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Pianists experiment with genres at jazz festival

China Daily | Updated: 2021-07-20 08:50

At the 55th edition of the Montreux Jazz Festival in Switzerland, the Montreux Jazz Artists Foundation teamed up with the New York-based Lang Lang International Music Foundation to shine a light on the need to build bridges using the universal language of music.

Under the theme "jazz meets classic", Switzerland-based Italian Nigerian singer and pianist Afra Kane, alongside Italian American pianist Valentina Kaufman, experimented with different genres in a sold-out concert on July 12.

Due to the festival's reduced format this year and the COVID-19 restrictions on public gatherings, only 150 music lovers were allowed into the Petit Theater Fairmont Le Montreux Palace.

The two foundations share the common goal of supporting the next generation of artists, says Stephanie-Aloysia Moretti, artistic director of the Montreux Jazz Artists Foundation.

"The idea was to invite one young musician from the Lang Lang Foundation and another from the Montreux Jazz Artists Foundation to be here in Montreux for the 10 days of the festival," she says. "They played in the Conservatory Montreux-Vevey Riviera every day. They created a repertoire in which both musicians feel comfortable."

The MJAF, founded in 2007, aims to discover and nurture talented musicians in the early stages of their careers and to make music accessible to all.

Through its artistic residency projects, cultural events and talent development programs, the foundation generates powerful discoveries and encounters all year round.

"As the two musicians got along very well, we would love to repeat that experience at the Lang Lang Foundation's concert in New York at the Carnegie Hall in January 2022," Moretti says.

Lukas Barwinski-Brown, CEO of the Lang Lang International Music Foundation, says: "I am very glad and very happy that we started our collaboration with the Montreux Jazz Artists Foundation and the Montreux Jazz Festival because, during my entire career, I have been trying to avoid borders between different genres of music."

The foundation was established by superstar Chinese pianist Lang Lang in 2008 to promote music education for young people and cross-cultural exchanges. It runs several programs, such as Keys of Inspiration, to encourage music performances at public schools with limited resources, and Young Scholars, which offers exceptionally talented young pianists from around the world mentorship and performance opportunities.

Barwinski-Brown says this first performance will set the scene for many similar projects in the future.

"This is the beginning of a long-term collaboration between the Lang Lang International Music Foundation and the Montreux Jazz Festival."

Kane, who won the 2019 Montreux Jazz Talent Award in the solo category, trained as a classical pianist. She composed her first songs at the age of 13 and was inspired by classical music, gospel, soul and jazz.

She released her first extended play record, Scorpio, in January 2019.

"I'm feeling good. It had been a bit stressful at the beginning deciding what we would do for the program. But it has been fun working with Valentina," she says.

Kane says she is preparing an album, which is going to be out next year.

Kaufman has been a Lang Lang Foundation artist since being selected at the age of 13 to participate in the foundation's Junior Music Camp and Masterclass with Lang Lang in Vienna.

"It was very interesting and very different, of course, for a classical musician to be able to do this crossover with jazz-and even just to be here living the festival," says Kaufman, adding that it will be an experience that she will learn from and carry forward.

She is currently completing her studies with Anna Kravtchenko in Lugano, Switzerland, and with Silvia Rumi in Milan, Italy.

The pandemic has taken a heavy toll on artists around the world as live events have been canceled or postponed.

"I believe especially this year, and during this time, musical collaborations are really very important, because music can heal," Barwinski-Brown says. "The pandemic was really very heavy for all of us. And a lot of people are now suffering with depression.

"We believe that music can bring joy. This is why it's so important to go outside and play for the people."

Moretti also emphasizes that it is important to use music as a universal language to promote cultural understanding and dialogue around the globe.

"The two young women both speak English and Italian, so these are their common languages. But then, they also have the universal language of music, so they understand each other even though they are from different backgrounds," Moretti says.

The 55th Montreux Jazz Festival in Switzerland concluded on Saturday.

The first edition of Montreux Jazz Festival China will take place in Hangzhou, Zhejiang province, from Oct 4 to 8 under the theme "when West meets East".


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