Music festival shows Montreux is a jazzy Swiss city

June 18, 1995|By Wes Blomster | Wes Blomster,Knight-Ridder News Service

Montreux, Switzerland -- You might not care for some of Igor Stravinsky's more esoteric music, but you can't disagree with his choice of a perfect place to live.

In 1913, hard at work on "Rite of Spring," the exiled Russian composer settled in Clarens, just 10 minutes from the heart of Montreux on a carefully cared-for walk along the Lake of Geneva.

Stravinsky was inspired by a multifaceted muse, and it's appropriate that his memory -- and one-time presence here -- is felt clearly at the Montreux Jazz Festival, set to open in the local Stravinsky Auditorium July 7.

Stravinsky, after all, was one of the first composers of stature to see jazz as America's classical music and to celebrate it in such works as the "Ebony" Concerto that he wrote for band leader/clarinetist Woody Herman.

And it's thus no accident that when Montreux opened its Bauhaus-derived Convention and Exhibition Centre two years ago it gave the composer's name to its handsome 2,700-seat auditorium, now the major venue for events at the annual jazz festival.

The festival was founded in 1967 by Claude Nobs, who remains its major architect as it moves into its 29th season.

It has grown from a three-day day event to the 16-day 1995 festival that is without question Europe's top jazz celebration. On the international scene, only America's Newport rates comparison.

At a press conference here recently to announce the 1995 season, Mr. Nobs stressed the commitment of the Montreux festival to the many idioms in which jazz musicians have spoken over the decades, and pointed not only to the presence of rock and blues in the coming season, but also to a pronounced emphasis upon "jazz geography" expressed in programs of music from specific countries.

"Viva Cuba!" for example, features Arturo Sandoval, Sintesis and Climax, three of the 106 names on the 1995 roster of festival artists.

The popular "Off-Festival" plans hundreds of hours of free concerts through the city, intended to warm the atmosphere and set the mood from early afternoon until the morning hours. (All-night sessions in Duke's Bar at the lakeside Royal Plaza Hotel are the subject of local legends.)

Jazz education becomes an increasingly important concern of the festival; workshops and seminars are supported by the International Association of Jazz Educators and several recording companies.

"The summer institute," says Mr. Nobs, "provides a great opportunity for both professional jazz musicians and the public to meet well-known artists and to learn in their company."

The festival meets 50 percent of its budget of 7 million Swiss francs from ticket sales. Further financing comes through corporate support and from the city of Montreux.

Montreux, in the very heart of the Swiss Riviera, brings visitors within easy reach of Lausanne, Vevey and mountain resorts above the Lake of Geneva.

And for the lover of literature, Chillon Castle, the site that inspired Lord Byron's "Prisoner" and Mrs. Shelley's "Frankenstein," is close at hand.

It was here, by the way, that Hemingway said his "Farewell to Arms." The graves of Charlie Chaplin, his wife, Oona, and Graham Greene are in nearby cemeteries.

Best of all, perhaps, is the luxurious train that whisks the visitor with barely a whisper from the station within the Geneva airport to Montreux in less than 90 minutes.

The Montreux Jazz Festival opens July 7 and runs through July 22. For information, call the Montreux Tourist Board at 011-41-21-963-1212.

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