In 1999 I visited the beautiful village Ernen in the Alps of canton Wallis in Switzerland for the first time. I was selected to attend master classes by the world-renowned teacher and pianist György Sebök. He founded the master classes and an international music festival here. Little did I know that the weeks spent learning face to face with this master, practicing and watching him work with other pianists from all over the world would be my last chance. Sebök was diagnosed with cancer soon after that summer and passed away in Bloomington, Indiana where he was professor of piano for many years after leaving his native Hungary.
This great musician had a spirit that touched and inspired people wherever he went. I remember on our last day of the master classes the students got a final few minutes with him to ask questions or thank him if they wanted. I was in the queue because I was struggling with an important question. Sebök was sitting under the big tree in the middle of the town square having a cigarette. It was almost a holy moment as I sat down next to him – I guess like meeting the Queen or the Pope. “I can not decide if I should play classical music or jazz because I love both?” I asked. He smiled and as if he knew from my lessons in the previous weeks that this would be my question. He answered: “Music is music. As long as you love it and play it well.”
This has been my motto ever since and it has relieved me from the pigeon-hole syndrome that so many musicians live with, where they are forced to choose only one stream of music.
Fast forward 14 years and I find myself back in the same picturesque village with my jazz trio mates Werner Spies and Hugo Radyn performing an all-Baroque programme as part of Festival Musikdorf Ernen. After Sebök’s passing the reigns were handed over to Francesco Walter who has since made this festival into one of the most distinguished in the country. He has invited me back many times to perform and teach and this was a first for us performing during the Baroque week.
The crossover arrangements of Baroque works for jazz trio is nothing new, but that was my challenge: making something new and fresh. Different from what had been done in the past. For this reason I chose repertoire I felt comfortable with and music that would work in this setting and spoke to my heart. Thanks to the sensitive playing of Hugo and Werner in the extremely lively acoustics of the St. Georg church we are able to release the recording of that live concert in 2013.
I am proud to be associated with this remarkable festival and thank Francesco Walter and the audience members who have supported us here over the years. I dedicate this album to you: the audience of Musikdorf Ernen.
Charl du Plessis