25 years of the Orpheum Foundation for the Advancement of Young Soloists

Compiled by Silvester Vieli, Managing Director and Project Director of the Foundation from 1991 to 2014

The 23-year-old Armenian violinist Ara Malikian, who was born in the Lebanon and studied with Franco Gulli in Siena and with Jens Ellermann in Hanover, had already taken his concert diploma and had won international competitions and performed with renowned orchestras when he was invited to a house concert in Switzerland in 1989. In conversation with this young artist, it became clear that he had no concert engagements in his calendar, had no agency that could support him, and had no connections to concert agencies or institutions. He was one of the many young, highly talented musicians with an excellent training behind them who stand at a crossroads, with their studies behind them and their career in front of them, asking themselves: Where do I go from here? It was his encounter with this young violinist that led the Swiss publisher Dr Hans Heinrich Coninx and a select circle of entrepreneurs among his friends to the idea that lies at the heart of the Orpheum Foundation: to offer a platform to young, extraordinarily talented classical musicians where they can acquire experience working with first-class conductors and orchestras, free of the stress of playing for a jury and of worrying about their ranking in a competition set-up. A place where they could perform before a large audience and establish a network of relationships on the music scene. Because without sufficient experience at a top professional level, and without connections and a certain degree of name recognition, even the most talented of them will hardly ever get the engagements that could bring them further along their artistic path. This idea behind the Orpheum Foundation is put into practice every two years at the International Orpheum Music Festival for the Advancement of Young Soloists, at the Special Concerts held in the intervening years, and by means of artistic collaborations at home and abroad. An Artistic Board of Trustees made up of top names, in close cooperation with the Artistic Director of the Foundation, serves to ensure high selection criteria and the quality of the young soloists chosen. The Board is chaired by Vladimir Fedoseyev and includes leading musical personalities such as Christoph Eschenbach, Mariss Jansons, Philippe Jordan, Zubin Mehta and David Zinman. They figure as mentors for the artists they propose, and accompany them in their concerts. The Foundation and its advancement programme are privately financed and supported by prominent sponsors and patrons.



On 21 February, the Orpheum Foundation for the Advancement of Young Soloists is founded in Zurich and recognised as a non-profit institution. Its project team is complemented by experts from the realms of culture, business and tourism, and under the chairmanship of Dr Hans Heinrich Coninx it begins to plan the first cycle of the Orpheum advancement programme. From the very start, Orpheum has an international focus, so there are no restrictions regarding nationality or ethnicity when it comes to choosing young artists for its programme. The Foundation also wants its openness and cosmopolitanism to be reflected in its choice of venue. So the famous Swiss spa town of Bad Ragaz is chosen as a partner that ideally suits the Foundation’s concept, being situated in the tri-border area of Switzerland, Austria and Germany.



31 August to 8 September. The local newspaper Sarganserländer writes: “The Kursaal in Bad Ragaz offers an unusual sight at the moment. It’s dominated by a large white pavilion whose elegant canvas annex temporarily became the emblem of the little town. And you can hear classical music almost day and night, coming from the mobile concert hall”. It was the music of the first week of “Orpheum Soloists in Concert”. There are different concert formats on the programme, such as the “presentation concerts” that are new here, where the young musicians introduce themselves to their audience in chamber music and in conversation with Sir Peter Ustinov or Rolf Liebermann. There are solo concerts where they have their grand performance with orchestra, and then chamber music evenings together with renowned artists such as Nelson Freire, and finally a performance of Verdi’s Requiem in the monastery church of Einsiedeln. At the heart of the concert week there are six young musicians from five different countries, including two who would subsequently achieve international success: the cellists Truls Mørk from Norway and Xavier Phillips from France. These young artists are directed and supported by Christoph Eschenbach, Mariss Jansons and Armin Jordan, and by the Bamberg Symphony Orchestra that is the resident orchestra at the Festival. The benefits package for the soloists includes a fee that conforms to market standards, and a dossier documenting their participation in the Orpheum advancement programme that includes a number of CDs with live recordings of their concerts, professional photos, and concert reviews.


“Orpheum Soloists on Tour” takes a chamber music programme, featuring four soloists from the first Orpheum advancement cycle, to four Swiss towns and to Liechtenstein. With this tour, the Foundation expands its advancement programme in a focussed manner by organising concert appearances at home and abroad.



“Orpheum Soloists in Concert” moves to Zurich, and is a guest of the Opera House for the Foundation’s second cycle of advancement activities. Eight young, highly promising, talented musicians are supported by the Foundation over the course of four concerts. At the suggestion of Edmond de Stoutz, a member of the Board of Trustees, these include the first-ever Swiss musician to be supported by the Foundation: the 17-year-old cellist Christian Poltéra. The same concert also features the American violinist Jennifer Koh, who like Poltéra is only 17. It is an encounter that will lead to these two artists coming together for concerts several times over the coming years. The Tages-Anzeiger expressed the wish that these two musicians should go far and make a success of their international career, and it is a wish that is later granted to a wonderful extent. One unusual feature of this cycle is the concert format employed. In the first part of the concert, the musicians are able to introduce themselves in chamber music and in conversation with Kurt Aeschbacher, and in the second half they perform a concerto with orchestra. This year, the orchestral accompaniment is played by the Orchestra of the Zurich Opera under Mariss Jansons and Georges Prêtre, the Saarbrücken Radio Symphony Orchestra under Marcello Viotti (who also brought two singers to Zurich whom he mentored) and the Tchaikovsky Symphony Orchestra of Moscow Radio under Vladimir Fedoseyev. The invitation to the last-mentioned orchestra is the beginning of a friendship and collaboration that will last many years. Thanks to a collaboration with Swiss TV S Plus (later SRF 2), the young musicians become known far beyond the confines of the concert hall.


“Magical hours in the Zurich Tonhalle” is the verdict of the Sonntagszeitung on the first Special Concert organised by the Foundation under the title “Orpheum Soloists in Concert”. It’s also the beginning of a long-lasting collaboration with the Zurich Tonhalle Orchestra. The Swiss cellist Christian Poltéra and the American violinist Jennifer Koh are here the recipients of follow-up support from the Foundation, and offer formidable proof of their ability and artistic maturity. They are accompanied by the Zurich Tonhalle Orchestra under the baton of Marcello Viotti. The idea behind this “Special Concert” is to offer follow-up support for Orpheum Soloists, also in combination with new discoveries – and it proves highly successful, both for the soloists being promoted and with the audience.



The concert week under the title “International Orpheum Music Festival for the Advancement of Young Soloists” is complemented by a new, additional platform for promoting musicians: the “Open Concert Podium”. Here, the focus is on young artists who live or study in Switzerland, but are just as worthy of support. They are given the opportunity to perform a recital whose programme they draw up themselves. The result is a series of innovative concert programmes for a chamber music audience that lasts from 1996 to 1998. In 1996, a collaboration begins with Swiss Radio DRS 2 (later Radio SRF 2 Culture), which helps the Foundation in its endeavours to make its soloists better known to a broader public.


With the goal of making the support offered by the Orpheum Foundation even more successful and long-lasting, the Foundation organises a cooperation programme with the Tchaikovsky Symphony Orchestra of Moscow Radio and the Salzburg Easter Festival. At the invitation of Claudio Abbado, the Foundation organises chamber music programmes at the Easter Festival for several years.



Besides four Solo Concerts, the Artistic Director programmes two concerts with a new concept: “Orpheum Public Award for Mozart”. The Foundation aims to give young soloists the opportunity to engage with the performance techniques and stylistic issues raised in the works of Mozart, while at the same time demonstrating their ability in a competition with their peers. The audience is allocated an active role in these concerts. It is able to offer an audience award to those artists who in its opinion have offered the most convincing interpretation of Mozart’s music. These concerts are the brainchild of the conductor Howard Griffiths, who in the 2001/2 season will succeed Mischa Damev as the Artistic Director of the Foundation. The “Orpheum Public Award for Mozart” is open this year to violinists, and in its subsequent editions to pianists (2002, 2006, 2011) and to singers (2004). At these concerts, the young artists are conducted by Howard Griffiths and accompanied by renowned chamber orchestras such as the Zurich Chamber Orchestra, the London Mozart Players and the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment.


For the first-ever time, the 6th International Orpheum Music Festival for the Advancement of Young Soloists takes place in Zurich and Basel. This is made possible by a collaboration with the Basel company Ciba Spezialitätenchemie AG, which figures as co-organiser. It is a successful collaboration that will last until 2008. The Festival features three Solo Concerts in Zurich, a Solo Concert in Basel, the “Public Award for Mozart” and the Orpheum Classical Marathon – in which young performers lead the audience on a musical journey through the different epochs of classical music. This was the most varied, most colourful Orpheum cycle hitherto organised. In order not to restrict its advancement activities to performers, but to expand its reach to young composers too, the Foundation also invited the 30-year-old English composer Edward Rushton to be its “Composer in Residence”, and commissioned a work from him. Rounds is its title, and it is given its world première at the opening concert with the Zurich Tonhalle Orchestra under the baton of Jonathan Nott. In the years to come, four more young composers will be supported in a similar manner.



Enchanted sounds and the magic of the baton. The vital shifts taking place in the design of concerts and advancement programmes are now part of the tradition of the Orpheum Foundation. This year, the Foundation announces the first-ever “Orpheum Conductors’ Master Class”, its aim being to offer support to young, up-and-coming conductors. This master course is directed by Colin Metters and Howard Griffiths, with David Zinman and Peter Wettstein as “guest lecturers”. Together with the Zurich Chamber Orchestra, the young conductors work on a programme for the final concert in the Zurich Tonhalle, which takes place alongside the traditional Special Concert. The concert is conducted by the five most talented students from the master class.


In line with its initial concept, the Foundation has from the very start focussed on supporting the classical solo instruments violin, cello and piano. But time and again it also invites young, fascinating, talented musicians who are at home in more “exotic” realms, such as performers on the bassoon, the guitar, the harp, saxophone, trumpet and percussion. Just such an exceptionally talented young musician is the 21-year-old percussionist Martin Grubinger from Salzburg, who takes particular delight in playing the marimba. In the Solo Concert in Basel – dressed in T-shirt and sneakers – he performs Keiko Abe’s Prism Rhapsody for Marimba and Orchestra, accompanied by the Zurich Tonhalle Orchestra under Vassily Sinaisky. Later, Martin Grubinger will moderate the music show “Klickklack” on Bavarian TV, and will be at home in all the great concert halls and festivals of the world.



The Orpheum Music Festival in 2006 and 2008 each features a special project that serves to express the openness to new ideas that is characteristic of the Foundation. These two projects are devoted to minimal music and the newest trends in electronic music and related disciplines. In 2006, the London Steve Reich Ensemble gives a concert with works by Steve Reich. The CD released in connection with this concert (on the CPO label) is subsequently awarded a “Diapason d’Or” and receives great attention from the international press. In 2008, the Foundation brings together students from the Juilliard School in New York and from the Zurich University of the Arts (ZHdK) for a joint workshop/concert under the title “Juilliard@orpheum”. This allows the students to offer their audience examples of interdisciplinary work from the New York music scene. The involvement of a further cooperation partner, the Brandenburg State Orchestra of Frankfurt an der Oder, means that the Orpheum Soloists acquire further performance possibilities in Germany.


The Orpheum Music Festival this year offers three Solo Concerts in which highly promising, talented young musicians from Germany, Russia, South Korea and the United Arab Emirates perform alongside two artists from Switzerland: the 21-year-old cellist Chiara Enderle, who was awarded First Prize and two special prizes at the International Lutoslawski Competition in Warsaw at the beginning of the year, and the trumpeter Fabian Neuhaus, who is two years older than her. The tried and tested advancement programme for the Orpheum Soloists is this year complemented by offering the young musicians a highly professional training in media and communication, made possible by a new partnership with Bank Julius Bär.


It’s the 25th anniversary of the Orpheum Foundation for the Advancement of Young Soloists. The jubilee is celebrated at the International Orpheum Music Festival in the Zurich Tonhalle. Seven soloists perform at four Solo Concerts, accompanied by the Tchaikovsky Symphony Orchestra of Moscow Radio under Vladimir Fedoseyev, by the Vienna Symphony Orchestra under Philippe Jordan, by the Zurich Tonhalle Orchestra under Sir Neville Marriner and by the Baltic Sea Youth Philharmonic with Kristjan Järvi on the podium. The violinist Nicolaj Znaider, a former Orpheum Soloist who enjoys worldwide success, performs on behalf of all the musicians whom the Foundation has promoted in the previous 25 years. In that time, a total of 143 young musicians, eleven ensembles, five conductors and five composers have been supported by the Foundation in a total of 83 concerts. These concerts featured 208 works by 100 different composers.