By Stephanie Nebehay
MONTREUX, Switzerland (Reuters) -French-Lebanese trumpeter Ibrahim Maalouf gave back-to-back shows at the Montreux Jazz Festival on Monday night, performing on a floating stage built specially on Lake Geneva for a limited number of fans with a COVID 19-free certificate.
With the Swiss Alps and sailboats as a stunning backdrop, he appeared for the fourth time at one of Europe's most prestigious summer music festivals, cancelled last year due to the pandemic.
The 55th edition can welcome 1,500 people per night at four venues, about one-tenth the normal size for the two-week event.
"It's a real joy to be here again, the first time was 15 years ago," Maalouf told the crowd. "The concept of jazz here is a lot like mine."
"You've come despite the circumstances. I found a year and half without playing live very, very frustrating," he said.
Maalouf, accompanied by veteran Belgian guitarist Francois Delporte, played the melancholy "Beirut", composed at age 12 while still living in Lebanon as it emerged from civil war.
Tracks from his latest album "40 Melodies", issued last November to mark his 40th birthday, included "Happy Face", "True Sorry" and "All I Can't Say".
Seating was limited to 500 people along the lake who paid 155 Swiss francs ($168.15) for an intimate concert.
Maalouf alternated playing trumpet and a black grand piano on the stage, an engineering feat built 25 metres (yards) offshore and anchored at a depth of 12 metres, the first time in the history of Montreux, famed for the acoustics of its indoor concert halls.
"You have a great view," he told the audience. "It's pretty bold to have built this stage in record time. Only the Swiss can do something like this."
Vincent Charpentier, who attended the first 90-minute show, told Reuters: "The decor was magic and the sound excellent."
Mathieu Jaton, the festival's chief executive, said that Maalouf had been key in encouraging the audacious project's realisation.
"We wanted to create unique; the stage was a real challenge. We didn't just want to do a smaller festival but something extraordinary," he said in an interview.
American jazz pianist Fred Hersch is booked at the Petit Theatre for July 12.
Italian singer Zucchero is stepping in for extra shows on July 11 to replace another headliner Rag'n'Bone Man. The soul singer was among gigs that cancelled due to conditions of entry into Switzerland from Britain for travellers not fully vaccinated against COVID-19, organisers said.
($1 = 0.9218 Swiss franc)
(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; editing by Jonathan Oatis)