Gstaad: The journey on the blue railway, which gently meanders from Montreux to the Bernese Oberland, through wide valleys, along steep rocky slopes, past waterfalls and rivers, as if entering a fairytale world, is overwhelming. You climb higher and higher and the roads you see from the window become more and more winding until, suddenly, the Palace Hotel appears, towering over Gstaad in timeless elegance.

I was born in South Africa in 1973, but life there in the brutal apartheid state had become increasingly difficult for my parents. My father had co-founded the literary magazine “Bolt,” which was highly critical of the regime, and as a result our phone was tapped and my parents were placed under constant surveillance. This made it clear to them that they had to leave South Africa. By a stroke of luck, my mother managed to obtain a copy of a birth certificate of my Irish great-grandfather. This made it possible for all of us to obtain Irish citizenship. In 1975, after a very precarious start in London, a miracle happened. My mother was offered a secretarial position with Yehudi Menuhin, which she held until the great musician’s death, ultimately as his manager. Just two weeks after she began, Menuhin informed her that she would have to spend the summer in Gstaad. She was quite shocked – what would she do with two small children? Menuhin responded with a smile: “I would never separate a mother from her children. Of course you must take the whole family with you!”  And so we embarked on our first of many unforgettable journeys on that blue railway from Montreux through the Bernese Oberland.

Gstaad became a second home for our family and it was here that my love of music began. My mother would take me to rehearsals. I was enthralled to experience Beethoven, Mozart, Bartók and Vivaldi, the wonderful sound of the Zurich Chamber Orchestra under Edmond De Stoutz, all for the first time.  The special scent of the wooden benches in the church in Saanen and the opportunity to experience the greatest artists are still vivid memories for me today.  As an 11-year-old, I was allowed to turn the pages at the Festival concerts and this gave me for many years a fascinating insight into life backstage. In August 1992, I finally made my official debut at the Festival with a concert exclusively featuring works by Alfred Schnittke, at the invitation of my most prominent listener, Yehudi Menuhin.

But Gstaad is also a place of unforgettable and extremely privileged encounters for me. I have fond memories of Peter Sellers and David Niven at a fondue dinner in the Hotel Olden while Madame Donizetti serenaded them; of Liza Minnelli at a jam session in the bar of the Palace Hotel; of Elizabeth Taylor spontaneously attending a concert with Richard Burton in the Saanen church, almost causing a riot; or when Mstislav Rostropovich visited us at home one day and told us the most incredible stories about his encounters with Pablo Picasso and Benjamin Britten. In autumn 2025 the wonderful memories of my youth in Gstaad come full circle. I am honoured and happy to be able to lead the Festival as Intendant & Artistic Director and look forward to helping shape the future of the Gstaadd Menuhin Festival and its role in this beautiful region. The construction of a new concert hall will not only open up new music-making possibilities, but will become a meeting place for people from all walks of life and a magnet for the entire region.

I have spent many happy hours in the Saanenland, summer and winter, and can think of nothing better than offering my two young children the same opportunity. Yehudi Menuhin, who we all admire, once said: “Every moment in life is a new beginning, an end and a beginning, a coming together of threads”. I am excited to see where this journey will take us and I am very much looking forward to being reunited once again with Gstaad My Love.

Daniel Hope, 25. June 2024