Forum Wallis

Gigs, gigs, gigs: Forum Wallis

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During the last few months it’s been disheartening and downright depressing to see one festival after another forced to cancel or postpone their events due to the pandemic. So it’s exciting to see that things are tentatively starting to get going again, and among the first to throw open their doors will be this year’s Forum Wallis festival, which will now run from 10-12 August in the Swiss town of Leuk. Last year was my first experience of Forum Wallis and it made a big impact on me. Part of that, i must admit, was due to its location: i’ve attended festivals in some beautiful places but i’m not sure any of them has packed the full-on majestic awe of Leuk, positioned on the side of a mountain in the Swiss Alps, with most of the concerts taking place in the restored castle building of Schloss Leuk. The perceived relative remoteness of Leuk perhaps explains in part why it seems to be a relatively unknown and underappreciated festival. It’s a shame, as to my mind Forum Wallis (so called as Leuk is situated in the Valais or Wallis region of Switzerland) is one of the most engaging and daring festivals i’ve ever attended. That’s due in no small part to Javier Hagen, singer, composer, and artistic director of Forum Wallis, whose appreciation of new music happily stretches from the easily accessible to the most eye- and ear-poppingly avant-garde.

This year’s festival features eight concerts across the three days, including members of ensemble recherche in music by Claude Vivier, Johannes Schöllhorn, Lisa Streich and Rebecca Saunders and a new work from Tobias Krebs; Fritz Hauser performing several of his own works (which have seriously impressed me in the past); and Klangforum Wien in an evening of music by the likes of Toshio Hosokawa, Liza Lim and Scelsi alongside premières from Javier Hagen and Ulrike Mayer Spohn. Hagen and Spohn have for many years performed as a duo under the name UMS ‘n JIP, and they’ll be presenting Sancho, described as an “electropop opera” based on Cervantes’ Don Quixote. There will also be two concerts showcasing this year’s Ars Electronica competition, featuring electronic music from the winning composers in addition to acousmatic works by Nono. And like last year, two of the days will conclude with concerts focusing on improvisation, both featuring quartets: Hans Koch, Hans-Peter Pfammatter, Patrice Moret and Julian Sartorius on the 11th, and Manuel Mengis, Rudi Mahall, Florian Stoffner and David Meier on the 12th, bringing the festival to a close. Last year the improvisation events had a real WTF quality to them, so goodness only knows what these will be like.

i referred before to the relative remoteness of Leuk, but the reality is that it’s not really remote at all. From Geneva it takes around 2½ hours on the train – which is a stunning journey in and of itself, skirting round the edge of Lake Geneva – with slightly longer journey times from both Basel and Zürich. Furthermore, at the moment flights from the UK (Gatwick especially) to Geneva can be had incredibly cheaply, so it’s likely to be not only one of the most geographically and sonically impressive festivals you can experience this year, but also one of the cheapest. And quite apart from all this, having been deprived of the experience for several months it will be simply wonderful to be back in a concert hall once again.

Full details of the festival can be found on the Forum Wallis website.

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Forum Wallis 2019 (Part 2)

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The main focus during the five days of concerts at Forum Wallis was on ensemble and chamber music. An important and impressive feature of these concerts was their aesthetic diversity, not showing a marked preference for certain kinds of music-making. This resulted in extremely different – sometimes, practically opposite – works sitting side by side, providing a shifting and engagingly unpredictable experience. That being said, diversity of gender was overwhelmingly absent: just five of the 39 works performed during the festival were by women composers, a pretty bleak statistic that artistic director Javier Hagen would do well to significantly improve in future years.

Three ensembles were featured: two visiting, one in residence. On the opening night, Freiburg’s Ensemble Aventure performed a programme focusing on Latin America. The only piece that overtly referenced this was Javier Álvarez‘s well-known Temazcal for maracas and tape, and while from my perspective the piece, despite its age (composed in 1984), has lost none of its freshness and vitality, it was interesting to compare notes with a trio of young Mexican composers (taking part in the festival’s Composer Academy) who clearly found it rather more irritating, particularly its (to my mind) amusing, folk-infused conclusion. Either way, percussionist Nicholas Reed’s rendition of the work was excellent, not merely meticulous but extremely elegant. Both Leonardo Idrobo‘s macchina and Graciela Paraskevaídissin ir más lejos positioned their materials with utmost care. For Idrobo, the music lived up to its name, turning Ensemble Aventure into a machine-like mechanism that nonetheless exhibited a great deal of spontaneity and caprice; Paraskevaídis’ music was more emotionally-charged, caught between seriousness and volatility, never sounding portentous but packing a lot of emotional weight that interestingly never quite resolved into something concrete. Quema, a trio for oboe, clarinet and bassoon by Natalia Solomonoff, was similarly conflicted, alternating harsh, dissonant tuttis with more thoughtful, inward episodes where the players all felt constricted, as if struggling to make any sound emerge from their instruments; it was all marvellously dramatic. Read more

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Forum Wallis 2019 (Part 1)

Posted on by 5:4 in Festivals | Leave a comment

It’s impossible to be aware of everything that’s going on in new music. For me, that fact is usually associated with new CD releases, but i’ve come to realise it’s just as true for concerts and festivals. Apropos: Forum Wallis, a five-day festival of contemporary music that takes place annually in the Swiss mountains. i suspect i’m not the only person on whose radar Forum Wallis has never properly registered, but having recently returned from my first experience of the festival, it clearly deserves to be not only more widely-known but loudly celebrated, and take its place among the annual round of new music festivals that, if at all possible, are not to be missed.

Quite apart from its musical objectives, you could hardly ask for a more stunning location to experience new music. Forum Wallis takes place in the small town of Leuk, situated in the south-west of Switzerland on the banks of the river Rhône, surrounded on each side of the valley by soaring Alpine peaks. Having begun in 2006, the festival has evolved under the leadership of composer-performer Javier Hagen such that its focus is divided between instrumental and electronic music, both of which are explored in the old-meets-new architectural space that is Schloss Leuk, the town’s wonderfully restored castle. Read more

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