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Music festival rolls from station to station

Germany's Florian Hecker will be making music on the Sound Train.

(Wataru Terasawa)

Switzerland has been chosen as the location for this year’s World New Music Days, an international festival dedicated to contemporary music.

The theme of the festival is “Trans-it”, reflecting the fact that the event will be taking place in 11 different cities across the country – all linked by a special “Sound Train”.

Every year, the Amsterdam-based International Society of Contemporary Music (ISCM) stages a World New Music Days festival in one of the world’s major cities.

But this year the ISCM, which was founded in 1922 and has 48 member countries, decided to branch out.

“It’s the first time that the festival is being held not just in one city but in several cities,” said Mathias Steinauer, the festival’s artistic director. “So we decided to go to the places which have orchestras and a public.”

Steinauer added that the country’s vibrant contemporary music scene – almost every small city has an ISCM chapter – was also a reason to break with a long-held festival tradition.

Music Olympics

Hailed as the “Olympics of Contemporary Music”, the festival is the oldest of its kind for modern-day compositions, according to the ISCM.

This year’s festival marks the sixth time that Switzerland has held the event. The last occasion was in 1991 in Zurich.

Steinauer says the fact that the festival is back in Switzerland is largely down to financial and organisational reasons.

“It’s not possible for every nation to organise such a big festival, so South America or Africa don’t hold the festival so often. Normally it’s in Europe or Asia,” he told swissinfo.

Stop that train

Another first is the use of the festival theme, Trans-it, which is supposed to reflect the idea of travelling from place to place.

The Sound Train will provide a link between all 11 festival locations. It will be open to the public and will feature an exhibition, sound installations and music.

In all, 126 compositions from 55 different countries will be showcased during the festival. They were picked by a jury from around 500 entries.

There will be 30 concerts, including solo appearances, installations and virtual projects, all relating to the Trans-it theme.


Steinauer says there are several events which really stand out this year.

“We have some new aspects in the festival, like a concert of Arabian music from Sudan, Lebanon and other countries. Normally, we don’t get such music at the festival,” he said.

“We also have concerts featuring the big orchestras like the Tonhalle Orchestra in Zurich and the Basel Symphony Orchestra,” he added.

Steinauer is hoping that the programme, the strong central theme and the dispersed venues will attract the attention of the public.

And although there are many factors that make the World New Music Days unique, he says it’s the type of music on offer that distinguishes it from other festivals.

“It’s the only festival where you can hear the music which is being composed in the world today from every continent,” said Steinauer.

“So you can have a good impression about the music of the whole world.”

swissinfo, Isobel Leybold-Johnson

In brief

World New Music Days 2004 is taking place from November 3-9.

There are 11 locations: Lucerne, Lugano, Winterthur, Basel, La Chaux-de-Fonds, Biel, Lausanne, Geneva, Aarau, Bern, Zurich.

It is divided into three sections: preparatory events – which took place in the run-up to the festival – the festival itself and the “Sound Train”.

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