festival. But tonight that wasn’t the case.
The extra time allowed us to get dinner from one of the many venues along the waterfront. I had delicious pizza, all while my French lessons continued. At one point, a Swiss woman who had joined us at the benches turned around to help Rachel and I with both our German and French conjugations. She was so friendly to ask us what we were studying, and seemed genuinely interested. That may have been when what I was experiencing sunk in. Here I am, in this gorgeous city, surrounded by well-dressed, well-spoken, beautiful people. The languages are plentiful, and the diversity is overwhelming. Music plays everywhere, at all times, and everyone from passersby to street vendors to tourists, like myself, stop to appreciate the excitement of the music. I love it.
We then walked to one of the venues: Music in the Park. We listened to the Oundle School Jazz Orchestra from the UK, and their performance was neat. They played the classics: Chameleon, Don’t Mean A Thing, Sway, Fever. You get the idea. What intrigued me was the age range of this amateur group. And the number of people who were captivated by what would be at home, background music. People were dancing, eating, and smoking to the sounds of a hot kick-off to summer. Rachel phrased it best after the park: “I’m gonna need a Nicorette patch after this weekend, the second hand smoke is so strong.”
We made our way back to the Jazz Club again, up to Table 13, our table from the night before. Two pianos and one keyboard were set up for Act Night. First to the stage: the announcer. But after that! Iiro Rantala of Finland. Let me say, for those who expected a tame performance out of tonight, they were given anything but. Iiro played so rigorously that his face contorted as the speed of his playing increased. He would place a damp towel over the strings to bring out the harp-like qualities of the great grand piano. It was merely impossible to not be drawn in by his repetitive chords and rhythms, just to be snapped out of the trance at his mercy. Sitting in the palm of a musician’s hand is a frightening place to be, but exhilarating at the same time.
After Iiro came Michael Wollny of Germany. He slapped the keys like a mad scientist would furiously work away at a lab bench. He even stood up, reached around, and plucked the actual strings and hammers of the piano when the sound suited him. He was lanky, and as he jumped out and around his seat, I couldn’t help but find his stage presence amusing. He placed a wine glass on the strings, making a tinny ringing sound echo throughout the room. At the peak of his solo performance, the piano roared to its full potential as he literally karate chopped the keys. Watching him play was something akin to what I imagine watching Thelonious Monk at work would have been like. It’s a type of scary genius.
Finally was the Polish piano man, Leszek Mozdzer. His style of playing was much more philosophical, and based on a true talent well nurtured. He was not any more unique than the other two musicians, he was just talented. It’s a shame to say that being talented isn’t enough, but compared to last nights interpersonal performers, the shoes were big ones to fill.
The three players played duos and trios in addition to their solo works tonight. What astounded me most about their working in tandem was when they, mid-song, would stand up, and play two pianos at once. As if on an imaginary wheel, they would rotate as quickly as possible to the next piano, and were comfortable in the transition. Even if that meant playing a keyboard and grand piano at the same time. Their passion for what they were playing was audible through their grunts in time with their keys. By the end of the performance, the men were visibly drenched in sweat from the exercise they got. I hadn’t realized it until their final bows, but the crew looked like a group of Cousin Itt’s from the Addams Family. Regardless, it was an invigorating experience, and truly unforgettable.
At the end of the performance, we walked home through the hustle and bustle of the waterfront that hadn’t been an issue on Opening Night. It occurred to me as I passed the throngs of teens and young adults on the sidewalk that this is their big event. In my town, we have the fair. But here, they have 16 days of free concerts, street vendors, delicious food, and tourism. Their evening activities for the next two weeks will be making plans to meet up in this, their beautiful city, and people watch. They are so lucky.
To his credit, Leszek Mozdzer did take a more philosophical approach to his music, and I thought what he shared tonight was interesting. He played with his left hand a very rigid and repetitive line from Choppan’s “Prelude”. Meanwhile, he played a fun and interesting love song with his right hand. The symbolism lay in this performance: these two hands represented “The Division of Life.” We are faced with what we have to do, and what we want to do. Mozdzer’s toast to the audience proved that he honestly hoped that no member in attendance tonight had to ever face this division. But what Mozdzer didn’t know was that somewhere in the abyss of that same audience, a young woman was already facing that war within the soul between desire and responsibility.
I don’t want to ever leave Montreux.