Born out of Chaos, Gaia is the primeval Greek goddess representing the Earth.
The significance of the age-old locution is also found in Sanskrit, where Gaja personifies a number of attributes such as wisdom, richness, boldness and strength, and in Hebrew, where Chaia means “alive”. In scientific terms, Gaia refers to the theory that living organisms on a planet will affect the nature of their environment in order to make it more suitable for life … the Earth as a vast self-regulating organism.
The GAIA Music Festival bears a name that reflects its character and spirit, offering those in attendance a common ground upon which to channel their energies towards a vivid and unique artistic endeavour.
Since its inception in 2006, GAIA has become an effervescent melting pot 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.
Notwithstanding its relatively short existence, GAIA is already being hailed as a platform for progressive thinking and unprecedented encounters, both of which are acutely relevant to exposure of the arts in the 21st century. With care and preparation, GAIA is forging dramatic and far-reaching change in the way music is made, heard and appreciated.
Behind every great venture lies the will of its founding body.
Artistic director, violinist Gwendolyn Masin, has had immense success not just as a soloist and chamber musicians, but with the realisation of festivals throughout Europe and is critically acclaimed for the award-winning ideas she brings to fruition. Christoph Ott, honourary president of the association, is an established Bernese architect, the mind behind visionary buildings throughout Switzerland and Continental Europe. The two creatives met after a performance the violinist gave at the Swiss Economic Forum, and their mutual love of the arts became the foundation of a profound friendship.
Gwendolyn Masin initiated the first GAIA Chamber Music Festival near Stuttgart, where it was rewarded by two consecutive years of highly-praised programmes and sold-out halls. The Festival was honoured with the Göppinger Kulturpreis for its outstanding impact on the cultural landscape.
Throughout its rise in Germany, the violinist and architect wondered what would happen if GAIA was introduced to Swiss audiences. They began to undertake trips to various locations in the German and French parts of Switzerland, scouting for the perfect place to make a home for the Festival. After more than two years on a journey of discovery, an ideal host was found in the stunningly beautiful town of Thun. Surrounded by Alps eternally capped in snow and the whisper of water from the river Aare and the lake, the citizens of Thun welcomed the Festival at its debut in 2009.
Hailing from all corners of the globe, musicians spent the week rehearsing and performing together, forming a unique bond with each other and sharing it with their audiences. Even while the Festival was taking place, it was instantaneously proclaimed a cultural highlight by the press, and in consecutive years, received further praise from the international media.
GAIA creates music and partnerships on site. One manifestation of this is the premiere of at least one work by a contemporary composer every year GAIA has held residency in Thun. These are often commissioned especially by and for the Festival.
The story continues as the Festival expands and Gwendolyn Masin, the dedicated Festival committee and group of volunteers forge reality out of dreams.
Each year, eminent artists from all over the globe spend just over a week living and working together in Thun. The invitees, reflecting GAIA’s objectives, have contributed to the world of arts in unusual and exciting ways. A veritable pool of luminaries, many have boldly stepped out on their own, free from the constraints and expectations of anyone other than themselves.
The Festival and its tributaries winding through Thun to mark spring’s first light breeze are occasions to connect through a celebration of music, one that is in constant flux between performers and audience. Every detail of the programme, rehearsal process and concerts are conceived from the start with a wish to express music so as to draw listeners in. Thus, performances bear relevance to those touched by the affair, in turn allowing those present to rethink their perception of classical music.
The public chamber music sessions depart from the structured lifestyle and relentless schedule of performing artists. GAIA introduces spontaneous chaos into scenarios that generally thrive on precision.
In Ms Masin’s search for a meaningful merging of talents, she introduces the inspirational musicians she has met along her path to one another and closes the generation gap between them. The reinterpretation and, to a certain extent, creation of music inevitably takes place, the process cooking and bubbling palpably before its audience – a composition previously performed or heard becomes a distinct chef-d’œuvre replete with new angles and bends. Through the exchange of thoughts between the players, the piece is sculpted until a new insight into the opus forms. This discovery lends all in attendance the much-needed means to listen to music with fresh ears. As can be heard at the concerts during the culmination of the Festival week, within a short time, chaos restructures itself into an entirely new kind of order.
GAIA concert programmes include ensembles and works that have been created specifically for and at the Festival as well as existing complete productions. The overall content of GAIA is recorded, printed and curated for future broadcasting and archive.
From its birth, GAIA has celebrated both world and Swiss premieres.
In 2009 works by Don Li, performed by the composer with Ania Losinger, Matthias Eser, and the Tonus String Quartet were introduced to the public.
In 2010, Jorge Bosso’s “Moshee” for cello and strings enjoyed its world premiere and works by Max Bruch, Pyotr Tchaikovsky and Robert Schumann – including the first piano quartet by the latter – were given their debut performance in Switzerland.
Compositions or transcriptions of works by Kurt Atterberg, Alban Berg, Ernest Bloch, Claude Debussy, and Cesar Viana were premiered in 2011.
In 2012, transcriptions of works by Johann Sebastian Bach received premieres.
2013, the fifth birthday of GAIA in Thun, saw a celebration of new works and transcriptions played for the first time by composers such as Luigi Boccherini, Arcangelo Corelli, Astor Piazzolla, Andrei Pushkarev, Franz Schubert, and by the group Yurodny.
In 2014, Benjamin Britten's “Bagatelle for Violin, Viola and Piano”, as well as Paul Juon's Sextet in C minor Op. 22 were first performed in Switzerland.
Daniel Schnyder was Composer-in-Residence in 2015. Among the many works of his that were played during the Festival, his “Mensch Blue” had its debut performance and “Ad Parnassum” its first performance in Switzerland.
2016 saw the first inclusion of premieres of works of literature, as well as music. Lukas Hartmann wrote texts to Telemann’s "Burlesque de Quixotte"; Stravinsky’s "Suite italienne" as well as Mussorgsky’s "Pictures at an Exhibition". The latter also received its Swiss premiere in a version for string quintet and piano. Further works to receive international premieres were by Camille Saint-Saëns and Manuel de Falla, in arrangements written by Raymond Deane for Gwendolyn Masin's ORIGIN.
Massimo Pinca's "The Fates“ for String Quartet and Cimbalom, OLUM by Marco Antonio Perez-Ramirez, "Bartók-Impressions" (after the "Romanian Folk Dances Sz. 68" by Béla Bartók) by Miklós Lukács, as well as Maximilian Grossenbacher's "Airreel" received their world premieres in 2017. The Swiss premiere of Rebecca Clarke's "Grotesque" also took place this year.
The programme of the tenth GAIA Festival saw three world premieres in 2018: "Andante für einen Oberhofer Purzelbaum" and "Bourlesque" by Thomas Fortmann and the "Hungarian-Jewish Melodies" by Raymond Deane.
Not content with radically rethinking the manner in which music is brought to the stage, GAIA also fosters rising talent and is intent on emphasising the importance of education in music. To this end, GAIA Masters allows leading musicians of the future to learn from established masters upon a foundation that offers interested parties a glimpse inside the workings of the continued evolution and development of music and pedagogy. Moving moments and plenty of humour are part and parcel of the Masterclasses as the passing on of knowledge from one generation to the next unfolds.
The Tour de Force
Although the Chamber Music Festival remains its beating heart, the speed at which GAIA has come to international attention has led projects held within its framework to take centre stage at concerts beyond the annual Festival week and its location.
Today, GAIA is more than a festival; it is a fluid entity, an engaging cultural and social phenomenon that is taking the classical world by the scruff of its neck and shaking it up – and we promise to continue doing so for a long time to come.
“… that which interests me is not just to play but to really make music and to revel in the unfolding thereof.”
Gwendolyn Masin, The Irish Times