Montreux Jazz Artists, Lang Lang foundations build bridges with music

At the ongoing 55th edition of the Montreux Jazz Festival in Switzerland, the Montreux Jazz Artists Foundation has teamed up with the New York-based Lang Lang International Music Foundation to shine a spotlight 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 and Italian-American pianist Valentina Kaufman used their four hands to improvise and experiment with different genres in a sold-out concert on Monday.

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

The two foundations share the common goal of supporting the next generation of artists, Stephanie-Aloysia Moretti, artistic director of the Montreux Jazz Artists Foundation (MJAF), told the Xinhua News Agency on the sidelines of the performance.

“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 said. 

“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 schemes, 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 said.

“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 was trying to avoid borders between different genres of music,” Lukas Barwinski-Brown, CEO of the Lang Lang International Music Foundation, told Xinhua in an online interview.

The foundation was established by Chinese star 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, or “Young Scholars,” which offers exceptionally talented young pianists from around the world mentorship and performance opportunities.

Barwinski-Brown said this first performance was meant to set the scene for many similar projects to come.

“We will repeat this concert in winter in New York. This is exactly the beginning of a long-term collaboration between the Lang Lang International Music Foundation and the Montreux Jazz Festival.”

Stage for young musicians

Afra 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 EP Scorpio in January 2019.

“I’m feeling good. It has been a bit stressful at the beginning deciding what we would do for the program. But it has been fun working with Valentina [Kaufman],” she said.

Kane said she is preparing an album, which is going to be out in 2021. 

“I am thinking about how to promote it. The number one focus for me is always my project and be able to bring that forward. I just want to be me with music,” she said.

Valentina 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 being here and living the festival. It will be an experience that I will bring also outside of the festival,” said Kaufman.

“My dream is to have music in my life forever,” she added.

She is currently completing her studies with Anna Kravtchenko at the Conservatorio della Svizzera italiana in Lugano, Switzerland, and with Silvia Rumi at Conservatorio G. Verdi in Milan, Italy.

Healing through music

The COVID-19 pandemic has taken a heavy toll on artists around the world as live events had been canceled or postponed due to the restrictions.

“I believe especially this year and during this time music collaborations are really very important because music can heal,” Barwinski-Brown said.

“The pandemic was really very heavy for all of us. And a lot of people are now in depression, a lot of people really struggle in their life. So, we believe that music can bring joy. This is why it’s so important to go outside and play for the people.”

The Montreux Jazz Artists Foundation’s Moretti also emphasized that it was 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 said.

The 55th Montreux Jazz Festival in Switzerland runs until Saturday.

Then, in the autumn, the first edition of Montreux Jazz Festival China will take place in Hangzhou, East China’s Zhejiang Province, on October 4-8 under the theme “When West Meets East.”

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