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Foto © Yannick Andrea

Text: Chris Walton (this text was published in the magazine 01/2020)

“The senses” are the theme of the 35th edition of the DAVOS FESTIVAL, to be held in summer 2020. Not just the five usual suspects, but in the widest sense of the word. The man making sense of all this is the newly appointed Intendant of the DAVOS FESTIVAL: Marco Amherd. Born in Canton Valais in 1988, Amherd studied in Zurich, Freiburg and Toulouse, majoring in organ and conducting. He subsequently won various prizes in both, at home and abroad, and today conducts numerous vocal ensembles, gives solo recitals – and now runs the DAVOS FESTIVAL, too.

Amherd is attracted by the openness he finds in Davos, and the readiness of its audiences to try out new things. As Intendant, he’s keen to build on what’s already established, while also venturing onto hitherto untrodden paths. The first taste of the Amherd era will come with the next New Year’s Concert, which will feature the unusual combination of two percussionists and piano. Their focus will be on transcriptions: works originally written for other instrumental combinations, but now arranged for their trio. It’s an age-old principle – even well into the 19th century, composers such as Beethoven and Wagner could expect their music to be performed more often in chamber transcriptions than in the original. But while our New Year’s Concert opens with a transcribed Prelude and Fugue by Bach, it soon takes on a more modern tinge, moving through Mauricio Kagel’s Ragtime, songs by Chick Corea, Steve Reich’s Piano Phase and much else until we reach another Prelude and Fugue, but this time by the jazz pianist and composer Friedrich Gulda.

The first taste of the Amherd era will come with the next New Year’s Concert.

A time there was, not long ago, when choral singing in Switzerland was a man’s world full of beer mugs, paunches, mawkish folksongs and unintentional micro-tonality. The Anglo-Saxon world, by contrast, has always done things differently. “Turn up and sing”-Messiahs have been the rage for years, and reality TV is now cashing in with all manner of seemingly mistrustful misfits turned into choirs – Olympic athlete choirs, prison choirs, workplace choirs, you name it. Talent shows extol the uplift of song with choirs from townships and housing projects. But Davos, too, has long sussed out the benefits of singing your socks off. To be sure, Davos doesn’t have to rescue anyone from tenements or townships, but it knows that singing is a powerful tonic for everyone: young and old, rich and poor, strangers and townies, locals and yokels. Singing is medically proven to be good for your health, for your mind, and above all: for your soul. So in February 2020, the DAVOS FESTIVAL will hold its Singing Week once again, this time under the expert choral direction of its new Intendant, Marco Amherd. Amateurs and professionals alike will come together to sing, learn, listen, and sing again. Don’t miss it.

After these winter events, the DAVOS FESTIVAL proper will run from 31 July to 15 August 2020. As outlined above, the “senses” will be centre stage. From sense to sensibility, common sense to nonsense, the senseful to the sensual: multifarious events will be held in and around Davos to explore all manner of its connotations. Marco Amherd is especially keen to place words and music in new, intersensory contexts. At afternoon coffee concerts in the Hotel Schatzalp, the actor Elias Reichert will read from different books, with matching music provided by live performers. There will be a poetry slam – but one in which spoken slam texts will intermingle with art-songs. The Festival Box will also return in 2020 – a unique opportunity to experience a five-minute concert for an intimate audience of one; but this time, the performers will have to improvise on a topic that their visitor chooses from a given list.

Words and music will feature, too, in the contributions from the composer Gerald Resch from Austria. He studied with Michael Jarrell, York Höller and Beat Furrer, and his works have won numerous prizes and seen performances across the world, from the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam to Carnegie Hall in New York. He will be offering insights into his composing process, and his audiences will be encouraged to engage with him and ask questions. His workshop will end with a performance of the piece under discussion. A second performance that same evening in concert will give the audience an opportunity to deepen their understanding of it.

From sense to sensibility, common sense to nonsense, the senseful to the sensual: multifarious events will be held in and around Davos to explore all manner of its connotations.

A new feature at the 2020 DAVOS FESTIVAL will be a Philosopher in Residence who will speak at introductory discussions before the concerts at the DAVOS FESTIVAL, and will delve into the sense and senses of the works being performed. In another of Amherd’s innovations, he’s bringing early music on period instruments to the DAVOS FESTIVAL for the first-ever time. The Cardinal Complex, an ensemble based in Winterthur in Switzerland, will be performing Baroque music alongside modern works in a concert devoted to the topic of “madness”.

One project that was founded just recently, but which Amherd will definitely be continuing, is the Very Young Artists course. Talented children and young people can apply to take part, and those who are accepted will come to Davos for five days of expert tuition. They will rehearse together in groups ranging from duos to nonets, and their week will culminate in two concerts at the Festival itself. As a concrete sign of our commitment to furthering music among the younger generation, they will all get free
tickets to the other events at the Festival.

The next edition of the DAVOS FESTIVAL will thus feature the old and the new, the tried and tested as well as the innovative. “I had never ever thought about becoming a festival intendant”, says Marco Amherd. But he loves drawing people together in new contexts and new combinations, playing ping-pong with ideas, and then giving his musicians space to go off on tangents when things seem right. Above all, he says, in today’s world, where so much is fragile and fractured, “music can really unite people”. There’s certainly a lot of sense in that.


Chris Walton is a Swiss music historian, writer and translator. He teaches at the Basel university of Music, runs a research project at the Bern University of the Arts, and is an Honorary Professor at Stellenbosch University in South Africa. He lives today in Solothurn and Törbel.