Geneva, thanks to ever richer and more intelligent programming and exciting casting, is one of the most interesting venues in Europe. Classical music has always occupied a special place here.
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One of the first memorable events of Geneva’s musical was the introduction of hymns and metrical versions of the Psalms by the architects of the Reformation. All Anglo-Saxon Protestants know the famous Old Hundredth from the Marot and Beza Psalter, published in Geneva in 1532 and set to music by Bourgeois and Goudimel.
The Swiss city influenced British culture in a lasting way, since the national anthem God Save the Queen is modelled on a popular song celebrating the victory over the Escalade and with it Geneva’s independence.
Classical music has always occupied a special place here. In 1918 Ernest Ansermet established the Orchestre de la Suisse Romande, which has since been led by many renowned conductors. The OSR is the official orchestra of the Grand Théâtre, which presents operas and ballets of international standing to a large and loyal audience. The Orchestre de Chambre de Genève (the OCG), founded in 1992, makes a name for itself year after year as a top ranking orchestra.
In addition to the Grand Théâtre and the prestigious Victoria Hall, the temple to symphonic music, a more recent venue in Geneva is the Bâtiment des Forces Motrices, a former hydraulic factory converted into a magnificent theatre on the water. You can also listen to music at the Conservatoire de Musique, the Saint-Pierre Cathedral and in various churches.
Grand Théâtre :
Closed this season, the operas in Geneva take place in Opéra des Nations.
The decision to build a new theatre on Place Neuve was taken in 1860. The architect Jacques-Elisée Goss then put forward plans inspired by the newly opened Palais Garnier in Paris.
Construction was completed in 1876 and the venue opened in 1879 with Rossini’s Guillaume Tell [William Tell]. In 1951 a terrible fire devastated the theatre’s stage and the theatre did not reopen until 1962.
The new theatre, with seating for 1500, is now covered by a starry ceiling that extends from its fire curtain, both of which were designed by artist Jacek Stryienski. The size of the orchestra pit, the expanse of its open spaces and the sophistication of its machinery enable this theatre to host performances of all kinds and works from all periods.
Le Bâtiment des Forces Motrices : Devised by engineer Théodore Turrettini, this L-shaped industrial building was built between 1886 and 1892 on the Rhône. The factory allowed the driving force of the water to be used, the level of the lake to be controlled and the canton to be supplied with drinking water, until 1963. In 1988, the building was listed and in 1997 it was converted into a theatre. Under the direction of architect Picenni, the theatre has been designed like a box placed inside the building. It has over 900 seats, an orchestra pit and a very deep stage.
Victoria Hall : Between 1891 and 1894, Sir Daniel Barton, a wealthy English consul in Geneva and great music lover had the Victoria Hall built which remained under his ownership until 1904 when, shortly before his death, he gave the building to the City. The auditorium with its exceptional acoustics and equally exceptional neo-baroque decoration seats 1850 people. Over two thousand artists, orchestras and choirs have performed here since its opening. Today, the Victoria Hall is dedicated essentially to classical music and plays host to the Orchestre de la Suisse Romande.
The Orchestre de la Suisse Romande (OSR): Founded in 1918 by Ernest Ansermet, with the aim of providing the French-speaking part of the country with a symphonic orchestra, the OSR is supported financially by the municipalities of Geneva and Lausanne. The ensemble was integrated with the French-language Radio, which gave it an audience that it had not previously enjoyed. On his death in 1969, Ansermet was succeeded first by Paul Kletzki, then by Wolfgang Sawallisch. They were followed by Horst Stein in 1980, the late lamented Armin Jordan and today it is Marek Janowski who has led the orchestra since 1 September 2005.
In addition to series of symphonic concerts, the orchestra also performs the opera season of the Grand Théâtre de Genève.
The Orchestre de Chambre de Genève (The OCG): Founded in 1992, the Orchestre de Chambre de Genève makes its name year after year as a top-class chamber orchestra. Michael Hofstetter, at the head of the ensemble since 2001, succeeded Thierry Fisher and Lev Markiz. Giving priority to a repertoire that extends from late baroque to the romantic period, the music is performed on historic instruments. However, the OCG does not restrict itself only to the repertoire of the past and also tackles contemporary pieces. Established in Geneva, the ensemble performs a strong season of six to seven concerts each year in the Bâtiment des Forces Motrices.
Geneva International Competition
One of the major international Music competition is also one of the oldest. Created in 1939, the Geneva Competition distinguishes every year a young talent in two categories, alternatively piano and voice and since its creation, among 26 disciplines have been presented. The list of the prize winners is impressive : Martha Argerich, Arturo Benedetti-Michelangeli, Victoria De Los Angeles, Maurizio Pollini, Georg Solti, José Van Dam or more recently Annette Dasch… among others !
The Conservatoire de Musique de Genève, founded in 1835, has had some great composers and famous soloists among its teachers, such as Franz Liszt, Dinu Lipatti, Henri Marteau, Emile-Jacques Dalcroze and Ernest Bloch. In addition, the Fédération des Concours Internationaux de Musique is based in Geneva.