Since its inception in 2006, GAIA has become an effervescent hub of ideas and impulses, designed as a heightened experience for both musicians and their audiences. Following non-traditional paths in its quest for innovative ways of sharing music, GAIA strives to make music accessible for everyone and continuously pioneers conceptually-driven events which include established, rarely-played, contemporary and specially-commissioned repertoire, as well as alternative approaches to their presentation.
Gwendolyn Masin initiated the first GAIA Music Festival near Stuttgart, where it ran for two consecutive years of highly-praised programmes and sold-out halls. The festival was awarded the Göppinger Kulturpreis for its outstanding impact on the cultural landscape. In 2009, the festival celebrated its inaugural Swiss edition and has remained in Switzerland ever since.
For several decades now, Masin's work has increasingly focused on finding alternative ways to bring more music to more people. In an interview with “Der Bund” in 2022, she stated that she believes “artists are critical observers of time and have, as part of their means of expression, the possibility to offer meaningful contributions to the public, ones brimming with intent and impacting audiences.”
Gwendolyn’s choice to focus on family and female composers in 2022 was informed by research that set out to trace familial support systems in classical music. It was also informed by Masin’s exasperation at the lack of greater numbers of female composers as a result of social prejudice and patriarchal mores up to the middle of the 20th century. Taking in stories from more than 400 years of music history by way of the Bachs to the Boulangers, the Mozarts and Mendelssohns to Smetana and his wife Kateřina Kolářová, Masin’s programming recounted an urgent tale of courage in the face of societal imbalance. Shining a light on women who surpassed the societally acceptable status of “muse”, musicians at GAIA performed music by main breadwinners such as Clara Schumann née Wieck or indeed, premiered works by the likes of Irene Wienawska (aka Poldowski) and Otilie Suková-Dvorakova. Credit was given to the men who emboldened these women, to the families and extended families who elevated them.
The performers themselves were all related to one another, which added to the family theme. There were brothers and sisters, fathers and daughters, fiancés, spouses, musical partnerships, and decades-long academic relationships.
In 2023, Masin uncovers Europe and North America’s musical similarities whilst celebrating the unique traditions that individual countries foster. Considering, for example, rivers that flow through various regions such as the Danube and the Rhône, it comes as little surprise that countries also share folk and traditional music, albeit interpreting their meaning differently. For example, where a Croatian might claim that a melody be one sung at weddings, a Serbian interprets it as a hymn, or a Bulgarian as a march. That one melody might trigger powerful emotions in a region besieged by ethnic hatred and war, and this exposes the deep misunderstandings between the people of the Balkans.
Studying the ways in which folk and traditional music can have many meanings to so many people traces a history of nations which may, in turn, lead to better understanding between one another. Whether investigating music from the Austro-Hungarian Empire, discovering works by Swiss composers inspired by alpine folk music, or investigating the influence of gospel music on American composers in the 20th century, the 14th edition of GAIA sets out to carefully consider the differences between cultural preservation and the evolution of music, and misconceptions around cultural appropriation.
Let us come together to share our similarities and recognise, accept and celebrate our differences. We look forward to welcoming you to our next festival!