If ever there were an original programme at one of Switzerland’s esteemed summer festivals, then this was it: a full day’s tour, including four short concerts, extraordinary alpine scenery, and a convivial crowd that is keen on exploring new musical and geographic frontiers. The day started at the Davos train station with coffee, croissants and a delightful musical prelude: the woody tones of a superb Caribbean marimba and two accompanying percussionists.

<i>Festivalwanderung</i> © Sarah Batschelet
Festivalwanderung
© Sarah Batschelet

The audience collected on the local hiking trail for a leisurely jaunt up from the alpine village of Davos-Wiesen. The path took us through wildly romantic gorges, alongside rushing streams, over broad meadows and through evergreen forests, each one of the striking Swiss landscapes with its own allure. We stopped on one large green hillside to enjoy an interactive song jamboree: young vocalists of the Davos Festival steered us amateurs through a programme of rousing, lyrical and bawdy songs, humouring us with some original lyrics of their own.

<i>Festivalwanderung</i> © Johannes Frigg | Davos Festival
Festivalwanderung
© Johannes Frigg | Davos Festival

After lunch at the Hotel Bellevue in Wiesen, our group enjoyed a third musical interlude on the hotel terrace; a short performance by the gifted young Festival pianist Chiara Opalio and her partner, violinist Eoin Ducrot. They played two movements from Richard Strauss’s Violin Sonata in E-flat major with confidence and aplomb, although understandably, the electric piano didn’t carry over the outdoor hubbub in the valley below as clearly as a concert instrument indoors would have done. Theirs was a compelling short perfomance nevertheless: Strauss’s work steeped in emotion and tenderness.

After that musical interlude, there was an hour’s hike up on the alp behind the village, complete with geographical and historical insights by a terrific local guide. Mid-afternoon, the group settled into the wooden pews of the quaint, late 15th century Davos-Wiesen church, to hear the SIBJA Saxophone Quartet’s world premiere of from the noise, an “atmospheric meditation” that was composed by ensemble member Joan Jordi Oliver. While based in Zurich, the Spanish saxophonist pursued musical practices that merge performance, composition, improvisation and electroacoustic and multimedia elements into an eclectic expression.

<i>Festivalwanderung</i> © Johannes Frigg | Davos Festival
Festivalwanderung
© Johannes Frigg | Davos Festival

For the premiere here, musicians Valentine Michaud, Faustyna SzudraJean-Valdo Galland and Juan Jordi Oliver himself stood at the far points of the interior, such that their instruments almost made a sound box of the nave. Using their saxophones in unorthodox ways, they created original textures, whether recalling rumblings of wind tunnels, raindrops or foghorn, eerie, or flute-like or undefinable sounds, and those at increasingly higher amplification. Electrical charges and the sense of a storm surge ran rampant, and the sound expanded almost to a breaking point before dissolving into a whisper, then, a dead silence. By merging performance, composition, improvisation and electroacoustic and multimedia elements into a single musical expression, from the noise is an exemplary case of new and eclectic audio expression.

That said, the variety of musical interludes, the group hike up the mountain, spectacular views, and historical genres joined by new expressions in sound made this one Davos Festival offer a truly unforgettable event. 

*****