Verbier Festival, Various venues, Verbier, Switzerland

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The Independent Culture

UBS is the name of a Swiss bank whose speciality is "wealth management". Putting its name to an international youth orchestra five years ago - and coughing up the cash to pay for its travel, subsistence and residential tuition - now looks to have been a clever move.

UBS is the name of a Swiss bank whose speciality is "wealth management". Putting its name to an international youth orchestra five years ago - and coughing up the cash to pay for its travel, subsistence and residential tuition - now looks to have been a clever move.

With its ferociously high entrance requirements, the UBS Verbier Festival Orchestra has become a leader among youth orchestras. Its members graduate to the world's best bands, and it even gets applications from members of those bands who want to go back to the classroom, where lessons are taken by a roster of star conductors led by that master builder of orchestras, James Levine of the New York Met.

Yuri Temirkanov was on the podium for the orchestra's Russian bash this year, which opened with a performance of Mussorgsky's Khovanshchina prelude. This - under a laid-back beat - was imbued with bated-breath expectancy. Then came high drama, courtesy of Vadim Repin in Shostakovich's First Violin Concerto. This peerless soloist spun a high silver thread in the opening nocturne, while the strings and woodwind laid a bed of warm colour below. As the work developed, the orchestra seemed more inspired by his lead than by that of Temirkanov. To this noble work, full of dramatic contrasts, Repin brought by turns a relaxed lyricism, a delicately honeyed tone and furiously hurtling energy: it was greatly to its credit that the band stayed the pace.

But what came after the interval was more problematic. You might argue that the 1947 version of Stravinsky's Petrushka is beyond the scope of any youth orchestra, given that it is a vast tissue of solos where the musical perspectives are in ceaseless change. But one thing is sure: a very firm beat is needed to hold it together, and this Termirkanov patently didn't bother to do. Though played with verve, the work seemed constantly on the point of falling apart. There were lovely moments - as when the pianist Katia Buniatishvili scattered gold dust over the little doll's pirouettes - and snatches of rough comedy for the Moor, and the whole was shot through with full-blooded Russianness. But the Russian conductor himself was like the invisible man.

This being the sunny Swiss Alps, the spirit of the place dissolved such schoolmasterly thoughts. As the orchestral growls died away, a plane growled overhead, audible in the tent auditorium; the players laughed amid the curtain calls.

The next morning I caught the brass section delivering near-immaculate Gabrieli, Schoenberg and Brahms in Verbier's church. The following evening, two wind bands dazzled with Dvorak and Holst. Nice to find that the star was a Brit, the oboist Verity Gunning, who led with bite and wit.

Continues to Sunday (00 41 (0)27 771 82 82; www.verbierfestival.com)

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