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A heavenly concert by the Swiss Alps Chamber Ensemble at Disentis monastery

When conductor Emmanuel Tjeknavorian announced Johann Sebastian Bach's "Air" as an encore, the heavenly musical experience in the Disentis monastery was brought to a perfect conclusion. The Swiss Alps Chamber Ensemble performed on Friday evening, conducted by Tjeknavorian and supported by soprano Marisol Montalvo and soloist Benedikt Hellsberg (cello), in the singularly beautiful monastery church. “The experience was out of this world," Montalvo said. Tjeknavorian raved: "It was moving to see the passion with which all the musicians played and the special connection we were able to create with the audience because of it. It was a truly unforgettable evening."

The host, Abbot Vigeli Monn, was also quite enthralled: "It was sheer joy, it was magnificent." The priest elaborated about his church, built between 1696 and 1712: "It’s a Vorarlberg baroque church, a single-nave church. In terms of acoustics, it is unique. The main hall, the nave, plays with the light and the sound; to the eye and the ear, it is all one."

The 26-year-old Viennese virtuoso violinist Tjeknavorian, now a "rising star" on the international conducting scene, performed at the Swiss Alps Classics for the third time following 2017 and 2019. On the occasion of the fifth anniversary, he described himself as a festival “veteran” and “part of the family.” He and artistic director Clemens Hellsberg, his paternal friend and patron, had put together a program that whisked the guests away to new heights. "It may be the most beautiful program I will ever do in my life," Tjeknavorian said. The concert consisted of works by Johann Sebastian Bach, Georg Friedrich Handel, Joseph Haydn, and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Uniquely, Mozart’s “Adagio and Fugue KV 546” was played twice, once at the beginning and once at the end of the official program. "It is one of the most enigmatic works within Mozart's entire enigmatic, otherworldly oeuvre," Hellsberg explained about the idea. Marisol Montalvo delivered a dazzling performance of Mozart's famous "Laudate Dominum" and Handel's no less popular aria "Rejoice greatly" from his oratorio "The Messiah."

The evening in Disentis was also a chance to meet with family and friends. From the Hellsberg family, the younger son Benedikt, who won the hearts of the audience as soloist of Haydn's virtuoso Cello Concerto in C major (and played a movement from a cello suite by Bach as an encore), and the older son, Dominik (violin), have been part of the Swiss Alps Chamber Ensemble since 2017. Among the guests, most of whom traveled from Andermatt over the picturesque Oberalp Pass in two reserved cars with the Matterhorn Gotthard Bahn, were the Swiss football coach Marcel Koller and the Austrian bestselling author Robert Schneider ("Schlafes Bruder"). Both are part of Hellsberg’s circle of friends, who is former chairman of the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra. Koller, who lives just a 30-minute drive from Disentis, has known Hellsberg since his days as Austria's national coach: "Clemens is also a huge football fan. Our friendship developed when I came to Vienna. I used to go to concerts of the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, and he would come to watch football." Robert Schneider shared something that probably few people know: “I’m an organist. I studied composition and organ at university in Vienna, but then decided to make music with my writing."

Over its history, the Swiss Alps Classics has repeatedly staged concerts at beautiful, sometimes unconventional venues. On the occasion of its fifth anniversary, the Benedictine monastery of Disentis in the canton of Graubünden became a truly unique concert setting. The orientation of the monastery church to the north gives the interior "theatrical lighting" from sunrise to sunset. Interestingly, the Disentis monastery is the only Swiss monastery to belong to the "Klösterreich" association, which unites monasteries and convents to promote cultural and tourist activities. "As an Austrian, I of course particularly like this anecdote," said festival founder Peter-Michael Reichel. "But first and foremost, the Benedictine monastery of Disentis is a magnificent venue. By organizing a concert there, we fulfilled a dream. It was truly heavenly."

A video of the concert in the monastery church Disentis can be found on our YouTube channel.

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