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.