A cluster of 16 positive COVID-19 cases since Thursday, July 8, within the Verbier Festival Orchestra (VFO) has led to drastic changes in the Verbier Festival's program.
In addition to asking VFO musicians to return home, Verbier has canceled all further activities for the Verbier Festival Orchestra for the remainder of the festival — including the six performances from July 16 through August 1.
“Over the years, we’ve created a close family of musicians — a community of artists who come together to make each edition of our Festival truly special,” Martin Engstroem, Founder & Director of the Verbier Festival, wrote in the press release. “It’s because of these close ties that we’re able to quickly pivot to reshape our program this summer under these exceptional circumstances. We’re all so grateful to have this family by our side.”
A significant proportion of the VFO's membership has been under quarantine since Thursday, shortly after arrival, and all festival participants were scheduled for a rapid antigen test on Monday and Thursday. The musicians were originally told to quarantine for 10 days, but following the results from Monday's tests, have been asked to leave the festival over the next days or following their full quarantine period, a festival spokeswoman Olivia Brown told The Violin Channel.
Brown emphasized that the safety of the musicians is a priority and said that due to the 10-day isolation period, there is "not adequate time for the full training and rehearsals for performances as part of the Festival this year."
All positive cases were contained within the VFO, and safety measures are being reinforced in the Verbier Festival Academy's other programs, according to the press release. In accordance with festival policy, attendees of the festival are subject to contact tracing and social distancing requirements and must wear masks.
The festival's opening concert with VFO Music Director Valery Gergiev will remain on July 16 as originally scheduled — but instead feature the Verbier Festival Chamber Orchestra and a program of Prokofiev and Beethoven. Later programs, including the productions of "La fanciulla del West" and Act II of "Tristan & Isolde" will be reprogrammed. The festival has not yet announced those programs' replacements.
After a canceled festival last year due to COVID-19, this marks the 28th year of the Verbier Festival, which is held each July in the Swiss Alps.